...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Lovely Post on Pot Rot

Yes, pot rot. We moderns hardly realize our dainty term (potpourri) springs from such root words as pot rot! And, given that homemade potpourri could indeed become literally that--pot rot--I thought I'd throw in a post that gives a few pointers on how to successfully craft your own at home, and more easily than you'd imagine!

First, the ingredients. You'll need essential/aromatic oils and seeds. These are the only part of the mix that I buy commercially. I find it too time and space consuming to make my own essential oils, so I buy them. I also like to buy scented rose hips when I can find them. They hold fragrance nicely over time if kept in an airtight container. I have had bags of rose hips keep their fragrance through several rounds of potpourri-making.

Next, you'll need a base material. From a kitchen garden, this base material may be the most subtle scent, but will nevertheless be the bulk of the potpourri. Flower petals and pine needles are often easy to come by, but keep in mind that not all flowers are as aromatic when dried as when fresh. Some that smell faintly sweet on the stem can take on a more vinegary smell when dried. Others have blossoms so delicate that they completely fall apart and turn to dust when dried and mixed. I find hearty, heavily-scented flowers are the best choice.

I used rose petals, lemon balm, a bit of baby's breath, a few bachelor's buttons and some sage in the one pictured here. But, you could make it more a culinary scent by using basil, thyme, mint and other kitchen herbs; or you could make it more woodsy with mint, pine and lemon balm. There are a myriad of possibilities, making this one of those projects in which your creative bent can run free. If possible, though, harvest whatever base materials you choose--whether flowers or herbs--on a sunny day just after the dew dries. By doing so, you'll best insure the bulk material is at its peak fragrance. If not, your potpourri will carry more of the scent of the essential oil than anything else.

Next, you'll need a fixative. The fixative is a fragrance-preserver. Animal-based ones are rather expensive, but you can dry rosemary from your own garden, as I did here, to use as one. You can also sometimes get orris root, tonka beans, rose attar--to name a few--from a craft store or an online supplier. They are just as effective and cheaper. In fact, you may find when you mix in dry rosemary, your olfactory memory takes you back to craft shops of the past. Whatever you choose, you'll need a tablespoon of that fixative for every quart of bulk material used.

Next up is the essential oil. I'm using lavender oil here, but have easily found and used vanilla, citrus and rose oil as well. And, if you can find melon oil it makes a great bath oil scent...but I digress. For the potpourri, you only need add 3 or 4 drops or the scent of the oil will overpower all other scents in the mix. A medicine dropper might be a good idea if you're starting from a full bottle of aromatic oil.

When the potpourri is finished, set a bowl out, leave the room a while and then return to "assess" the fragrance. If you're satisfied, store whatever you're not immediately using in airtight containers to save for later use. Keep these in a dark, cool place.

A last practical note about those base materials, especially if they come from your own garden: freeze them for 3 days when first picked, especially if you have any problem with aphids in your garden. The last thing you want is "buggy" potpourri.

Even if your homemade potpourri loses some of its fragrance over time, you can doctor it up when you open the jars. This table centerpiece sports two jars of last-year's potpourri. The scent was rich, but a little faint for my tastes, so I added a tablespoon of autumn spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg; a handful of vanilla rose hips and some dried orange peel. These refreshed it enough to give the dining room a gratifying fragrance.

What is my favorite thing about homemade potpourri? It is hopeful, especially when its scents are out of season. Sound sappy? I don't care. It strikes me that when I open a jar and put it on shelf or table, I drift into little spell of day-dreaming. I breathe again air happily rife with smells from a season or two prior, and I lapse into fond reverie. There is nothing like olfactory memory for bringing the most peaceful and energetic memories right to the front of the mind.

Happy fragrances to you!

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