Bayberry Christmas Candles
Christmas is always a time of excitement for me. When we were kids we got the Sears catalog a couple months before Christmas and we would immediately start poring over the toy section with great zeal. We would circle the toys we hoped for and then we would make our little lists. Sometimes these little lists would be quite long! Mine would be prioritized in the order of greatest importance just so Santa would not be confused. For years a pony topped the list. Everything else was an “also-ran” back up in case Santa could not get the pony in the sleigh. Every year I did not get one. Fortunately, Santa always made up for the disappointment and when I was older and learned the truth about Santa Mom told me the reason why. “We have no place to keep a pony.” Which was kind of a lame excuse but I had to accept it.
One of the other delights of the season were the bayberry candles my mother bought. I don’t know where she got them but I absolutely loved the scent. After a while the bayberry candles stopped appearing and I never found out why. I was too busy with the social whirl of high school and then college studies. But I never forgot them and years later I find myself on a homestead ranch living a do-it-yourself lifestyle. The memory of bayberry candles comes back.
It turns out that bayberry candles are very easy to make. Actually, any type of candle is very easy to make if you have enough wax and a few pieces of equipment. I ordered my bayberry wax from an outfit on the east coast. Bayberries only grow in the northeast and they are relatively rare. This is why true bayberry candles are hard to come by. It’s just so much easier to add scent to paraffin and make a candle that way. With true bayberry one needs to have a lot of berries and then the waxy substance in the berries is rendered out.
From the Historic Williamsburg website: Candles were an important part of everyday life in the 18th century. Bayberry candles were among the most prized candles in colonial America because of their clear, more consistent light and pleasant scent. One of the first written accounts of bayberry candles was in 1698 and exclaimed that instead of “stinking” they really do “perfume like incense.” A Virginian historian reported in 1705 that the process of making bayberry candles was a very “modern discovery.”
I decided to make my own bayberry candles. I sourced a place to buy the wax and since it was rather on the expensive side I decided to make votive size candles. I talked to the wax source and they told me to cut the wax 3 to 1 (beeswax to bayberry wax) because they said the bayberry wax had a strong scent.
So with a few supplies and a pot I bought at a second hand store I was off on my nostalgic adventure!
How to Make Bayberry Votive Candles
1 quart sauce pan with pouring spouts that can be dedicated to only candle making
1 lb bayberry wax
1 lb beeswax
ReleasaGen spray or cooking oil
measuring scale (not absolutely necessary but very helpful)
The votive molds don’t come with wicks. I put wicks in them to show size.
Chop up bayberry wax and put it on your scale to weigh in at about 4 oz. Now chop up 4 oz of beeswax. (I didn’t use the 3 to 1 recommendation because I thought that my bayberry wax did not have a really strong scent. Use your own judgment.) Put it in your saucepan. Put the saucepan over another pan filled with water and bring it to a boil.
The indirect heat will melt the wax better than direct because you don’t take the chance of overheating the wax. Once the wax is starting to melt you can mix it with a wooden stick to make sure it’s all mixed up. Have your votive forms oiled up with the wicks placed in each on center.
Have the forms on a disposable cloth to catch any drips and somewhere where they won’t get bumped while they are solidifying. Carefully fill the forms with wax almost to the top. Reposition the wicks if they move off center.
Leave them alone until they feel cool to the touch. It could take a few hours. If your candles don’t unmold easily at this point put them in the freezer for a while and they should slip out right away.
I made a tabletop candle holder from a interesting oak branch I found. It was dry and seasoned already. I cleaned it all off well and then using a hole saw I drilled circular sections the size of the candles and carved out the center with a hammer and chisel. Then I coated it with polyurethane (don’t shake the can; you’ll cause air bubbles.) and voila! I have a unique natural center piece for any occasion.
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