Thursday, July 15, 2010

In Which I Wax Lyrical About Making Perfume At Home

These days I ought to be spending my time weeding the garden and harvesting and freezing veggies. Instead, I'm making perfume.

I can't think of anything more poetic to do on a summer morning than to go out with a basket and shears just after the sun has dried the dew and pick flowers. Whenever I do this I feel that there should be a recorder ensemble in the background playing madrigals.

Today I picked four cups of rose petals and lavender flowers. I put one cup of the flowers and petals into my mortar and "bruised" them with my pestle. I love to use a mortar and pestle the same way I love using a mallet and chisel for carving. They are such primitive tools, and while I'm working with them I get in touch with my Neanderthal genes.

I put the bruised flowers in a glass jar, added half a cup of olive oil, and set the jar on the sunny kitchen windowsill. In two days I will strain out the blossoms through cheesecloth (of which I have plenty, from my cheese-making days), bruise another cup of blossoms and add it to the oil, and let that sit in the sun for two days, repeating the process until all the flowers (which I am storing in a covered glass container in the fridge) are used up.

If all goes well, the olive oil will absorb the scent of the flowers, and I will end up with half a cup of rose/lavender essential oil. This I can then mix with alcohol and spritz on myself, but I'll probably just rub the oil straight into my skin. Olive oil is good for all kinds of things.

If the contents of the jar turn into a rancid mess, I will still have gotten to play with olive oil, sunshine and flowers--not a bad way to spend a summer day.

In the dark recesses of my pantry, I have a baby food jar crammed full of lavender blossoms and filled to the brim with cheap vodka. This melange, properly known as "tincture," I have been shaking every day for almost two weeks. Already the vodka has turned the most beautiful purple. On Sunday, I will strain the vodka through my faithful cheesecloth and I will have a lovely eau de lavande, which I will spritz all over myself and anyone who comes near me.

Or not. My eau may fail, because the recipe actually calls for Ever Clear, which is an extremely strong grain alcohol. Apparently some people use this to get extremely drunk extremely fast, so in Vermont you can only get it if you are a professional "tincturer," which I am not (yet). But I'm hoping the cheap vodka will do the job.

Then there is a third very ancient and complicated technique for extracting scent from flowers, called "enfleurage." I want to try this because I love the word. Enfleurage involves pressing flowers into lard, and I have a can of Crisco in my pantry that I bought with this in mind. You press flowers into lard and after a couple of days you get rid of the old flowers and add fresh ones, and repeat this for about a week, by which time you should have some lovely-smelling lard. This is called a pomade, and one could, I suppose, just rub that on like lotion.

To extract the perfume from the lard, you break the lard into bits and put it into bottles which you fill with rubbing alcohol and store in that same dark pantry. Then you wait three whole months, shaking the bottles every so often. When the great day arrives, you get out your cheese cloth, filter out the lard, and pour the scented alcohol into gorgeous bottles that you have spent the last three months collecting. You should add a few drops of sandalwood oil to each bottle as a fixative (to make the scent last longer).

In case you are as crazy as I am and want to try this, here's the link:
http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/1976-07-01/Lets-Enfleurage.aspx

I'll let you know how all this goes.

6 comments :

  1. I love experiments like this and was with you wholeheartedly until you got to the Crisco. I'll reserve judgment on that one.

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  2. Hi Diane, the Crisco is actually a short cut. The "real" recipe calls for beef fat, which has to be rendered and deodorized with alum.

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  3. Oh Lali - you are so industrious. I feel like a slug. I'm not even keeping up with the weeds in my vegetable garden much less experimenting with all kinds of interesting projects. Good luck. I can't wait to hear about the results.

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  4. Alix, but then, I don't have ten dogs staying with me.

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  5. I loved this: Enfleurage involves pressing flowers into lard, and I have a can of Crisco in my pantry.

    Just perfect and wonderful. You are my hero, Lali.

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  6. Dona, all I did was get the Crisco--I'll let you know how it all turns out.

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