Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Pomander

Pomander: from the French, pomme d'ambre, or apple of amber (as in ambergris, not the fossil).

For centuries pomanders have been used for their scent. In renaissance times, pomanders were spheres, usually made of metal, filled with perfumes, which people carried to mask odors and protect from disease. Renaissance ladies often hung pomander balls from their girdles. Some pomanders had sections, like an orange, that would each hold a different scent. 

Portrait of a Woman, c. 1547. Bartholomäus Bruyn.

Design for a pomander by Wenzel Hollar, based on one by Albrecht Dürer.

A German silver pomander, c.1600's.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was popular to make pomanders from oranges, studded with cloves. These could also be rolled in spices to help preserve the fruit. The oranges would dry out, preserving the spicy scent. Vinaigrette's were similar to Renaissance pomanders, with a pierced metal case, filled with a vinegar soaked sponge, and also smelled to cover odors.

18th century silver vinaigrette.
Today, pomanders are a Christmastime tradition. One can use the dry pomanders as ornaments on the tree or garlands, or toss them in a bowl like a potpourri. When making mulled cider or wine, add a couple fresh pomanders, when the mix is simmering, for both flavor and looks (they will float on top - very pretty in a punch bowl!) Year round, dry pomanders can be hung in the closet to ward of moths or put in drawers as a sachet. Once dry, pomanders can last for years.

How to make a Pomander:

There are two ways to make pomanders. Both use the oranges and cloves. The first way is how I have always made them. Just oranges and cloves. It's very basic, very easy, and it has always worked perfect for me. The second way is more involved, and it uses the spices, which are supposed to help preserve the fruit. Again, I have never had an issue with no spices, but for those that want to try it out, see the second way.

Method No.1

6 small oranges
1 jar or dried cloves
and a toothpick

I prefer clementines or other very small oranges. They're cute. They take less time to cover and less cloves, too. If you use regular size oranges, you will probably need more than one jar of cloves. This of course depends on how thoroughly you will cover the orange. Most 18th century oranges were completely covered by cloves, with very little of the orange showing through. I like to make patterns with the cloves instead, but thats up to you.

I live in a dry climate, so I just leave the finished pomanders out to dry (turning them daily so they dry evenly), but if you live somewhere damp, you can put them in an open paper bag to aide the drying. If you want them dried in time for Christmas, start them soon so they have time to dry out. It takes about three weeks or more.

Your ingredients. I prefer smaller oranges for cuteness.

Prick holes before pushing the cloves through.

Take care when inserting the cloves, as the bulbs
on the cloves are fragile and can easily be crushed.
You can wear a thimble if your fingers are sensitive.
The tops of the cloves are often spiny.

Make any kind of pattern you like, or cover completely
with cloves. Set out to dry, turning them often so they
dry evenly. If you live in a damp climate, you can put
them in an open paper bag to help them dry. 

Method No. 2

This method uses spices to help preserve the oranges and add to the scent. This works best with heavily cloved oranges.

Make the oranges with the cloves like above, then mix the spices together and place in a paper bag with the oranges. After three to four weeks remove from the bag and shake off the excess spices.

1/2 cup ground cinnamon
1/4 cup ground cloves
1 Tbs ground allspice
1 Tbs ground nutmeg
1 Tbs ground coriander
2 Tbs ground orris root (or about 8 drops of sandalwood oil)

Recipe courtesy YoursTruli


  1. I love pomanders! Thanks for the info and for the history. I love the German 1600's example. I was watching "The Tudors" the other night. Cardinal Woolsey was walking through the streets with one in hand!I'm sure he needed one, as the general populace only bathed once in a blue moon!
    And thanks for the mention re: ambergris! Much appreciated.

  2. Just to let you know, everyday I make a special trip into "Dressed In Time" to start my day. I can't wait to jump in, and see what's new!

  3. I'll have to start posting more :)