Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Last Bloom of Summer

It's absolutely cool when you sit down with a book you know nothing about and find it starts out in the same month you're now in. This is the case with No Fond Return of Love, a reissue of the 1961 novel by English author Barbara Pym.

The story begins at a weekend conference being held in rural Derbyshire. Dulcie Mainwaring, introduced to us right away, gets to thinking (as she settles for sleep in the iron bedstead of the rather cell-like room at the girl's boarding school where attendees are gathered) about her suburban garden full of dahlias and zinnias.

September is Dulcie's favorite month we learn. I think this is true for many. They're worn out by summer heat. September is bounty of plums and apples as Dulcie thinks about, and the loveliness of late season flowers, blue skies, the tang of lighter air and changes that come in seasonal activities. September has a number of folks sighing in relief and in peaceful remembrance.

The sentence about dahlias and zinnias jog my memory as well as reminding me that several friends look forward to fall. In a makeshift pile of papers which I intended, at the start of summer, to go through, is a small envelope with tightly folded sheets of paper. The handwriting goes back a long time as I unfold the pages to review what they have to say.

The contents of the envelope take me back to an interest shared years ago with my mom. The 1970s were a time of all things natural. Euell Gibbons and Adelle Davis, along with Prevention magazine's Bob Rodale, were proponents for healthy eating and healthy living. We found their books at our local library and incorporated some of their thoughts and recipes.

It was a time to be in touch with the earth and the living things from which we get our sustenance and have essential connection. This is when herbs became important to me, something written about before.

Making your own breakfast cereal like museli or Adelle's granola (whose recipe, in her book, mom and I made for years), and putting up your own jams and jellies (like the recipe for sumac jelly given me by a neighbor) were the new hobbies.

"The Last Bloom of Summer" is in red marker at the top of the first sheet in the envelope. As I glance through this page, and the second, they prove to be directions for making potpourris. There were many recipes for potpourris in those years. Potpourris were part of the appreciation and preservation movement that defined the era.

"Potpourri is that happy blend of color, fragrance and design that captures the essence of summer, and promises with each savored scent, to release summer sunshine through winter's long sleep."

Whether this is a quote from some magazine or book, or my own introduction to the potpourri directions that follow, I have no idea these several years later. It sounds like my writing. I can almost see my head bent over paper and the intent to put important things down.

Potpourri-making is quite easy. Start with a large wide-mouth glass jar. (We used washed-out peanut butter jars which were the right size for holding the mixture.) In the storage container place 2 cups flower petals. Add 2 scant teaspoons crushed or ground orris root. (This helps to preserves the potpourri by retarding evaporation of volatile oils.) Stir in 2 teaspoons crushed or ground spices. Add a few drops, a drop at a time, of aromatic oil.

Seal and store for six weeks to allow the various fragrances to mix. Shake the mixture every few days. After six weeks you may divide the mixture to make individual potpourris or as bath sachets or herb cushions.

In the envelope, along with The Last Bloom of Summer notations, are a pair of folded half-sheets of notepaper. They are directions for potpourris which mom had written down for me. They date from this same period of potpourri interest.

Lavender Potpourri (from mom)

3 cups lavender flowers
2 tablespoons dried lemon peel (see note above for drying citrus peelings)
2 tablespoons dried sweet basil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
4 tablespoons orris root
4 tablespoons dried spearmint leaves
1 teaspoon benzoic acid powder
6 drops oil of lavender

Combine all ingredients but the oil. Add the oil a drop at a time, tossing as you add. Seal in dark dry warm place for 6 weeks - shake often.

Rose Potpourri (from mom)

8 oz. dried rose petals
4 oz. granular orris root
1 oz. ground cloves
2 oz. granular patchouli
2 oz. benzoin (broken up)
2 oz. geranium leaves

Mix all ingredients and let them blend for some time

Suggestions for potpourris (from the list found in the envelope)

flowers: aster, baby's breath, calendula, cornflower, garden violet, goldenrod, hollyhock, larkspur, lavender, lily of the valley, nasturtium, pansy, peppermint, rose, rose geranium, stock, tiger lily, wild daisy, zinnia

leaves: basil, bay, garden violet, lavender, mint, rose, rose geranium, rosemary, sage, sweet marjoram, thyme

fixatives: gum benzoin, orris root, patchouli oil, sandalwood

spices: allspice, caraway, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mace, nutmeg

miscellaneous: anise seed, coriander seed, lemon or orange peel
(dry the citrus peelings and coat with a powdered fixative before adding), pine needles, rosebuds

aromatic oils: caraway, carnation, dill, gardenia, honeysuckle, lemon, lilac, lily of the valley, orange blossom, patchouli, peppermint, rose attar, rosemary

Finding the potpourri directions (The Last Bloom of Summer) was surprisingly like uncapping a jar of preserved rose petals. The fragrance of summer blooms, obviously not detectable as the notes were extracted from the long put-away envelope, still seems to reach me.

I'm revived by them just as autumn can revive a person after summer. They awake memory. My mom's hand, and my additional directions, didn't preserve actual blooms. They were able to retain, instead, the sense of the old good times as they were.

As the final note indicates, "if you keep your potpourri in a tightly stoppered jar and open sparingly, the fragrance can last for years."

Ro Giencke - September 13, 2011

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