Sweet & spicy
Historic Deerfield hosts Apples to Ornaments program in November
Faith Deering , Museum Educator at Historic Deerfield, holds a pomander for Hayes, and Hadley Talbot to smell before they make one themselves. The siblings , 9 ½ and 7 1/2 , from Brooklyn,NY were visiting with their grandmonther Dennise Goggins ,of Northhamton.
Purchase photo reprints »
Hadley Talbot, 9 ½, of Brooklyn, NY, makes a pomander at the History Workshop at Historic Deerfield with Faith Deering.
Purchase photo reprints »
A finished pomander, with a pair of Lady apples , a small variety used to make it.
Purchase photo reprints »
They once hung alongside amulets around the necks of European monarchs and served as air fresheners in colonial America.
Today, they are used for decoration — gracing the presence of a Christmas tree or hanging from a window, all while emitting a surprising blend of sweet and spicy smell.
A pomander, a small brown ball with studded cloves, barely resembles the apple it was before it was shrunk and dried by natural preservatives.
“It still smells amazingly good,” said Faith Deering, looking at a 3-year-old pomander that once was a McIntosh apple but now has shrunk to fit easily in the palm of her hand.
Deering, a museum educator at Historic Deerfield, will help others create their own pomanders this autumn season in “Apples to Ornaments.” The street-long history museum in Old Deerfield is hosting this activity at its History Workshop building in November. There are still four more days of pomander-making left to go.
During a recent session, at a small round table, brown cloves were pierced into the skin of a Lady apple — a fruit small enough to be hidden from view when surrounded by a clenched fist.
Each insertion of the clove — a dried tree bud that resembles a small nail, both in size and in its sharp point-like end — was rewarded with a small burst of juice that oozed out of the fruit. Over time, as the cloves were methodically pressed in, forming circular rows around the apple, the fingers become sticky, the thumb slightly calloused from the hard end of the bud.
In about 20 minutes, the first phase of this apple’s new journey was complete. Covered in cloves, it was then coated in a ground-up mixture of cinnamon and Orris root, which comes from the Iris flower.
The Orris root, which acts as an additional and optional preservative, is difficult to find in stores or even online.
When the process is complete, the pomander is taken home and must sit for a month in an open, indoor place — as the toppings’ chemical preservatives dry and shrink the apple, preventing it from rotting.
A welcome smell
Making a pomander is a surprisingly meditative experience — and one that is accompanied by stories of apple history and cooking experiences past.
That is the goal of Historic Deerfield employees, who created the program to provide a fun, family-friendly activity, with a “nod to history,” just in time for the holiday season, said Claire Carlson, education and program coordinator.
The apple has long been considered an American fruit, but it actually was brought here by the English, who carried seeds during their journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
In the days before chemical air sprays and widespread deodorant use, pomanders served as a saving grace to colonial American homes, museum educators said.
“I’m sure if we were back in the 1700s, our noses would be very offended,” said Deering, with a grin. “(The pomander) would help to make a house smell very welcoming.”
Apples were everywhere. It was impossible not to know someone who had a large orchard, or even a portion of their home lot with apple trees, said Carlson.
And apple cider, now considered a nice treat on an Autumn day, was the colonists’ primary beverage.
“They were worried about the water quality, so they made cider,” said Deering. “In order to make cider, you need lots and lots of apples.”
As the centuries passed, the most common apple varieties have changed. The Lady apples, used in the pomander activity, are a “heritage” variety — an old type of apple that existed in colonial America.
History in the making
Museum educators are confident that when people leave the History Workshop building with their pomanders rolled up in wax paper, they will also depart with their minds filled with apple recipes and cooking stories.
“Some will be local people, some will be people traveling from far away,” said Deering. “They have conversations, they learn about each other ... People often bring up their old family recipes.”
In a 45-minute span on a November afternoon, two apple pomanders were created using apples from Deerfield’s Clarkdale Fruit Farms — all with the accompaniment of an Apple Baking 101 discussion.
Carlson explains how easy it is to make a “baked apple.” Put the apple on a dish, cut out its core and fill the center with brown sugar, cinnamon, raisins and butter. Cover the apple with plastic wrap — making sure there is a hole for steam to escape. Microwave for two minutes and then drizzle with vanilla ice cream.
“History is all about continuity and change,” said Amanda Rivera Lopez, director of museum education and interpretation. “The fact that apples are still really important to us today … that’s interesting.”
“If you start talking about apples and uses of apples, people will tap into their memories of grandparents … (and their) old recipes,” she said. “Sometimes in those old recipes, there’s an older recipe.”
Four days of apple fun
Apple baking and cooking can be seen first-hand at Historic Deerfield’s Open Hearth Cooking in the Hall Tavern Kitchen. Workers can be observed this November creating common and not-so-common apple dishes from old recipes.
One colonial apple recipe prepares apple sauce over the fire, with the addition of a lump of butter and a piece of lemon peel. Another uses apples and egg custard to create a “bird’s nest pudding,” said Carlson.
Open Hearth Cooking will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17, and two more times the following week: Friday, Nov. 23 and Saturday, Nov. 24.
To make your own apple pomander, stop by the History Workshop building anytime between noon and 4:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The activity will also take place on Friday, Nov. 23, and Saturday, Nov. 24.
Activities at the History Workshop building, and access to the open hearth cooking, are included as a part of Historic Deerfield’s general admission — $12 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 through 17 and free for anyone younger.
Historic Deerfield also offers tours of period houses and runs the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, whose current exhibits include “Furnishing the Frontier: The Material World of the Connecticut River Valley, 1680-1720,” on view through Feb. 17; “Into the Woods: Crafting Early American Furniture,” a long-term furniture exhibition; “Engraved Powder Horns from the French and Indian War and the American Revolution: The William H. Guthman Collection,” permanent; “Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile Gallery,” a permanent exhibition with changing elements.
Historic Deerfield has a full schedule of activities every year, many of them designed to engage families. For more information, call 413-775-7214 or go online to
Staff reporter Chris Shores started at The Recorder in 2012. He covers education and health and human services. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 264. His website is www.chrisshores.com.
Geoff Bluh is a part-time staff photographer who has worked for The Recorder since 1995.