About twelve years ago, working from intuition rather than recipe, I made a beeswax and olive oil handcream and gave it to my Ukranian cleaning lady whose husband's hands had chapped badly and cracked from his job in construction. I didn't think about it again until some time late last summer when Galena casually mentioned to me that they had never found anything nearly as good in any shop. And shortly after that (synchronicity at work!) while looking at one of my favourite blogs, Root Simple, I found the recipe for an olive oil - beeswax cream that I had to try.
I assembled the ingredients and equipment, and in less than half an hour I had six 125 ml pots of light, pleasantly scented and easily absorbed hand or body cream. I gave Galena some and she was happy. And over the next few days the idea for my Christmas gifts took root and I trawled the Net finding more recipes for skin cream and lip balm (always in use in our house and so expensive at 5-7 Euros for four grams – never mind the ingredients which include mineral oil and parabens). The kitchen, throughout November and December, became a lab as I experimented with the balance of ingredients for natural salves and also for scented drawer sachets and potpourri. I decided that my Christmas gifts for the extended family would be mint lip balms and 'spicy aroma sachets' for the men, and luxury natural hand creams and 'floral and musk aroma sachets' for the women.
Saint Basil's Day (January 1, the traditional day in Cyprus for the exchange of gifts) came, and we went as usual to Mili and Phil's for the Big Family Feed. Our presents -- Zenon had made everyone tie-dye t-shirts and Leo had baked for each household a batch of either brownies or chocolate chip cookies -- were added to the pile of gifts surrounding the tree in the corner, and after the meal, distribution began. Zenon's and Leo's contributions were a real hit; mine required more explanation, but once it became clear that I had made them from natural ingredients and carefully researched combinations of scents, enthusiasm flowed, especially from Sil and Bridie. The men of the family were a little more skeptical, but at least if the sachets don't end up scenting their drawers or softening their lips, chances are that wives and girlfriends will find a use for them.
I had no feedback for a while. Then, last weekend Best Beloved was over at Bill's house and Sil told him how thrilled she was with the Christmas Cream. “I had horrible rough patches on my hands,” she told him. “But now they're completely gone! Is Asproulla going to be making any more soon?”
When I went to see Auntie Maroulla last week, I took a jar from a later batch that I had made. It seemed a poor exchange: 125 ml of cream for one carrier bag bursting with mandarins, another that overflowed with peanuts, yet a third full of black-eyed peas, and half a kilo of fresh anari, not to mention the 10 kilos of mandoras that I picked from the orchard on the way out, but Maroulla has a truly loving and generous heart and does not keep score.
Two days later I had a report from BB who had been to his mother's for coffee. “Maroulla gave some of the cream to her daughter's father-in-law who had cut his fingertip while pruning and nothing seemed to help. Well apparently it's better now, so everyone wants to know if you sell the creams, or if you can give them the recipe. Please go and see my mother and sort it out...” So I went over to Mili's and invited her to come and see how it's done and yesterday afternoon we had a cream making party.
When we had finished, BB mentioned that Maroulla, (older than Mili by nearly a decade) recalls their mother making the almost the same cream for universal family use, although Mili has no memory of it. "Now we have to bring 'foreign experts'," he said. "To remind us how we used to do things a generation ago!"
***As a basic recipe and for method, I use Root Simple's Olive Oil Whip (back in November I had bought Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Industrial World and had started working on many of Kelly Coyne and Eric Knutzen's ideas and recipes – there is also a Kindle edition, for those of you who read on Kindle) but with a tweak to include coconut oil (I find that one part coconut oil, one part beeswax, two parts olive oil works nicely for the right consistency), Vitamin E capsules as an anti-oxidant, and essential oil for scent. We have boatloads of oil from past years' harvests, and I buy pure (though not organic) beeswax from the local ecclesiastical candle maker. The dearest ingredient is the organic coconut oil from the health food shop. Lip balm uses the same ingredients but a slightly different method and works out at cents, rather than Euros per gram for all-natural ingredients. Anyone wanting natural skin care on a budget should really check out Root Simple, A Sonoma Garden, and other blogs, books, and publications dedicated to natural living. Like me, you might not want store-bought again.