Sunday June 30 we were so pleased to attend the 20th Annual Old Style Independence Day Ice Cream Social at the Heritage House in Riverside, CA. This gorgeous Victorian house has been lovingly restored and is a curated museum of Victorian life in early Riverside. Mr and Mrs James Bettner moved from New York to Riverside for his health in the 1870s.
If you are looking for a historical craft activity to do with your kids, or just on your own for the joy of it, you might try out a Victorian style pomander. Pomanders were made from citrus fruits pierced with cloves and date back to the 15th century. The cloves helped preserve the fruit from spoiling and the aromas helped fragrance the home for many months. They were often hung in bunches from ceiling beams. Remember, homes often had one great room for cooking, eating, socializing and sleeping, so the pomanders helped to keep unpleasant odors at bay. Cloves were sometimes inserted in symbolic shapes and as the fruit dried the pomander became a good luck charm. They could be made annually to continue the good luck in the home. By the 17th century, the wealthy had decorative holders to put the pomanders into so they could hold them close to their nose. Not only did they help hide unpleasant odors, but they were also used for disease prevention as it was believed that certain spices could prevent diseases or noxious vapors from entering the body through the nose.
Pomanders enjoyed a revival during the 19th century with the greater availability of citrus fruits. Americans had access to oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits grown in Florida and California in particular. Follow these simple instructions to create an aromatic and lovely historical holiday item. They can be hung from the ceiling as in old, or displayed in a bowl on a table.
Citrus spice pomanders
Orange, lemon or lime
Implement for poking holes – some people suggest a clean 2″ nail
Pour a small bowl full of whole cloves.
Create a design on your fruit – spiral, stars, crosses, etc. – by poking holes into the skin of the fruit. Place the holes no closer than 1/4″ apart, otherwise the skin of the fruit could tear; also because they shrink as they dry you could lose some of the cloves if they are too close. Place a clove into the premade holes. If you are working with oranges or lemons, you may want to make a few holes, place the cloves, then make a few holes, place the cloves, etc., as the lighter colored fruit skins can disguise your holes and you may lose your pattern.
Proceed this way until your design is complete. Gently but not loosely wrap a ribbon around the fruit, tying it in a knotted bow at the top. You can also tie it in a loop to hang from a hook. We used boutonniere pins to ensure the ribbon did not slide off the orange.
The pomanders will dry but should not spoil because of the preservative effects of the cloves. As they dry the pomanders will naturally lose some of their scent. To refresh their fragrance, place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with ground cloves, then bake at a very low temperature for about 15 minutes. At that time you can also adjust the ribbons to ensure they do not come off.
Enjoy your traditional holiday pomander!
If you have stumbled across this site because you were browsing historical topics, at some point you likely have come across references to school children using slates to perform their work. We all know (somehow, by osmosis perhaps) that a slate is a chalkboard. But, who exactly knows the how and they why of the slate?
Many sources reference the fact that paper was expensive while slate was inexpensive. Now that really turns our modern concept of school supplies on its head, doesn’t it!? But, in perspective, a slate was a one-time purchase, and for practicing at something such as penmanship or arithmetic, it wasn’t practical to keep the work. Paper would have been reused to start the fire. Slate is a type of stone you might have seen used as stepping stones or patio paving, but in the 19th century, the stone was “flaked” into thin sheets and then cut to size. The average size was 8×10 once encased in the frame. Slates could be bound in a book to protect the surface, and smaller 3×5 slates were available for adults to jot notes and work math on. Both sides of the slate would have been used as a work surface.
Because the slate was for temporary work, memorization was crucial for learning and in passing examinations. A teacher could walk around the room and review a student’s progress much like today, but assignments couldn’t practically be collected and then returned at the end of the session with a grade. There was just too much chance something would be erased accidentally. Once the work was reviewed at the student’s desk, the slate was wiped clean and new work commenced. And now you know where that saying comes from…
School children had a slate which they carried back and forth from home to school. But, what did they write with? Until recently, I assumed “chalk of course!” because that is what the teachers of my childhood used on the chalkboard. But! that was not the case in the 19th century. Slate pencils were most common, and made from soapstone or of a softer grade of slate than the actual tablet was made. They were commonly wrapped in paper and slate pencils wrapped in wood (akin to a modern #2) were also available into the 20th century. The softer the pencil, the fewer scratches it made into the slate surface, preserving the slate for a longer amount of usage. Chalk was also available which was softer and easier to write with on slate. If you don’t like the sound of nails on a chalkboard, plug your ears when learning to write with a slate pencil on a slate! The scratching sound is something like a cat catching its tail under a rocking chair’s runner.
The slate was phased out in the 20th century as paper making became less expensive. They are still widely available on auction sites like ebay where you can get an antique slate and the pencils, but don’t look for them at you local craft store because they are no longer the “in thing” to decorate apparently. The ones you might find there would be chalkboards rather than slates anyway – particle board painted with chalkboard paint rather than an actual piece of slate. While researching for this article I found the following history sources, although I know nothing about them and this is not an endorsement.
My friends and I will be visiting Huntington Beach’s annual Civil War event this Labor Day weekend. Hope to see you there!