The sight of the tree glittering in the dining room window, twinkling fairy lights twining up the banisters and streams of cards dangling from ribbons stapled into the top of the sitting room doors lifts my heart at Christmas. But more than that, more than that, I love the way the house smells.
The wreath on the front door, covered in oranges and lemons studded with cloves, sprigs of bay, bundles of cinnamon and dried orange slices, smells as good as it looks. The oven, with some assistance from me, churns out cookies and cakes, hams and sausage rolls, filling the house with delicious aromas. Pots of hyacinths and jasmine, vases of eucalyptus and off-cut pine branches from the tree, are crammed on every mantel, side table and desk.
Along the sitting room mantel, I place candles stuck into old terracotta pots filled with damp sand (you could also use florists’ oasis). I cram them with clippings of myrtle, rosemary, Christmas box and bay from the garden. It takes minutes and smells wonderful. On Christmas Day, I’ll steal the candles from the sitting room and use them to decorate the dining table.
I dry dozens of orange slices in December (see method, below). It’s easy and cheap and I use them in so many different ways – on the wreath, tied in bundles on the tree and in quick Christmas pot pourri.
For this, I mix the orange slices in a bowl with whatever I can grab from my spice drawer: cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, cardamom pods and cassia bark (available very cheaply in big bags from Indian supermarkets). To this base mixture, I add fresh bay leaves and rosemary from the garden so I can enjoy their sweet, spicy, piney scents as they dry. I also stud a few oranges and lemons with cloves and toss these in the bowl too. The base mixture, with perhaps just a few drops of essential oil (sweet orange, frankincense, cedar, scotch pine and clove are all good, alone or in combination) to intensify the scent, bagged up and tied with a pretty ribbon, make a very good, inexpensive present.
What scents say ‘Christmas’ to you?
How to Dry Orange Slices:
Preheat the oven to 130C/250F/Gas mark ½ .
Trim the ends off the orange and then slice thinly, about 3mm thick, with a sharp knife. Place sheets of baking parchment on metal cake cooling racks and arrange the orange slices on top. Place them in the oven. After 15 minutes, turn the temperature down to 110C/225F/Gas mark ¼ . After an hour or so, turn the slices over and return them to the oven. Keep an eye on them, turning from time to time. When they’re almost dry, turn the oven off and leave the orange slices in the oven until cold. The idea is to get them thoroughly dry but not to over ‘cook’ them as you want to keep the colour as vibrant as possible, so keep an eye on them and adjust the timings to suit your oven.