Growing up, I could always count on a pot of stove-top simmer to be bubbling away in the kitchen during the holidays. The house would fill with the amazing smell of that homemade potpourri, and a little warmth would be added to our home — even if South Georgia does have a habit of being 75 degrees on Christmas Day. (Not this year!!)

While individual blends may vary, the scents I most associate with that nostalgic tradition are orange, clove, and cinnamon.

While potpourri itself is ages old, it seems the mainstream use of it — especially the stove-top variety — really took off in the 1980s, which is, coincidentally, when I was growing up.

These days, I choose to carry on this decades old tradition by making it for our own home and as gifts for teachers, neighbors, and friends.

The blend I use is not only relatively inexpensive but also beautiful, both of which add to making it the perfect gift. I use several fresh orange slices, about a cup of fresh cranberries, one or two cinnamon sticks depending on size, about a tablespoon of cloves, and one sprig of fresh rosemary. (Do yourself a favor and buy the cinnamon and clove in bulk online or from the international foods aisle in the grocery store. They are far more affordable there than in the iconic bottle with the red top… I’ve also used locally grown satsumas in place of oranges in the past, and while smaller, they also work well.)

Simmer bag with local satsumas packaged and ready for gifting

Once you’ve prepared your ingredients, you can put them into bags as gifts, tied with a ribbon and directions for use. Or if it’s for your own holiday home, simply put the ingredients into a pot and cover them with water. Simmer on low to fill your house with holiday cheer. It’ll last for days and days if you keep topping it off with water. Just make sure to keep an eye on it. (It does begin to look much less “pretty” the more it simmers, but that is normal.)

I’ve also heard you can place it in a slow cooker with the lid off for the same effect, to avoid having your stove on, but I haven’t tested it.

This year’s simmer was especially meaningful, as I was able to use some oranges from my grandparents’ tree in Nevils and rosemary from our backyard, which my daughter and I planted together several years ago. She was really excited to share that bit of info with her teachers, I hear!

As I turn on the stove to simmer the oranges and cloves and their companions for another day, it’s a good reminder to slow down and just enjoy some time at home in the “busyness” of the season. And remember these things, too: Some of the best gifts don’t cost a lot; they can truly come from your own backyard. And holiday traditions — even the simple ones — are always worth carrying on.

Happy Holidays! Enjoy!

Easy Holiday Stove-Top Simmer

  • 3 slices of orange (fresh)
  • 1 cup whole cranberries (fresh)
  • 1 large cinnamon stick (or 2 small sticks)
  • 1 Tablespoon cloves
  • 1-2 sprigs rosemary (whole)

Combine all ingredients in a medium sized pot. Cover with water and simmer on low. Top off with additional water as needed; may be used for several days. (If preparing ahead, store prepared ingredients in fridge.)

Whitney Lavoie

Whitney Turner Lavoie is a Statesboro native and freelance writer/editor. She is an active volunteer with her children’s school PTO and Girl Scouts of America. Whitney previously worked in health communications...