I have always been able to tell that Christmas is near based upon the smells that come out of the kitchen. Since I was little, my mom has filled the house with the delightful scents of the season with her simmering potpourri. If I close my eyes, I’m back in my childhood home, half-asleep under a blanket on the couch. All of the lights are out except for the glow of the Christmas tree and the gentle fire under the stovetop in the kitchen that pumps smells of cinnamon and cloves to where I lay drifting in and out of slumber. My dad has already fallen asleep at least once on his chosen couch, but never fails to wake himself up to see us all to bed, checking every door and turning out every light. I clutch these memories so tight that I sometimes wonder if they might break.

Last year Chris and I spent the Christmas season in the first rented house I felt I could call a home, so I picked it as the first year to carry on my mom’s stovetop potpourri tradition. Throughout December, I simmered a pot full of orange peels, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves until the ingredients were mush – wonderful, fragrant mush – and it was time to turn off all the lights. I’m making my simmering potpourri again this season, but this time I’m experimenting with new smells like rosemary and star anise. My favorite combinations are below, along with some notes.


Combine the peel of half an orange cut into medium-sized pieces, two to three cinnamon sticks and a small handful of whole cloves. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Note all of these measurements are adjustable depending upon what smells you like best.

Notes: Although this is my mom’s recipe, I am completely unbiased when I say this combination is my favorite and most reminiscent of the aromas of Christmas. The longer the flavors meld together in the simmering water, the more heavenly the scent.

unnamedCombine the slices of one lemon, one large sprig of fresh rosemary and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

Notes: Light and fresh, this potpourri will make your home smell as if you’ve stepped into a spa. I would simmer this mix year-round, especially when I need to freshen up my home.

unnamed-1Thinly slice one orange and one apple and roast in a 250 degree oven for 90 minutes and as needed thereafter (check every 30 minutes). Combine dried fruit slices with five to six star anise pieces and two cinnamon sticks. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

Notes: This potpourri is very similar to the first recipe and also gives off a delightful holiday scent, accented by the licorice-like aroma of star anise.

The possibilities are endless with these simmering potpourris. The key is to choose strong scents, such as pine needles, bay leaves, dried lavender, dried eucalyptus and dried peppermint, and mild flavors like cranberries, clementines and kumquats.