OF WAX AND WICKS...


When it is winter and the days grow short, don't you find yourself losing energy once the suns goes down?  Sometimes I joke that I am "Solar Powered".  The truth is, we all are.  Summer is the time for great bursts of activity and energy.  Think of the old saying, "Make hay while the sun shines."  The light we crave is not just any light.  It must be full spectrum light such as sunlight, light from an incandesent bulb, firelight and, of course, candlelight.

I often wonder about the first woman (poor thing stuck back inside the cave) who discovered that a greasy stick or rag would burn longer and with more intensity than a pile of wood.  The smell of the grease and the smoke from the wood would have been awful but at least it was no longer dark!   In a "firebrand" or torch, the grease or oil is the fuel while the wood or rag acts as the wick. 

Candles are such a great refinement over firebrands.  Envision villagers with their flaming torches held high chasing Frankenstein's Monster through the night.  By comparison, candles are soft and friendly things.

Making a candle should be a simple matter.  After all, it is just a pot of wax with a wick stuck into it, right?  In its simpliest terms I suppose it is.  I remember stories about the Pilgrims making candles from tallow.  Somehow, it seemed romantic but it probably was not.  Usually it was women's work because the tallow (animal fat) was a byproduct of cooking.  It was hot work for it had to be done indoors.   Water is the enemy of a good candle.  Water and any other impurities (that includes colorants and fragrance) can cause smoking and reduce the quality of the flame.  Think of all that rendering, filtering, and boiling of fat followed by dippings rows of candle wick up and down as the candles built up layer by layer.  Tallow candles smoked terribly and smelled like burned meat on the bar-b-que grill.  No wonder people had to scrub down their homes and whitewash them inside and out every spring!  For thousands of year tallow candles were the only real choice for the masses.

Other types of fuels were used but almost exclusively by the well-to-do.  Waxes from aromatic plants such as Bayberry and wax from bees are still highly prized because they burn cleanly with a faint but pleasant aroma.  An entire house lit by such candles would be a magical place.   Stanley Kubrick's gorgeous masterpiece, "Barry Lyndon", won the 1975 Academy Award for Best Cinematograpy for its exclusive use of candles for interior lighting.  Follow this link and you will see why! 

https://www.google.com/search?q=barry+lyndon%2Bcandles&rlz=1T4ACEW_en___US464&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=QFOTUo_9OcPSoATjuYDgCg&ved=0CEQQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=831

Imagine harvesting thousands of Bayberries just to make a hand full of candles.   The ratio is 15 pounds of Bayberries to make one pound of candle wax.  To see how it is done, follow this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0d7_tx34Do      Beeswax candles were so expensive that in some countries servants were paid in beeswax candles. The candles could then traded or sold for the things they needed.  How envious would be the homemaker who wished she could have kept just one candle for her own use.

We are so lucky today.  We have numerous synthetic (paraffin), animal-based (beeswax) and natural plant-based fuels from which to choose.  Soy and Palm Oil are two of the newer fuels.  In the next few installments, I will discuss the different types of waxes and candle fuels, where they come from and how best to use them.

Smiles from French Flower Farm