In the South, we don’t experience winter like the rest of the country. Snow is a rarity and you’re more likely to find the weather reaching a balmy pitch rather than Jack Frost nipping at your nose. Still, the heart of the holidays in the South lies in the strength of its traditions. This holiday season try taking your decorating back to basics with these simple steps to having a down-home country Christmas.
Gifting citrus fruit has been a long-standing tradition in the South as it was considered a luxury due to the rarity and expense of the fruit being shipped into port. Children were gifted oranges in their stockings at Christmas as once-per-year treasures. For a classic twist on the turn of the century tradition, try making cloved oranges to bring a warm and inviting holiday fragrance to your home this season.
1 jar cloves
Use the wooden skewer to poke a starter hole in the skin of the unpeeled orange and then insert the clove fully into the hole. It’s easiest to stick with simple concentric patterns when inserting the cloves so that each orange is covered with a line or two of cloves encircling it. Cloves are anti-microbial and help to preserve the orange as it dries so that the oranges should not mold or attract gnats. Place the oranges on a counter in a decorative bowl and enjoy the spicy citrus fragrance for weeks.
Another popular way to use citrus in the South was to create a stove-top potpourri. The mixture was made of easy to find and even discarded pieces of citrus fruit and spices that were traditionally used in holiday meals.
Simple Lemon and Rosemary Stovetop Potpurri
2 small lemons
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Slice lemons into thin slices. Place sliced lemon, rosemary sprigs, and vanilla into a small pot and cover with water. Bring mixture to a boil then reduce heat to a low simmer. DO NOT LEAVE UNATTENDED. You can continue to add water as it evaporates to keep the potpourri simmering for a while as long as you are present in the kitchen.
Traditional decorations in the south often consisted of poinsettias, which are plentiful this time of year, but people also often turned to backyard nature for inspiration. Whatever natural materials could be found during the winter months were often turned into decorations for the home. Evergreens, berries, holly, bay leaves, mistletoe, magnolia, pine, and forced blossoms were favorites in turn of the century homes.
How to Force Blossoms
Choose easy bulbs to bloom like paperwhites, amaryllis, daffodils, hyacinth, tulips or crocus that have been prepared for forcing (or chill for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator before forcing)
Place bulbs in 3-5 inches or enough gravel that the bulbs can be buried half-way with the points facing up. Fill the container with water so that the lower quarter of the bulb is in water. Make sure that the container always has the required amount of water. Keep planted bulbs in a cool place (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit) until leaves start to sprout. Once leaves appear you can move the bulbs to a warmer area in bright indirect sunlight to bloom. Make sure to keep them watered as the roots require moisture. Once they have bloomed you can cut the spent flowers and replant the bulbs outside (except for amaryllis which cannot survive outdoors year-round but can be forced to re-bloom).