Way back in 2012 we shared a DIY post by PGM contributor Hollie Pocsai on the art of enfleurage, a method of capturing the fleeting scent of fresh flowers in tallow, and using that to make your own eau de parfum. Hollie's deep running love of lilacs was her inspiration; after waiting patiently for months and months, Hollie was disappointed with the results. We wanted to share more of the story as a conclusion to the previous post, and Hollie also felt compelled to talk about when DIY projects just don't work out, something that doesn't get talked about as much as it should because it's a natural part of the learning curve, and the necessary precursor to improvement.
WE HAD A VERY LONG, COLD AND BITTER WINTER IN SOUTHERN ONTARIO THIS YEAR, and it almost seemed as though spring would never arrive. Yet slowly the birdsong returned through my windows in the morning, and the trees grew green once again. And then the lilacs bloomed, just as they do every year. A very welcome sight.
I am late on updating readers about the enfleurage experiment that I conducted in the spring of 2012, mostly because the results were not perfect, and I am a perfectionist. The scent was subtle, and I was discouraged. When I opened my bottles three months later, they smelled of lilacs, but only a faint whisper. I added my fixative of cedarwood oil, but the aroma was still very thin.
I knew that it may not turn out from the very beginning—I tried enfleurage on a whim, and started very late into the season, when the lilacs were almost done for the year—but it is still always hard when one does not produce one's best work. Especially with work that relies heavily on patience.
What I need to constantly remind myself of is that living a life based around a DIY ethos will often produce failure, in some form or another, but that this is just another opportunity to grow. The methods that I employ are art forms that have been perfected and fine-tuned over years of hard work, and it is somewhat foolish to think I will get the hang of it in one go.
There are some revisions that I will try in future attempts. As an easier alternative to rendering my own tallow (animal fat) I'll place the blooms in cocoa butter. I will still refresh them as much as possible, collecting the freshest blooms and discarding the spent ones. When the cocoa butter has taken on the scent strongly enough, I can simply stop the process at this point and use this as an enfleurage pomade - similar to a solid perfume. If I gain my confidence back to try again to make the absolute of the essence, I'll make sure to use ethyl alcohol instead of rubbing alcohol. Lilac season is fleeting, and their scent is elusive and has never been able to be preserved by commercial attempts, so I may try my hand at other florals whose seasons are longer and whose scents are easier to capture, such as jasmine or rose.