As an adult, I dedicate a lot of brain space to figuring out what things to buy, either for myself or others, in a well-intentioned but often futile attempt to mitigate life’s pain and suffering through my purchasing power. But as a child, I spent no time thinking of that at all, because I had no purchasing power to speak of; instead, between the ages of five to 12, life happily revolved around activities, whether that was watching cartoons or going to swim practice or doing my homework or drawing. One year, while spending the holidays with my extended family in Mexico, I was introduced to an especially fun and basically free activity: making orange-clove pomander balls.
I loved arts and crafts as a kid, and so the adults in my family who were tasked with watching over me were constantly coming up with new ways to entertain me, like putting markers and sheets of printer paper in front of me, or construction paper and scissors if it was the winter time (to make snowflakes), or one time attempting to teach me papier-mâche (that was a one-time activity, because of the clean-up involved).
My godmother was especially good at this, because she was cool as hell and literally always down to hang out. Whenever I stayed at her house, we would spend the day watercoloring or pressing flowers or making jewelry or bedazzling stuff. One time during the holidays, I came over and she laid out the plan: making a whole bunch pomander balls by taking cloves and sticking them into fresh oranges to our heart’s content. Like everything she suggested, this killed two birds with one stone: It passed the time until my parents came to pick me up, and it was instantly pleasant and rewarding, yet simple and repetitive enough to do over and over again.
I messaged my madrina over WhatsApp to ask her about why she suggested making pomander balls that day, and she said that she and her sisters had the idea to give them away as presents. This remains a very good idea! In the old days, pomander balls were thought to possess magical healing powers, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and ward off sickness. Today we know pomander balls have like, no medicinal value—but they’re still truly a delight to behold and receive. They are witchy and festive-looking things; they can dress up a room just by sitting in a bowl or being wrapped in a ribbon; and yes, they smell really, really good.
Here’s how you make one:
1. Take a whole orange
s(or any citrus fruit, really) and
2. Stick them with cloves, in whatever shape or pattern your heart desires. You can do stars, swirls, randomly placed dots, etc.
That’s it. It’s your artistic process and yours alone. And then you’re done. Now you have a beautiful object to hang in your home and you’ve left the place smelling incredible. Good on you. Have extra oranges or cloves? Make another one and give it to someone. Who doesn’t love free, nice smells?
Gift-giving can be stressful, especially around the holidays. But orange-clove pomander balls might be the rare gift that makes people universally happy, and cost almost nothing to give. You might get a little sore thumb from pushing the clove into the rind; wear it like a badge of honor.