You need one perfect, unblemished piece of fruit - I've only used oranges. In fact, except for the ribbon, I had everything on hand already. I've read that it can be done with lemons and limes too. Apples seem like they might get mushy too fast, but they sure would be quick to make, and yummy to smell. My mind is racing now - how about some of the exotic fruits I've read about on DavesGarden but have never tasted - would it work with them too? Kumquats? Pomegranates? Persimmons? You name it, give it a try... The cloves have a natural preserving effect.
If you choose to roll your finished pomander in spices (or shake it together with spices in a plastic bag, or spoon spices over it), you can use literally any spices or even tea you have around. I used ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, the scraps of cloves that had crumbled off during the poking-in process, and some loose tea that my step-daughter thoughtfully brought me from London a few years ago. You could also use allspice, pumpkin pie spice (which is really just a combination of some of the aforementioned spices), or let your mind get creative! How about rose hips? Lemon balm? Bergamot? What have you harvested?
Using a fork, ice pick, tooth pick or other sharp object (just be careful for the safety of your little ones), pierce holes through the skin of the orange. (Just substitute the name of the fruit you're using for 'orange', OK?) This hole-piercing step can prevent a lot of frustration for little kids and even, I hope, eliminate the sore thumb that so many of us remember from our childhood pomander ball experiences! When you pierce the holes ahead of time, you can make designs, or not, as you wish.Then carefully slide a whole clove deeply into each hole. (When I say "ahead of time" I don't mean hours or days, just what you can finish in a few minutes or half an hour.)
Some people feel it is essential to keep the 'rosette' of the clove intact - I find no matter how careful I am, when I push the clove in, often the top part of the clove falls apart. On the other hand, I guess I'm not that fussy about the appearance of the final product. And while the cloves are disintegrating, you're getting a wonderful aroma. However, this is the part that some children find painful, pushing in the clove with their little thumbs. Try letting them cover their thumbs with a thimble. If they find that too tricky, even a rubber glove works to protect the thumb from the sharp, prickly clove!
BE SURE TO.....
- work over a waterproof tray - I always use a tray because I'm usually working in bed, and you know how unpleasant it is to roll over and realize you lost track of a clove or two. Even using a tray, we still were changing the sheets fairly often! Use a water-tight tray, if possible. Another reason to use a tray is if your fruit is juicy enough to squirt!
- poke in a straightened then re-bent paperclip if you plan to hang your finished pomander ball. I used a red one so it would show up in the pictures but if I were just doing it for myself I would have matched the paperclip either to the color of the fruit or of the ribbon. Or maybe the bedspread? On that note, the bland, almost invisible ribbon in my pictures is actually a an ivory organza which shimmers in the kitchen window!
- allow time for your fruit to mummify. There is a school of thought, or I guess you'd call it a school of pomander ball making, that says you must wait until the fruit is dried and hard before rolling it in spices or tying ribbons around it. I talked to many people, online and in person, who don't wait the recommended 2 - 6 weeks until it's totally dry to begin enjoying their pomander balls. Some places are just so arid that the extra wait is unnecessary. Some people, myself included, feel why should you hang it somewhere else to dry out so you can hang it in your kitchen window?
- if you do choose to roll your creation in spices, which adds another dimension of scent and also helps disguise any bald patches on your fruit, be aware that some spices can stain. The one that just popped in my head is curry - as I'm sure you realize, curry can stain fabrics, especially treasured, pale fabrics, a bright yellow. Now I doubt any of you will be rolling - or shaking - your pomander balls in curry powder, but then again, I have advised you to be creative. Furthermore, some of the spices I have suggested - ginger, for instance, and nutmeg - can stain, especially if the material is particularly irreplaceable and hard to clean. Sort of a Murphy's Law principle. Just Be Very Careful.
To me, pomander balls are about the smell of the room while you're making them, the smell of wherever you hang them, the cool way they fossilize... They are part of winter the way the smell of wood smoke is part of winter, or the way your favorite Christmas carol is part of Christmas. Smell, taste and sound are such primitive senses! Although elaborate careers can be built on classical music, gourmet cooking and fancy wine or French perfumes, to me, it all starts with 'twinkle, twinkle, little star,' ginger cookies and lemonade, and the smell of a pretty flower. Making a pomander ball for yourself or with a child may help rekindle the sense of a time when the best gifts were homemade and the nicest garden was your family's.