Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

IMG_4089I like my Christmas to smell.

Yes, I want to see bright lights and colors, as well as snow on the ground. I want the taste of peppermint and the feel of flannel PJs but mostly I love the smells I associate with the winter holidays.

You probably know the smells I mean. Evergreen boughs. Cookies baking. A wood fire. Caramel and chocolate and mint.

And the best smell of all, to my way of thinking—oranges studded with cloves.

Every year at this time, my husband gets a big bag of oranges and a big jar of whole cloves and makes pomanders while he watches football on TV.

He has done this for many years and, because the cloves dry and preserve the oranges, we probably have pomanders around here that are older than some of you!

Pomanders make a wonderful addition to holiday decorating.  They are natural and rustic and nostalgic but can also look quite modern, with the geometric design and bright contrast of colors.

And they are very easy to make. And pretty inexpensive. And they last, it seems, forever. You can even put them out in the fall and leave them out all winter because they don’t scream “Christmas.”

But, really, we make them mostly for that heavenly, spicy, zippy smell of bright citrus mixed with exotic clove.

Are you ready to start?

IMG_4061You’ll need:

Oranges—get small to medium ones. They don’t have to be perfect and expensive. Save your money for the zester (see below).

Whole cloves—don’t buy these in the little tins in the baking aisle, unless you only want to make one or two pomanders—they’re expensive that way! Try a restaurant supply store or a place like Sam’s Club, or order online, where you can find a whole pound for about $15-20. That big jar in the photos holds 11 ounces and has lasted a long time.

You won’t need but you’ll want:

A good zester—you can make pomanders by sticking holes in the orange with a skewer and putting cloves in the holes. But my husband’s method is so quick and sensible that, if you’re serious about this, you should consider it. He uses a heavy-duty zester—the brand is Rosle. This zester sells for about $25, which, I admit, is a crazy price for such a tool but it makes this job so easy! And I’m sure you occasionally want zest for a cocktail or something, right? Or is that just me?

To make your pomanders, use the larger hole on the side of the zester, called a channel, to carve a design in the orange. It’s very sharp so you can easily do stripes or swirls or spirals or a happy face. You can probably do monograms if you choose! Be sure to carve enough lines for a lot of cloves—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges.

IMG_4072Once you have the design carved, stick the pointy ends of the cloves as far as they’ll go into the white pith of the orange. The cloves should go in close to each other, almost touching. Don’t be stingy—remember you’re trying to preserve the oranges!

IMG_4077How easy is that?

So easy that, while you’re doing all this, you’ll have plenty of time to breathe deeply. Smell that wonderful smell. Finish one pomander and make another. And another. Tuck them into baskets and bowls and tie ribbons around them and hang them from a wreath or a tree.

IMG_4092You may find it quite addicting! And next year, you’ll make new ones to nestle up against the ones from this year. The old ones will be dried out and a little pale and not as fragrant but, hey, that happens to all of us eventually!

IMG_4073Pretty soon you’ll have generations of pomanders and a new family tradition. Start now!


One more thing—don’t throw the little scraps of orange rind and broken cloves away!

IMG_4100Put them in a sauce pan on your stove with some water and maybe a cinnamon stick and let it all simmer. Pay attention and add more water when needed and fill your home with the smell of Christmas!


66 thoughts on “Christmas Senses: The Smell of Oranges and Cloves

  1. I used to make these with my grandmother when I was small – no zester, sore thumbs. 🙂 I like the idea of clearing a path first. And you are right, they smell heavenly. I might have to make one or two this year.

  2. Lovely Christmassy post! I like the image of your husband watching football and making pomanders! And now I know what I always did wrong, my pomanders never lasted and that certainly produces not a fragrant;0) I see that I have to make make a ‘path’ before sticking the cloves in! Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Yes, there are very few smells ickier than a rotting orange (except a rotting tomato!) I think the carved path allows the cloves to go in deeper and they don’t break off either. We have one go bad occasionally but most of them stay around forever!

    • If they dry out correctly from the start, they should stay dried out. To be honest, we never store ours away–they just stay out, part of our sort of woodsy, rustic decor, all year.

  3. Oh, I haven’t done this in ages. I may be inspired to do some because the smell of oranges mixed with cloves is divine. My oranges don’t usually last very long; possibly because we are making them in the summer time?

  4. I just cuddled into bed with the laptop, and opened the window for a bit of fresh air. Someone has wood burning in their fireplace nearby, and the air is so crisp after a little snowfall earlier today. It caused me to pause and think about how much I rely on scent to comfort me, and then this was the first post I stopped to read! 🙂

    Now I know what to make this weekend! These would make lovely gifts. Thanks for the inspiring post!

  5. Awww…I got all nostalgic upon seeing these…my Mom always made them and passed the “tradition” on to me 🙂 I have a few oranges with heart and star shapes on them. They smell so good! Yours look so pretty!
    p.s. true about the sore thumbs 🙂

    • It really is one of those crafts that brings back memories–I think it’s the scent. They say our sense of smell is the most powerful, in terms of evoking memories. That and sore thumbs, of course. 😉

    • You and I both have our Christmas crafts that we love, don’t we, Johanna? Someday, when I have fewer obligations at tis time of year, I’m going to try your dioramas!

  6. Clearly your husband is a genius. I did this once and the torture of pressing the cloves into the orange, one by one, kept me from ever trying again. This method is a vast improvement. I agree about the zester. Some tools are worth the price for what they add in ease. Great post.

    • My husband agrees with your assessment of his intellectual prowess! And I have to agree, too–at least insofar as pomanders are concerned. His solution revolutionized this craft for us!

    • Carving the path is absolutely essential! Don makes a dozen or so a year–he could never do that if he was using his thumb to push the cloves through thick orange skin.

  7. was just asked by another blogging friend how to do the clove/orange thing. My answer will be sending her this link 🙂 So timely, Kerry. Thanks!

  8. Brilliant tip about the zester: I remembered what sore fingers I had the year I made pomanders. But the other reason I stopped was that the intructions I had called for powdered orris root to preserve the oranges, and it was so hard to find. Clearly you don’t need it at all – thanks! I’ll make some more now. I buy cloves in bulk from Indian grocery stores by the way: a solution for British readers?

  9. Oh, I love those! But I can still remember (though it’s been years and years since I’ve made them) how sore my thumbs would get from pushing in all those cloves. 😉

    • And that is why you need to use a zester–no sore thumbs! And, in your line of blog work, I would think an excellent zester would already have a place in your kitchen!

  10. I love the smell! I have made these in the past and sometimes substitute lemons for the oranges. I will admit that I don’t keep them. I use them in my simmer pots along with a cinnamon stick. I’ve never used the zester. I will have to try that. Thanks for your post.

    • We’ve used lemons, too! They are so pretty, combined with the oranges. I get a kick out of keeping the old ones and adding them to the stash–I wish we’d been carving the date into them so I could tell how old some are!

  11. I love the smells of Christmas! I have to stick to scented pine cones because I don’t trust my cats enough to ever get a tree. (I was going to try this year but with the kitten, I decided against it.) I think I need to make these instead. I love the idea of having them last year after year – I didn’t know that the cloves preserved them. That’s so cool. Also I am thinking the zests cooked in simple syrup would made some awesome holiday cocktails!

    • I LOVE that you thought of a way to turn what is essentially waste into a cool cocktail! Blog about it! I think you’ll like the pomanders–the smell is fab. I love those scented pine cones, too–need to go out and find some of those!

      • My theory is all things should lead to booze! 😉 Also I just have to say the box of goodies arrived this weekend. They are all so pretty! It was hard to know what to eat first but I went for the candy bars. Oh my god. I was going to share with my husband but I’ll be honest. I hid all of them!

        • SO glad you liked the candy, Jessica! Those candy bars are pretty decadent–I make a version, in more like bite-size form, of just the caramel and peanut butter gianduja layers, without the peanuts and pretzels. Those “smoothies” are my personal favorite of the candy I make, I think. Thanks again for the order!

  12. I’ve seen these and never known what the technique was. It looks like a great activity with a wonderful result. Your oranges are really beautiful and I bet the scent sends you straight into Christmas with a meld of present and past.

  13. I’ve never tried this – they look beautiful, too! As a kid, my favorite Christmas smell was always the smell of the tree but now that I use an artificial one, I need to add some other Christmas scents.

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  16. It wouldn’t be Christmas without all the smells. We have a neighbour who makes orange and clove pomanders every year – though I must say possibly not as artistically as your husband – and they do smell wonderful. We should give it a go! Love your, almost throw away, comment about all of us eventually drying out and becoming less pale and fragrant – hilarious! Merry Christmas!

  17. I’ve never heard of pomanders before, but after reading this blog (5 years after you wrote it), I was so intrigued I went out and bought the supplies. This morning I’ve been happily making pomanders and my house smells WONDERFUL! I’m so glad you suggested the zesting tool…that was the bomb. Thanks to another commenter I’m also trying lemons too. What a wonderful discovery during this frigid Minnesota December, and I thank you for sharing it. 🙂

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