Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I have a copper alembic. Pretty little piece of frivolity. Shiny, hammered copper, long goose neck, cute little receiving cup.

After months of contemplation, I finally decided to use it. My herbage of choice was Balinese long pepper -- a fragrant, sweet/hot pepper that apparently grows on the 'ancient earthen walls that ring the traditional homes of Balinese compounds', as well as everywhere else, I imagine. Long pepper is often used in dessert dishes because of its sweet character. I've occasionally dropped long pepper into chai tea blends, and it's delicious. It isn't bad in a perfume, either.

So, anyway, I gathered up my packages of long pepper and crammed them into the steaming chamber of the alembic, attached it to the water pot and sealed it with the traditional rye flour paste -- um, or would have if I had any rye flour paste. I used old-fashioned pancake and waffle mix paste with a pinch of salt. Hey, give a girl credit for ingenuity, eh?

And here is where things begin to surprise. It's always been my thought that steam or hydrodistillation was a sort of set it and forget it kind of thing. Yes, I live in the world of Ron Popeil, spray-on hair, chop-o-matic, veg-o-matic and pocket fisherman -- did you know he won a Nobel Prize for 'consumer engineering'? Geesh. He just didn't invent a distill-o-matic or a pocket distillation kit. Glory be to the heavens if he had. I'd give him the alternative perfumer's award for making my life easier! Did you know that distilling two cups of long peppers with about a liter of water takes all -- frickin' -- day?! No kidding. All day.

I didn't have the right set up for the cooling/condensing coils (imagine that coming from Ms. Pancake Paste), so I had to attach a draining hose for the warmer water and constantly drop ice chunks and cold water into the coil container. What a pain in the butt that was. Anyway, this went on and on, from about 10am until 9pm, and all I got out of it was a liter of stinkin' hydrosol. And my house smelled like an exotic pudding for the entire day.

I will prevail. I'm going to have a go at it again soon. This time I'm buying a bag of ice and a bag of rye flour. Maybe I'll get more than hydrosol with an oil slick on its surface. Maybe I'll call Ron Popeil.

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