18th century, activities, childhood, crafts, holidays, vacation, winter

Colonial Craft: Pomanders

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that you’re settling into 2014. I spent Christmas with my family in Ohio, listening to my dad’s beloved Ray Conniff Singers and cooking up a storm. We spent many an evening by the fire and even processed maple syrup in one long day of patient boiling and simmering.

I also had a rather crafty evening in front of a Doris Day movie, and that’s what I want to share with you now. I made pomanders: fruit studded with cloves and rolled in spices.

Pomanders originated in the Middle Ages, when folks would melt spices and aromatics together and enclose the resulting mass in perforated cases. They then wore these around their necks or carried the cases with them to ward off plague or disguise body odor. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the English began to make pomanders the way we think of them today, poking oranges and apples with cloves and rolling them in a mixture of spices and preservatives. Early immigrants to North America brought this craft with them as a Christmas or New Year’s custom, but as oranges were far too expensive (they had to be imported), colonists typically made their pomanders with apples.

In researching the history and construction of pomanders, I was pretty surprised by this last fact. Like many women my age, I grew up with the American Girl dolls, and Felicity (the colonial-era doll) had a book of colonial crafts for girls to make. One of the crafts was, of course, a pomander made with an orange, but it turns out that very few colonial girls could have used oranges for their crafts. American Girl lied to me! Or, perhaps, glossed over the more complicated truth; Felicity very well might have been able to afford an orange, as her father owned a general store and would have had immediate access to imported produce. But her friends? Probably not.

Despite this disillusioning discovery, I enjoyed making the pomanders. I chose to make a “real” pomander out of an apple, spiking it all over with cloves and rolling it in a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and orris root (a preservative that helps it last). The other adhered to my childhood understanding: a simple pomander made with an orange, with only a decorative pattern of cloves. This one won’t last very long.

They both make my apartment smell quite nice, however, and I’m looking forward to keeping the apple pomander for years to come. If you’d like to make your own, here’s the recipe I used.

(slightly adapted from InSeason)

1 apple or orange
several ounces of whole cloves (varies)
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cloves
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp orris root

Mix the ground spices together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Press the whole cloves, sharp side down, into the fruit. You can make a pattern, or if you’d like the pomander to last as long as possible, keep the cloves close together and cover the fruit with them.

When you’ve finished with the whole cloves, roll the fruit in the spice mixture. Store in a cool, dry place, still in the spice mixture, until dry. Make sure to roll the fruit in the spice mixture each day.

Works cited: White Lotus Aromatics newsletter. InSeason: Making Traditional Pomanders.


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