How to Make Simmering Holiday Potpourri

Even if you aren't planning to bake (or even cook) much this holiday season, your home can still smell pretty great. All you need is a pot, some water and a few aromatics. Aromatic ingredients added to simmering water will release their fragrances (or aromas if you prefer), with the steam. You can keep the pot at a low simmer, replacing the water every half hour or so, all day. That means a home that smells like sugar cookies or cinnamon buns or spice cake -- while you're curled up with a book.

Beyond making your home smell great, a simmering potpourri pot will add welcome humidity to your home if you've been relying on your furnace during cold weather. Improving the ambient humidity in your house will help keep your houseplants happy, keep your skin moist (including the skin on your hands and feet), and even help protect your wood cabinets, flooring and furniture.

Ingredients for Simmering Pot Potpourri

The really nice thing here is that you can create a "perfume pot" -- that's what I call it -- with lots of different ingredients used alone or in combination. Choose what you like, or use what you have on hand. Recipes are strictly optional. Here are some popular ingredients:

  • A teaspoon of vanilla extract or a portion of vanilla bean
  • Apples - or just the discarded peels
  • Sliced citrus (or just the peel) - Think oranges, lemons or limes
  • Cinnamon sticks (In a pinch, I just use ground cinnamon from the jar.)
  • Star anise
  • Cardamom pods
  • Pear peels
  • Whole cloves
  • Allspice berries
  • Chinese five spice powder
  • Rosemary
  • Ginger
  • Juniper berries
  • Nutmeg
  • Pine stems (small)
  • Sage
  • Peppermint
  • Bay leaf
  • Lavender stems or blossoms (fresh or dried)
  • Rose petals
  • Pickling spice
  • Thyme
  • Cocoa powder
  • Chai tea (as a base)
  • Flavored extracts or essential oils (used sparingly)

You can see there's a lot of potential.

Basic Simmering Potpourri Recipe

If this idea interests you, start with a basic ingredient, like, say, a sliced orange, and build from there. Here's an example:

  1. Add one sliced orange to 2 cups of water in a heavy pot.
  2. Toss in 15 whole cloves, two cinnamon sticks and a couple of bay leaves. You could also add rose petals or some ginger.
  3. Bring the pot to a quick boil, and then reduce the heat to a delicate simmer.
  4. Set your stove timer for half an hour.
  5. The aroma will be evident as soon as the pot starts to produce steam. When the timer goes off, replace the water lost to evaporation and adjust the ingredients if you find the fragrance too weak or too strong. You may want to add a few allspice berries, more cinnamon -- who knows. Experimenting is half the fun.
  6. This is also the time to adjust the timer.  If there was a lot of water left in the pot, you may be able to reset it for 45 minutes; if there was just a little left, reset it for 20 minutes or so -- or add a bit more water this time. Remember, you're after a very light simmer.

After a trial run, you'll come up with all sorts of recipe ideas of your own.

This is an inexpensive and entertaining way to create a homey environment during a winter weekend. I tend to keep my home on the cool side, and the extra fragrance makes things cozier -- I even feel warmer. It may be an illusion, but if it works, I'm in.

It's a kinda green choice, too. I'm making a room freshener with natural ingredients, and in the case of citrus, pear or apple peel, I'm using ingredients I'd otherwise discard -- or throw  on the compost pile.

I usually think of putting together a perfume pot when I know I'll have aromatics (peels or vanilla) leftover from other projects. I often work with spices during the holidays, so pulling out a little more for the pot is not a big deal.

Reusing Simmering Potpourri

Although the spices are pretty depleted at the end of a day simmering, I have refrigerated perfume pot ingredients and started them up again the next morning. That works, but the pot will need some revitalizing with added spices.

Thanks to a suggestion from a reader, this year I've started using my small slow cooker for perfume pot duty. This is an inspired idea, but I still like to bring the initial ingredients to a boil on the stove first and then pour them into the slow cooker. I get quicker results that way.

Give simmering pot potpourri a try this holiday.

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