What does Christmas smell like to you?
I was twenty-one when I spent my first Christmas away from my family. I remember sitting cross-legged on a grey fluffy carpet, beside a small potted tree decorated for Christmas. Classical music played softly from a Hi-Fi. A cup of Marks & Spencer luxury instant coffee was in my hand. We were in my boyfriend’s grandparent’s living room in England, not far from the Cadbury’s chocolate factory. I had just opened a present from his grandparents – a denim fanny pack (Australian friends are giggling;). Next up was a little parcel shipped from my parents in Nova Scotia. Inside was a sachet filled with balsam fir needles. I opened the sachet and their aroma filled the room. It smelled just like Christmas at home. I’m sure there was something else inside that package, but I can’t remember. But that aroma, it’s with me forever.
Since then the smell of Christmas has expanded beyond Balsam fir. For the years we lived in England I decorated our tree with dried orange, lemon and lime slices. At the time I thought it was the perfect ‘when you have no ornaments’ solution, but they’ve since become a choice.
The image above was taken at my Aunt Susan’s house. She’s been drying citrus for years. I asked her to share her citrus drying secrets with me. This is what she said:
“The easiest way to dry oranges, for almost perfect results, is in a dehydrator. I set the temperature at 135 degrees F and I leave them to dry overnight. Orange slices need to be sliced as thinly as possible. Seedless oranges or clementines work equally well.
My book on drying fruit says that fruit slices need to be leathery to the touch. Bev (my mother) doesn’t even use a drying method for fruit other than air drying. She slices the oranges, limes and/or lemons and hangs them right on the tree. It’s a little messy (and juicy) at first but they eventually dry on the tree. They smell nice done this way.
Another way of drying orange slices is in the oven. I set the oven at its lowest setting (175 F or lower if possible) and keep the door slightly ajar. Then I put the sliced oranges on a screen or wire cookie rack and place them in the oven. They can dry in about 4-8 hrs depending on the oven temperature. They have to be checked often (and flipped) to make sure they don’t brown. Low heat and a long drying time is key.
I put them on my tree and made a garland yesterday using only nuts and the orange slices. Cinnamon sticks could be incorporated. What a wonderful aroma!”
Everyone needs a little aromatic joy in life, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or not. So put a pot of cranberry tea on the stove, spiced with cinnamon, chai and citrus, slice some oranges, figure out a way to dry them, and all will be well with the world. It doesn’t matter if presents aren’t wrapped, or if you forgot to take the plastic bag filled with giblets out from inside the turkey before you put it in the oven (true story). Aroma will fix everything.
This time last year the Halifriends were busy raising money to sponsor a Syrian family to come to Canada. We did things like raked leaves, had bake sales, collected online donations and sold holiday cards, like the one above. Cranberry Tea was a collaboration between myself and Halifriend Andrea Dorfman; we both love to gather around a pot of something warm and aromatic, and this recipe does the trick. And now, one year later, I can happily report our family is here. A mother, a father, and two of the sweetest little girls you’ve ever seen. I know this isn’t the end of their difficult journey, but as we’ve gathered together over something warm and inviting, the closer we’ve come to becoming not just sponsors, but friends.