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Gifts From The Hands
by Marion Owen
November 29, 1999

Handmade gifts are in a class by themselves. Whether it's a greeting card made from construction paper adorned with crayoned snowflakes or a jar of salmonberry jam, gifts from the hands are gifts from the heart. Here are a couple ideas that are easy to make with plenty of time for the holidays.

M.Y.O.P. (Make Your Own [wrapping] Paper)

Here's how to decorate paper with stamps carved from fruits and vegetables for a custom gift wrap. First you'll need a knife with a wide blade to make flat, even slices. For paper, use brown paper bags, freezer paper, out-dated nautical charts, butcher paper, construction and copy machine paper (for small gifts), "green bar" paper, newspaper (the classifieds work well), old topo or road maps, and posters.

The stamps can be made from a variety of produce. When selecting stamp material though, first ask yourself whether you want to highlight the shape of the fruit or vegetable, or if you'll be carving it into another shape. Cut the fruits and vegies in half with the broad-bladed knife to make a nice flat surface for stamping and provide a handle to grasp onto.

Produce that have nice lines include mushrooms, apples, broccoli (these make nice tree shapes), cauliflower, onions, celery (cut across the stalks, 2 inches above the base for a "rose" shape), carrots (cut lengthwise), green peppers, zucchini and oranges. Because citrus is pretty juicy, you'll need to dab the cut surface with a paper towel before coating with paint or ink. Thick-skinned navel oranges and lemons cut across the "equator" work best. Experiment with cutting angles to give you the shape you're looking for.

Produce that carves well to make other shapes such as whales, leaves, flowers, hearts, moons, stars, letters of the alphabet, and people include potatoes, radishes, turnips, carrots, and rutabagas. Again, use the flat-bladed knife for a clean, straight cut and then do the final shaping with a paring knife.

Dip the cut end into tempura paint, fabric paint or other water-based paint, stamp pad ink, or a ready-made stamp pad (you may need to retire it after inoculating it with potatoes and mushrooms, though) and press it onto the paper. Create different effects by applying more than one color to the stamp, or overlapping designs on the paper palette. Of course you can add accents with a hand print or a foot print, yarn or sections of damp sponge charged with paint, or sprinkle glitter on the paint while it's still wet.

How to make a modern-day pomander

Somewhere in my memory banks I carry a "film clip" of pushing dozens of whole cloves into an orange, decorating it with a bright red ribbon and then hanging it in the dining room. Pushing on all those pointed cloves with my thumb though, left it prickly, aching and smelling like spice cake for days afterwards. At the time it was just another elementary school class project. I never realized that the simple clove/orange pomander originated centuries ago.

In the Middle Ages, the purpose of the pomander was to protect the wearer from the "foul, stinking air" of the day. Worn or carried by men of status or rank rather than women, pomanders were sweet-smelling accessories which were often decorative, but always used with a practical purpose in mind. By the middle of the 19th century they were exclusively worn or carried by women as adornments.

The pomander began as a small nugget of ambergris (an opaque, ash-colored secretion of the sperm whale's intestine that is fragrance when heated, and thus used in perfumes). The ambergris was stored in a small perforated case made from gold, silver, crystal, ivory or pottery. The case was worn around the neck, hung from a belt or attached to a ring. Soon the use of ambergris gave way to a more practical blend of fats, herbs and spices. Rotten apples were a popular ingredient, as were cinnamon and cloves.

The "comfort apple"

Pomanders were far too expensive for the humble peasants. These same peasants, however, feared the plague as much as their masters so they invented the "poor man's pomander" or "comfort apple". An orange was covered with cloves and rolled in cinnamonā€¹similar to the version we know today as a sweet-scented novelty. Back then it was consedered a practical protection against the ills of the day.

To make you own pomander, start with a medium-sized, thin-skinned orange. Encircle the orange with scotch tape once around the poles and then around the equators, dividing the orange into 4 equal sections. Push cloves into the skin of the fruit, using a slender knitting needle or pencil tip to make the holes, if necessary. Leave a little space between the cloves to allow for shrinkage of the fruit.

When all the sections have been covered with cloves, mix 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of allspice and 1 teaspoon orris root powder in a plastic bag and shake it thoroughly. (Made from iris roots or rhizomes, orris root is known for its heady violet smell and is used as a fixative in potpourris and sachets). Remove the tape strips from the clove-studded orange and roll it in the spice mixture until it is completely coated. Set it in a brown paper bag (leave the top open) and let it dry for several weeks. (If giving it as a gift, include the drying instructions). Tie a ribbon around the channels on the orange.


"In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."--Albert Camus "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant."--Christina Rossetti "Spring is a virgin, Summer a mother, Autumn a widow, and Winter a stepmother."--Polish proverb

Called the Cold Moon, December 13th is this month's full moon. December 13th is also St. Lucy's Day. "Lucy light, Lucy light; shortest day and longest night" as the saying goes.

Marion Stirrup of Kodiak Island, Alaska teaches organic gardening courses through the University of Alaska. An award-winning photographer and writer, Marion also developed PlanTea, the all-purpose fertilizer in convenient tea bags. PlanTea is sold in retail stores and by mail order around the world. Discover more garden tidbits, recipes, giggles and more in her newsletter, "The PlantPress." You're also invited to visit: or write to: PO Box 1980, Kodiak, AK 99615; Phone: 907-486-2552.

Marion's e-mail address is:

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