It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas! It’s not hard to close your eyes and remember the heartwarming smells of the holidays. Cinnamon, pine trees, nutmeg and of course, fresh baked gingerbread cookies.
When I was little girl, each Christmas my Mom and I would take whole cloves and push them into oranges in a decorative pattern as a centrepiece. Call them pomanders if you will… I can recall that familiar scent as I type. My Mom made Christmas such a warm and special time for us. The house was beautifully decorated, holiday favourites would be playing softly away on the stereo, and the warm, comforting scent of homemade potpourri was always wafting through the house from a kettle simmering on the stove.
It wasn’t until my later twenties that I finally started doing my own simmering potpourri. Now, I can’t imagine going through a holiday season without that familiar smell. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to make it, but I will share some tips with you if you would like to make your own.
The first tip? Forage.
Go for a walk, take a bag and keep your eyes open for small pine cones, twigs… if you live near some holly bushes, score :). Pieces of birch bark that have fallen are a great add in. They give the mix more texture and look fantastic if you are giving the mix as a gift.
Next? Raid your spices. Cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole bay leaves and ground nutmeg are perfect additions!
Finally, check your crisper or fruit bowl and grab an orange or two, even a lemon.
The most important part of making your own potpourri, especially if you want to give it as gifts or store it for some time, make sure all of your ingredients are completely dried out. If it’s not dry, a bad odour can develop and even mould. Pine cones, holly, birch bark and anything else you forage can all be dried in the oven. Simply turn on the oven to the lowest temperature, place your items on a rack or sheet and put in the oven. Check on them often and shake them around if necessary to make sure they don’t burn on one side.
You can dry your own oranges or lemons the same way. Slice to the desired thickness, lay out on paper towels and blot out some of the excess liquid. Spread out on a rack and dry in oven at lowest possible temperature. Inspect them every so often as drying time will depend on moisture content of the oranges as well as thickness of the slices. Be prepared for them to take several hours to completely dry.
Here is what I used in my own mixture;
1 medium orange sliced and dried
3 dried bay leaves
2 small pine tree sprigs
12 wee pine cones
a few twigs
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 Tbsp whole cloves
5 medium cinnamon sticks
Don’t worry much about measurements. Place contents into a smaller pot, one you don’t mind getting stained / discoloured (this can happen depending on the ingredients). Fill with water and simmer over low heat on the stove.
I have this great little brass pot I found at the thrift store, complete with vent holes in the top. An old tea kettle would work wonderfully as well.
Be sure to check on the pot once and a while and add water when needed so it does not run dry. You can use the batch several times before having to discard it. Refrigerate if you want to keep it a little longer. When you are ready to discard it, put it back into nature and add it to your garden!
Other ingredient options…
Cranberries, apples, pear, vanilla bean, plums, apricots, chestnuts, dried pomegranate rind, all spice, star anise, dried mint, rum (when simmering), ground ginger, black currents, figs etc.
Remember, you can use ‘fresh’ ingredients if you are going to start simmering straight away, but if you want to make a batch, store it, or give it as gifts, ensure you have thoroughly dried out the ingredients first.
Ideas for ‘Gifting’ your simmering potpourri…
Package batches in mason jars tied with a label and twine
Package batches in plastic zip baggies, with a label folded over the top
Include a small tea kettle or pretty / thrifty pot for simmering your blend
Coming up with festive and even cheeky names for your holiday potpourri can be fun too. I’ve included a few labels I’ve created for you to download and use like these. Print, fold them in half and staple to the zip baggie. These will fit the standard sandwich / snack bag size and measure 6.5 inches wide. Instructions for the mix included on the back of the label.
Click the images to get the PDF download.