Some years ago I wrote about 'bathroom books', books that I read when I'm, well, sitting in the bathroom, books that aren't ranked high on the list of gotta-reads, but books, nonetheless, that have great, shareable information that can be taken in small bites and retained for future reference. The current bathroom book is 'The Mystery and Lure of Perfume' by CJS Thompson, and though it's a re-read (I read this book years ago when I was first getting into perfumery) it managed to find its way into the bathroom library. Since walking the incense path, things about perfumery that I took for granted, things I hadn't given much thought to, or things I discounted out of hand, are finding very important places in the brain database, and these older perfume books help with this. The older perfume books are filled with recipes for sachets and snuff boxes, handkerchief perfumes and pomanders. One recipe, in particular, has held my attention for the past couple of days because of two things, one, it calls for a rather large amount of both ambergris and civet, and two, it calls for an ingredient repeated throughout the book called 'girofle'. Somewhere in the piles of notebooks and file folders is a list of old perfumery terms defined, and girofle is in there. However, the internet works too. Girofle is clove bud. It's a French word that managed to find its way into an English recipe book over and over again. Anyway . . . the recipe isn't for a perfume, per se, but made for a cassolette, a scent box that is meant to be snuffled when bad odors are around, sort of like a sachet or a scented hankie, only bigger. And a box. With holes in the lid.
A Paste for the Cassolette for the use of the Duchesses Parma & Braganza, circa somewhere in the late 1500s.
Ambergris 3 drachms
Musk 2 drachms
Civet 1 drachm
Oil of Girofle 1 drachm
Essence of Citron 3 drachms
Mix the ambergris, musk, and civet together, then add the oil and essence and make the whole into a paste with rose-water and place in the cassolette.
This interests me more as an incense than it does as a perfume or sachet or cassolette paste. Can you imagine what it must have smelled like just dripping with all these animalic notes tempered with cloves and citrus, and then washed with rosewater? It must have been stunning.
Now, you know me, I don't advocate the use of deer musk, what with it causing death, destruction, and extinction, not to mention it's illegal to use, nor do I approve much of civet's use either, but I don't have any problem with ambergris as it's old, salty whale poop. As harmless as hyraceum. But this recipe piques my interest in a way that makes me want to create something like it in an incense. I'm finding costus root to be a powerful vegetal sourced animalic-like scent that I really enjoy, and I believe the root with some labdanum resin and some brittle bee propolis resin would make a great 'musk' substitute. I have ambergris, the lovely grey stuff from Ireland, and cloves and rose and citron I have -- this might make a really nice autumn/winter cozy up incense. I still can't wrap my head around the civet, though. I just don't think it smells like something I'd want to burn in my house.