Lavender Fragrance and Fancies {How To Make Potpourri}

Making your own potpourri is a delightful hobby and easier than you may think….
The ancient and fragrant art of potpourri is one of the few truly civilized and civilizing processes left for the twentieth century inhabitant to partake of. This ‘preservation of garden souls’ is a work worthy of time and loving care and its products can bring delight not only to the maker but to so many others.
We will disdain the often quoted and unworthy translation of the French ‘rotten pot’, and proceed hastily to the fact that there are two distinct techniques for potpourri production, ‘moist’ and ‘dry’.
Moist potpourri is an old method of production and its presumably the source of the French title, for it is the fragrance, and most certainly not the appearance  that is the attraction with this variety. Moist potpourri are reputed to retain their fragrance for up to fifty years, so the process results in much longer staying power. They are made from floral materials that are partly dried, despite the name.
The peak time to pick any floral ingredient is just as it is coming into full bloom. Pick after the dew has dried but as early as possible on a sunny day. Dry the flowers on papers or preferably on screens, out of sunlight but in an airy place. For moist potpourri they should be only partly dried. leathery when finished rather than crisp. Aim for a very limp appearance. Around one third of their bulk will be gone.
We use large straight sided glazed pottery crocks with good fitting tops to hold and mature moist potpourris. These should really be set aside for the purpose as it takes a number of weeks to mature a batch. Never use metallic spoons to turn the mixture. Buy some long-handled wooden spoons and keep them for this purpose alone. To make your job pleasant the crock needs to be sufficiently large and wide-mouthed to hold all the ingredients comfortably during the necessary turnings and stirrings as the mixture ages. The shortest time needed to mature the mix is two weeks. This is really far too short. The best results come with longer maturation. We wait at least six to eight weeks, but in previous centuries, far more noted for their patience than our own, the crocks were left to stew for months.
The general principles are simple. Place a layer of ‘leathery stage’ petals at the bottom of the crock, then cover with a layer of common {not iodized} salt. Add another layer of petals, then salt, alternating them until the crock is about three quarters full. A batch requires at least two weeks ageing before the remaining ingredients are added. Weigh the mixture down with a plate on which is placed some heavy non-corrodible object. A large bottle of homemade preserves is an answer. A large glass jar filled with sand and tightly capped will do the job well too. Each day the mix needs to be stirred well from the bottom. A kind of ‘petal soup’ appears and should be mixed back into the petals. If a hard crust appears, remove it and allow it to dry. Reserve this for the final mixing when it should be crushed and added back.
Next the spices, ground roots, dried peels, fragrant leaves and fixatives are added and blended. Leave for one month, stirring daily and covering again, to mellow and mix the fragrances. Finally add whatever essential oils may be required and allow the mix to continue to ‘stew’ {the word is too appropriate to be avoidable}, stirring daily, for a few more weeks.
If all this sounds tedious in the extreme, interrupting a very busy schedule, you are probably one of those who would most greatly benefit from its therapy! The fragrance alone is sufficient reward as the mixture is stirred each day, and it is no more difficult to build this routine into your day than any other daily routine.
Now is the time to move the potpourri into its final containers. Remember how long it will give pleasure to its owner and choose something worthy of the contents. Old Chinese ginger jars, oriental porcelain jars, even old-fashioned tea-caddies and marmalade jars in fine pottery are suitable. Haunt secondhand and antique shops for suitable potpourri jars. The only provisos are that there is a solid cover and that it is made of glazed pottery of some kind. Once you are looking, it is amazing how many unusual and attractive old containers suggest themselves.
The mixture in its new container will still be a little raw in its quality of fragrance, but in a few weeks will be a delight. When you wish to scent a room, remove the cover and a delicious subtle fragrance will gently pervade the whole area. Otherwise keep the lid on the mixture.
Here are a few recipes for moist potpourri. Once you have mastered the basic technique you will be able to devise your own mixes.
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