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It is now officially spring here in the northern hemisphere and in my little corner of France the blossom is bountiful.  I feel like I have emerged from a long, deep hibernation, like some kind of large, lumbering animal.  All winter I’ve had the luxury of sleeping in and waking with the sunrise which seems to work wonders for the soul.  I haven’t quite been going to bed with the sunset but the evenings have been warm and cosy in front of the woodburner, more often than not with the cat on my knee and a good book in my hand.

Now that spring is here I’ve been waking up with the birdsong and a surprising amount of energy.  I feel ready for a new project.  It must be time for a spring clean of the mind.  Time to clear out all the old thoughts and energy patterns and make way for something new.  It’s always so refreshing to walk through the blossom in springtime when there seems to be a feeling of possibility infused in the air.  I think I always feel like this at this time of year.  A true nomad at heart, it feels like time to clear out, pack up and move on to pastures new.  Does anyone else feel like this with the change of seasons?

In case it is still winter where you are, or you are heading into autumn, here is a little spring snapshot from southwest France:

Going for walks at this time of year and smelling the blossom on the air always makes me think of the essential oils that are extracted from blossom petals. Jasmine, tuberose, neroli and rose for example.  There are a couple of different ways to do this now but the traditional way would have been something called enfleurage.  A thin coating of odourless animal fat (lard or tallow) would have been laid upon sheets of glass with a wooden surround (chassis).  Fresh blossoms collected in the early morning would have been placed on the fat which absorbed the essential oils over time.  The petals were removed and replaced regularly until the animal fat was saturated with essential oil.  This mixture, called pomade, was then either sold as it was or was soaked with ethyl alcohol.  The molecules of essential oil would adhere to the alcohol which was later evaporated off, leaving something called an absolute of essential oil.  The used fat was often used to make perfumed soaps.

I love these few lines in Patrick Süskind’s book, “Perfume

“Jasmine season began at the end of July, August was for tuberoses.  The perfume of these two flowers was both so exquisite and so fragile that not only did the blossom have to be picked before sunrise, but they also demanded the most gentle and special handling.  Warmth diminished their scent; suddenly to plunge them into hot macerating oil would have completely destroyed it.  The souls of these noblest of blossoms could not be simply ripped from them, they had to be methodically coaxed away.”

Süskind goes on to talk more about the process, imagining that the blossoms “die slowly in their sleep” and “wither and exhale their scent into the adhering oil”.  The plants really come alive in his writing and I love thinking about the souls of plants.  I’ve really noticed over the last few years, living in very rural areas, that what is happening outside in nature can have a real effect on us.  We are part of nature yet so often we seem to stand at a distance, observing but not feeling a part of the changing seasons, the newness and growth, the death and decay.  I don’t feel like that any more and it’s fascinating how going outside and being in nature ever single day can fundamentally change the way you think about things.  But that’s a post for another day……

In the meantime I don’t really think a change of season can pass by without a celebratory cake, so to mark the arrival of spring I wanted to share with you a little recipe for a yummy chocolate cake I baked today 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 4oz butter
  • 4oz sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 oz good quality cocoa
  • 3oz flour (self-raising or plain with added baking powder)
  • 2oz plain yoghurt

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 180c / 350f / gas4.
  • Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time and mix well.
  • Add cocoa and flour and mix well, then add yoghurt and combine until mixture is smooth and falls off the spoon with a little shake.
  • Pour into a buttered and lined loaf tin/long cake tin and bake for 40 minutes until you can insert a toothpick and it comes out clean.

Et voilà!  A lovely moist chocolate cake to enjoy while you ponder the arrival of spring.  Or autumn if you are reading this upside down.

Enjoy!  And I’d love you to leave me a comment to let me know how you mark the change of seasons ♥

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2 Comments

justinpbrown · March 22, 2017 at 7:12 pm

Thanks for the extraction lesson, I had no idea of the process. (I suppose there are other methods that don’t require animal fats too). I do wonder how methods like this were first discovered… Isn’t pomade also the stuff to put on quiffs & other fancy hairdos that require hold? The blossoms look lovely & willow too. I need to get out of the city a bit more often, thanks for a kick up the arse 😉

Being a bit of a grump bag the only way I mark the change of the seasons is by adjusting my choice of clothing; though I do get strangely turned on by the smell of decaying leaves & flowers in the autumn.

    elizabeth · March 22, 2017 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Justin! You’ll be happy to know that most modern methods don’t use animal fat at all although you might find a few producers who still do. Vegetable fat is more than likely used in this process today but, apart from maybe jasmine or tuberose, most oils will be extracted using different methods. Either steam distillation, cold pressing (for citrus oils), extraction using solvents (which results in an absolute and not a pure oil), or C02 extraction. For an oil such as rose essential oil, steam distillation takes a lot of blossom for very little oil (3kg of rose petals for 20 drops of oil) which is reflected in the price, so solvent extraction is often more cost effective. However the pure rose oil really is beautiful.

    And yes, if you had a fancy hairdo then I’m sure you would have used pomade 🙂

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