Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Internal Frenzy of Fragrance Fabrication


My kitchen is a slip-n-slide. A few years back I wrote about a set it and forget it style of distillation I was interested in creating, a process that doesn't really exist. You know how it is - you come up with a nifty way of streamlining the process (this can possibly apply to any process) and think you've discovered some kind of technical/mechanical gold mine, only to realize that all you've done is mopped the kitchen floor. For the 10th time in a week. Clean kitchen floors are important, especially when you have a pre-toddler in the house 80% of the time, but if it isn't the goal of the new spiffy gizmo, then in some sense, you've failed. Or, rather, I've failed. Once again, Ron Popeil, leader of the set-it-up-and-walk-away generation, you've led me astray . . .

Let me 'splain. And if I repeat myself from previous posts, please forgive. For years I was in need of a circulating water system for my al- embic, and I dreamed up a bucket system (I did not come up with idea, so I take absolutely no credit for its invention -- in fact, I think I might have seen it in reference to illegal spirits distillation) wherein a big bucket, perhaps the one normally used to make soap, becomes the cooling water container, and a small immersible pump, such as one used for table fountains or fish tanks, is set up inside the water bucket pumping water through a tube and into the container holding the cooling coils of the copper al- embic and then circulating back into the water bucket, into which a few plastic bottles of frozen water are placed to keep the free-flowing water at its coolest. The idea is sound. It works. But it isn't the leave it go for an hour type of arrangement I thought I'd bought myself. No. Instead my time is spent almost as it was before when I was draining the warm water from around the container holding the cooling coils and replacing it with cool, icy water every 15 minutes or so. My task isn't to keep the water cool, it is preventing the water level in the cooling container (around those coils) from dropping too low, or just as bad, keeping the cooling container from overflowing. The problem lies in metal and plastic tubing's ability to expand and contract according to the temperature of the water flowing through them. If the water in the water bucket is really cold, I can set the flow of the water so it fills the chamber but doesn't overflow, however, once that cooling water in the water bucket heats up, even by a couple of degrees, the flow of water needs resetting. At least twice during an hour's time, which is less than the amount of time I was spending before with the draining and replacing system, but is still not optimal for indoor distillation. If I ran the distillation outdoors, this wouldn't be a problem. Any overflow would end up watering my garden and not be mopped up repeatedly.

So I suspect the next project is to set up some kind of heating table in the backyard to accommodate distillation there instead of in the house. I would no longer be so concerned with the slip-n-slide effect, and the house wouldn't suffer the effects of a hot piece of metal warming the air in the house for hours at a time. Once again, I am back to the distillation drawing board.

I've pretty much been distilling things non-stop since a week ago, between visits with my mum, who had been really sick and in the hospital. She's home now and doing better, but I still run out to her house to check on her every so often during the day, running her errands and keeping her garden watered. When home, however, the reggae gets turned up, the al- embic is fired and some odd thing or another gets tossed in the chamber for distillation. Right now it's running the black velvet apricots through for a clarifying distillation, then before the lavender is too far gone to finish, I'm going to run another 32 ounces of water through that (giving me a total of 64 ounces of hydrosol and a few milliliters of oil), and then run all that through again to clear it up. Then it's on to those organic cucumbers that have been piling up. I've got a patch of cukes growing, as does mum, so I'm cuke heavy at the moment. And I can't wait to make that hydro.

And then there is the rose geranium that's just going bananas. It has to be cut back -- and, yes, I will distill that as well. We're expecting the temperatures to cool down some for the next week or so, so I am going to take advantage of it and distill, distill, distill!

Building the hydrosol stock is fun, despite the funky set-backs. And since it is a funky wild process to begin with, singing reggae to the al- embic seems a perfectly normal thing to do.

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