Home Made Gifts

In this day of boxed cake mixes, instant Christmas, and disposable everything, what is better than a homemade gift created from beginning to end, hand crafted, carved, or painstakingly painted ?

Let’s face it, after the age of forty, most of us have everything we need.  Do any of us need more jewelry, clothes, or furniture ? If we really want a pick me up, we can go to the Rupert Mall , to find any number of exciting treasures.  I really appreciate home made gifts.

One of my dear friends bakes amazing breads and gives loaves away. Her specialty is a cranberry almond bread that is to live for.  (Not keen on that other expression).   This year I got homemade jam, a knitted hat, and baking, oh the baking !   The thought, labour, and hoops folks jump through, to provide loved ones with something original, that money can’t buy is, priceless.

This fall I ventured to make home made beeswax candles from scratch.  I’ve made them before, but never have I gone to the lengths I did this year.  I am going to outline the rigmarole I went through and you can decide if it was all worth it.     

I got curious about beeswax two years ago. Our college was on strike and instead of picketing, I started to research bees and honey and wax.  I really like the smell of them and the lovely yellow / amber glow they shed.    Sourcing the wax was fascinating and it ranged from 3 – 25 dollars a pound!  There are different grades, and two local farmers gave me buckets of “cappings”, free of charge, which I eagerly loaded into the trunk.   One of them muttered “You are crazy”.   I thought he was just grumpy.

When a bee vomits into a cell in the honey comb, another one comes along and adds a thickening agent and Bobs your Uncle, that is honey!  Then a third bee seals the cell with a layer of wax to keep it tight inside each cell.    Human harvests, usually take place in spring and fall, always leaving the chance for the bees to produce enough honey to help them survive the winter.  Large scale operations separate the cappings from the honey.  The honey is sold, as are the candles made with the leftover wax.  The more processed the wax is, the more expensive it is.  It gets whiter and cleaner as it is processed.

Last year I bought several types of wax, got ripped off with an industrial wax that was only good for boot polish ( I liked the dark colour, but it would not burn ). I made muffin size pellets to stuffs stocking with for leather lovers.  Apparently it also was good for unsticking zippers, although I never put it to the test.  I found two nice places that sold wax blocks for about 8 bucks a pound. I splurged and bought all the supplies at the Sally Ann.   A double boiler, a double burner, molds, wicks, slow cookers, wipes cheesecloth, strainers, pokers, sticks and stones.  A hobby is a hobby, so I did not add up the costs.  With hydro, my labour, and all the fancy supplies factored in, I am certain I did not come out ahead and, well, I now understand why a single beeswax pillar is so pricey.

It seems simple to just melt it and pour into molds. It is not simple.  It is hot, messy, sticky and one must figure out the right wick, how to center the wick, when to pour, how not to have the candle crack and split.  Every once and a while a crater forms and the candle is hollow inside for no apparent reason.  It takes patience, trial and error.  My kitchen was a disaster.  I’m still scraping off wax found in cracks.  And of course, there is always the risk of the house burning down.

Year two.  I found nice puck sized wax in the spring and waited as candle making has become my autumn undertaking.  This time I dragged all the paraphernalia outside under the car port with strict orders from my hubby to not attempt it indoors ever again.

I found it a bit more successful this time round.  I used empty milk cartons, yogurt tubs, POM pomegranate empties, and all make sufficient molds.   I made several pillar candles.  With silicone molds, I made tapers that are just lovely.   Then, I tackled the buckets of cappings which resemble a bucket of bees, wax shavings and sawdust.

In a large roasting pan, I dumped the whole hot mess into water and boiled it all up.   Bees, wasps, additional insects and assorted friends gathered and hovered, as the entire hood smelled of honey.  I was nervous when dusk came as I was still at it, thinking, bears could show up next.

Once nicely boiled, heat is turned off and all the wax rises to the top.  Under the layer of yellow is a dark black scummy scum contents unknown but likely bee poop, wings, and assorted bee parts. When cooled, the scum must be manually scraped off.  Once cooled, the procedure is repeated at least twice.   Estimated hydro??? No bloody idea.  Who cares, at this point I was so in touch with my inner foremothers I was just plain pumped.  I do understand the farmer calling me crazy, as this undertaking was rather lengthy.

The sheet of yellow wax with minimal scum is now broken into tiny chunks (like chocolate bark, but radically different) and melted in a slow cooker. 

Then, the melted wax is strained with burlap, then several more straining using cheesecloth and finally the hot yellow liquid is poured into awaiting wicked molds.

My end result?    A gorgeous yellow, honey smelling, clean burning, candle.  These were the nicest ones I had ever made with the buckets directly from 2 local farms.   I am so very delighted with the results.  Cost?  No idea, but three days of labour, countless kilowatts of hydro, some swearing, burned fingers, ruined Sketchers, are all proof that I made these from scratch.  I enjoyed every minute (except when my nose ran and hands were so full of wax I could not do a thing but let it drip). 

PS If you get a candle from me, please know it is because you are really really special and I love you, and for the love of God, don’t ever leave one unattended.  

Jennifer Currie 🙂