I'm not the world's biggest Martha Stewart fan. My wife has one or two of her decorating books lying around, and I think maybe she used a Martha Stewart stuffing recipe at Thanksgiving (which was excellent, I have to admit), but to my mind, Ms. Stewart has always seemed a little, I don't know, fussy--at least to an old log burner like me.
However, I was reading the Boston Globe today when I came across Stewart's column, which I have to admit does offer a few good holiday tips. In particular, one reader sent in a question about using the fireplace to generate holiday fragrances. Here's an excerpt:
Q. What can I add to a wood-burning fireplace to create a festive fragrance?
A. One way to build an aromatic fire is to choose wood that is naturally fragrant. For a subtle effect, use a long-burning wood, such as hickory or cherry. Ash, which has a less assertive smell, is also a good selection. (As with any wood, make sure the logs are dry and have been aged at least six months. Freshly cut wood burns unevenly and produces smoke as well as an unpleasant odor.) Wood chips from hickory or fruitwood trees smell delightful as well. They are often available wherever firewood is sold.
Scented pinecones can also be an attractive addition. To make them, preheat the oven to 200 degrees or the lowest setting. Place a handful of pinecones (available at crafts stores) in a single layer, about a half inch apart, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pinecones are dry to the touch. Because the pitch on pinecones can ignite at high temperatures, monitor them closely.
Let the pinecones cool completely, and then sprinkle them with a few drops of essential oil, such as cinnamon, balsam, or clove (available at health food stores). Put them in an airtight storage bin or plastic bag. Gently shake the container to distribute the oil evenly, and keep it sealed until you are ready to light a fire. Then arrange the pinecones in a basket by the fireplace, and toss them in one or two at a time.
Stewart is absolutely right about the different types of wood, by the way. Different woods burn differently and give off a wide variety of fragrances, some of them strong and some quite mild. That's why last year I picked up a couple extra woodholders from brick-Anew and put them in my garage to supplement the woodpile out back. I keep each holder stocked with a different variety of wood, cherry being my go-to for a nice, sweet scent. While the wood you buy at the store is typically cured and not freshly cut, I do try to let the logs cure a little longer just to be on the safe side. Stewart's right about fresh-cut wood, too.
As for the pinecones, I've heard of placing a few next to the fire but have never tried it. I think I might just forward that idea to the wife.