Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rotten Pot

Got your attention on that one, didn't I? And, depending on your age, that could represent some unique things...but it is actually the literal translation for "potpourri." I am reworking the shop for spring...and spring cannot come a minute too soon. I know, I know...winter...winter...winter...enjoy, but I preferred the less white winter. Anyway, I am trying some potpourri handcrafted by a woman in West Virginia...I am trying so much to support Americans. Anyway, it got me thinking about the origin...

It appears that potpourri was created in the 12th century to freshen the rooms in castles. Spices or herbs were placed in huge cooking cauldrons after the meal tasks of the day had been completed. People then took these herbs and spices and placed them in containers with lids, moistened them with spirits, and left them to rot. This process created a pungent perfume which was released each time the lid was lifted. Flowers were then placed in handsome bowls and baskets with these fragrant herbs and spices to beautify rooms throughout the castle.
Another method mentioned that semi-dried rose petals were layered with salt. It's basically the same method as making sauerkraut, a process of fermentation. It seems that jars of rose petals have been excavated from ancient sites in Egypt, so perhaps potpourri actually goes back that far.

Potpourri jars -- opaque, with a solid cover to keep scent in and a pierced cover to let it out -- date back a few hundred years. I found this jade one from China that had sold at auction for several thousand dollars.
Dry potpourri is usually fortified with essential oils, and essential oils don't go back further than steam distillation, which is late middle ages. Research indicates that growing flowers in the quantities needed for essential oil production is a product of the industrial revolution, with railroad transport and the prospect of using farmland for growing specialty cash crops.

During this era, the convenience of bathing and washing clothing was not as accessible, so wooden vessels were constructed to contain these lovely mixtures, and were hung inside of women’s heavy petticoats.

The art of making potpourri is now extremely varied. Commercial varieties depend on imitation oils, which are applied to leaves and mixed with some of the original ingredients used for potpourri.

The potpourri I have introduced to the shop is made in small batches. She uses high-quality oils and the finest natural botanicals, bringing scent to life by adding clean, fresh, fragrant oils to real dried flowers and herbs. All the flowers and herbs are in their naturally dried state. Nothing is artificially colored, there are no dyed woodchip fillers or fake perfume-y scents. She avoids using large pod-like ingredients used by many modern potpourri companies which only serve to bulk up potpourri and add nothing to the quality and longevity of the fragrance.

Varieties include "Sensuality"~Soft, lush and feminine, pink and red with roses and pepperberries. Sensuality has flowery notes highlighted with jasmine, rose and sandalwood; "Belle du Jour"~Abundant with the prettiest flowers combines glorious multi-colored roses with the heady scent of gardenia and fresh lilac; and "Blue Lilac"~Shades of blue, with highlights of green ferns and red roses. It has a fresh, clean, open lilac fragrance.

Selling by the scoop, you can fill a little bag for yourself or for a special friend.

"Flowers leave some of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them."
(Chinese proverb)


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The Cinnamon Stick said...

Seems are "noses" have quite the different "likes" !! The potpourri is really wonderful and selling extremely well here in PA. I hope you can get open soon so your customers can have the pleasure of scooping their own potpourri to take home!

Shortbread and Ginger said...

Hi Susan - wonderful post as always. Very interesting to find out the history of potpourri. Liz