How to make old-fashioned pomander balls with oranges & cloves

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Old-fashioned orange pomander balls are easy to make (1975)

From The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) December 13, 1975

Stick cloves in an orange and you have a pomander ball — well, it is almost that simple. Pomander balls became popular around the seventeenth century, and have been in use ever since.

These aromatic balls were first used by “people of quality” to revive their nasal passages as they walked down the streets.

Garbage and sewage disposal were virtually unattended in those days, and the gentry usually had a pomander ball with them when they ventured into the streets. They also considered them a preventative against infection.

In addition to being carried, pomander balls were hung in closets and placed in drawers to add their fragrance to clothing, towels and linens. This is how they are used in our modern society.

Oranges, lemons or limes may be used as the base and the amount of whole cloves will, of course, vary with the size of the fruit. Unless you want sore fingers, use a skewer to puncture the holes in the rind rather than using the cloves to break the surface.

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Photo by agneskantaruk/Deposit Photos

After the fruit has been completely studded with the cloves, it is then dusted with a mixture of ground cinnamon and arrowroot. The cinnamon adds extra aroma and the mixture absorbs the oil and juices that seep from the holes and aids in the drying.

The final touch is your own creation. The pomander may be tied with bright ribbon or metallic cord, leaving a loop at the top for hanging. A sprig of holly could be tied on the top for a festive holiday touch. Often the pomander is tied in a square of net which is brought together at the with top with a pretty ribbon.

Pomander balls make attractive and useful gifts that keep on giving delightful aroma for months to come.

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Christmas pomander of orange and cloves
Photo by Ferumov/Deposit Photos

Photo by asimojet/Deposit Photos

How to make old-fashioned pomander balls with oranges & cloves

Yield: 1 pomander
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes


  • 1 thin-skinned orange
  • 1 or 2 boxes whole cloves (depends on size of orange)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot
  • Ribbon or metallic cord


  • Pen (for marking)
  • Pin or needle (optional, to prepare holes for cloves)


  1. Wash orange and dry.
  2. If desired, mark a pattern for the cloves on the orange skin with a pen or narrow pointed tool.
  3. Start at the stem end and add row after row of whole cloves. Avoid inserting cloves in a straight line to prevent skin from splitting.
  4. Combine cinnamon and arrowroot and roll clove-studded orange in mixture.
  5. Set pomander ball on a plate or tray and allow to dry, about two weeks.
  6. Dust off excess powder. Tie with ribbon or metallic cord. The ball may also be wrapped in colored net.

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NOTE: Lemons or limes may be used instead of oranges. These require two-thirds to 1 box of whole cloves, 2 teaspoons cinnamon and 2 teaspoons arrowroot.

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Christmas pomander of orange and cloves
Photo by Ferumov/Deposit Photos

How to make fragrant pomander balls with oranges & cloves

From American Home (December 1959)

Craft your own clove-studded oranges 

Pomander balls — they have a delightful spicy aroma everyone will enjoy. Wrap firm and perfect oranges with narrow cotton tape to form four equal sections. S

tick whole cloves evenly and closely enough to cover entire exposed surface. Sprinkle with powdered orris root (available at drugstores). Let stand several days.

Shake off surplus powder, replace tape with red ribbon. Allow enough length to tie several pomander balls in a cluster and top with spray of greens and big red bow. Add tiny bows to ribbons for another pretty touch.

Snip off balls for guests to hang later in their linen or clothes closet.

Clove-covered oranges - traditional pomander balls

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Pomander balls bring back memories of Christmas 1903

By John W Price, Curator, North Museum – Intelligencer- Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) December 3, 1954

As I opened a drawer in my office at the museum, the strong pleasant aroma of cinnamon and cloves met my nostrils and implanted in my mind a vision o Christmas about 1903.

Searching for the pleasant-smelling offender, I found it on the bottom of the drawer, somewhat shriveled from a few years’ confinement. It was a pomander ball.

While a pomander ball is nothing more than an apple or an orange stuck so full of cloves it is impossible to tell which of the two forms the nucleus, and soaked with cinnamon and other spices, it sends off a delicious and tantalizing aroma.

After Christmas, they were removed from the tree (for which they were originally made) and placed in the clothes closet or chest to give garments and linens this pleasant odor.

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I can assure you that in 1903 most of these pomander balls were made from apples, as oranges were at a premium. Gay little ribbons of red and green added the Christmas colors and provided a method for hanging them to the tree.

The Christmas of 1903 that comes to my mind happened at the Ann Street Orphanage, where I made my home at that time, and I trust you will forgive me if I bore you with this tale of my alma mater.

Here indeed was a place where Christmas really was appreciated. About 7 pm, we six-year-olds were hustled off to bed with a firm warning that if Santa Claus found us awake, there would be no Christmas presents for us.

However, it never dawned on our youthful minds the supreme sacrifice the older boys (who seemed to ye anxious to be rid of us) were making.

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Hanging pomander balls from 1959


But when morning came and we hurried down to the large playroom, a beautiful sight met our eyes. Large branches of Canadian hemlock hung in a corner and spread out on the ceiling, hanging full of strings of popcorn and tinsel, pomander balls and other usual Christmas ornaments, including the familiar striped peppermint canes.

Our youthful eyes fairly bulged in happy amazement.

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After breakfast, we were taken up to the schoolroom and each received two toys and a grape basket that contained an orange, apples, nuts, candy and cookies.

I have never enjoyed a Christmas so much since that time, but relive again those happy moments whenever I catch the aroma of a pomander ball.

But a museum is an ideal place to refresh your memories — in fact, that is the express purpose of museums: to keep you informed of events of the past and present. And we hope that as you browse over the exhibits, you too will enjoy a visionary trip back through time that will bring to you only pleasant memories.

Photo by asimojet/Deposit Photos
Photo by asimojet/Deposit Photos

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