DIY: An Herbal Holiday Kissing Ball

| December/January 1996

• Nine 3-inch-long clusters sage stems
• ­1 roll florists’ wire, 22- or 24-gauge
• 1 wire coat hanger
• 1 firm, preferably green, unblemished, ­symmetrical apple, 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter
• Fifty to sixty 3- to 3 1/2 -inch rosemary stems (if you don’t have this much ­rosemary, substitute any combination of santo­lina, thyme, pine, and/or fir)
• 3 rubber bands
• Ten to twelve 4-inch lemon geranium stems
• Fifty to sixty 2 1/2 -inch boxwood stems
• 6 anise hyssop stems
• 12 French lavender stems
• 3 small jingle bells
• A big cluster of oregano thyme (or other upright thyme) about 6 to 8 inches long
• 2 yards 7/8 -inch ribbon (I used Offray Wire-Edge Polyester Ombre #6347)

1. Remove any brown, discolored or bug-eaten leaves from the herbs. Cut the stems at an angle to the correct lengths (don’t bother to measure—just eyeball it), then strip the foliage off the bottom 1 1/4 inches of stems. Keep the stems in a pile near you for quick pick-up. Make a sage bundle by removing the large outer leaves and clustering about three groups of the smaller center leaves together. Place a 5-inch piece of the florists’ wire perpendicular to the stems, close to the leaves, and wrap it a few times in both directions tightly enough to hold the stems but not so tightly that it cuts through them. Twist the two wire ends together, and trim the stems about 1/4 inch past the wire binding. Make eight more sage bundles.

2. Lay a wire coat hanger in front of you. With wire cutters, cut a piece that includes the entire straight bottom piece and about 1 1/2 inches of one angled corner, which will hook into the apple. With pliers, close up the angled end a bit. Remove the apple stem. Insert the straight end of the hanger halfway into the stem end of the apple, keeping it as straight as possible. Remove the wire, then insert it into the blossom end halfway through the apple. Remove the wire, and insert it again into the stem end, pushing it all the way through so that it emerges from the blossom end – this may take more than one try. Push it in until the hook begins to embed in the apple, insert a small piece of woody stem or toothpick under the loop of wire so that the wire doesn’t go completely through the apple, then push the wire in until the toothpick or stem rests against the apple.

3. The coat hanger will become the hanging rod.  The largest and best-looking sage bunch will hang at the bottom of the kissing ball, where the hanging rod is embedded. Attach it with wire to the hanging rod. The sage stems will show, but they will be covered by further additions of plant material. To leave your hands free to add to the kissing ball, poke the straight end of the hanging rod into the bottom of an upended cardboard box. You’ll be working on the kissing ball with its bottom up, so to check its progress as you work, remove it from the box occasionally, hold it up in the air, and look at it from underneath.

4. With the long, blunt needle held vertically, pierce the apple near the stem end. Insert a rosemary twig in the hole you just made. Continue inserting twigs in a circle around the stem end, close enough together so that they hide the apple. The rosemary branches should be the same length. If any are too long, remove them from the apple, trim the stem end, and replace; if too short, replace with longer ones. It will take about 15 stem ends to do the first 2 rows. Add another 3 or 4 rows of rosemary around the axis of the apple at right angles to the apple. Stagger the rows; this alternating pattern (familiar to pomander makers) provides the best coverage and prevents splitting the apple skin and letting the stems fall out. It’s easy to lose track of the holes, so make only one hole at a time, insert a stem and continue. Place the rosemary branches so they all curve toward the center of the kissing ball.

5. The 8 remaining sage bundles are added next. Rather than inserting them directly into the apple like the rosemary stems, these longer stems and thicker stem ends are placed lengthwise onto the apple’s surface, spacing evenly and adjusting their height to correspond to the height of the last row of rosemary. Push the wire around each bundle into the apple. Remove the apple from its cardboard stand and slide a rubber band onto the hanging rod and into place over the sage stems to keep them from slipping out of position – subsequent rows of foliage will hide the stems. Return the apple to its stand.

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