Copper Alembic Still


Just look at this beauty. My heart stopped the first time I saw one, and I knew I must add it to my home crafting supplies. Lest you think I'm ALL about the superficial eye candy, rest assured that it was the combination of usefulness and aesthetics that spurred me to covet and acquire this piece of functional art from Copper Brothers in Portugal.

There is a distinct aroma that says Home here in Central Oregon. Over the years I've identified different factions of this smell. While nordic skiing the sun comes out and warms the pine trees, sap, and Manzanita bushes. There's one. While hiking, my foot would crush a bit of pinecone and juniper berries, stirring up smooth yet sharp notes. That's another piece. More recently I discovered the extremely heady, perfumey fragrance of Ceanothus Velutinus or snowbrush. There's that sweet part of the Home scent. We have acres of natural sage, pine and juniper trees on our property, and planted lavender to add to the mix. I wanted to distill these and other native flora into a scent to share with others who may never make it to my neck of the woods or to enrich any environment with lovely natural aromatherapy.

My research into distilling essential oils and hydrosols led me to this striking still. Here I am a few years later firing her up and experimenting with an assortment of vegetation. For all of my research, I came up with only a few nuggets of pertinent information. My best resource was from Erin Stewart over on her website, Floranella. Her site led me to a few local lavender farms; and Youtube is always good for a smattering of useful (and not so useful) videos. There is so much I want to learn. I had intended to take a class with Erin that was offered through Wildcraft Studios, but then the pandemic hit. I just found another excellent resource and video from Mother Earth Living. I highly recommend watching their video. I am a total newby, but I will gladly share with you my limited knowledge and any tips that I've gleaned.

The base of the still is called the pot. The column is next, and is often optional. The top part is called the cap or the onion or the swan neck lid. The lyne arm is the connecter to the condenser, where the coiled tubing is. 

I've heard from a couple sources that you shouldn't use the same still for both essential oils and alcohol. I guess I won't be making any moonshine. It was suggested that 3 litres to 10 litres would be good sizes for home distilling. The column needs to be pretty packed with plant material for making oil. That's a lot of plants to pack the 10L column! The smaller 3L size seemed perfect for me because I only had a few large lavender plants. I didn't want to use all of my lavender for one distillation. I wanted to combine it with other plants and try different blends. 

When you receive your still, check the box, packaging, and still for any damage. In my case, there was a three-day time period in which to file any damage claim, which was clearly stated on the website. I hadn't noticed this reminder, and with Covid I let my box sit for a while before I opened it up and really checked it out. Unfortunately, the box was damaged in shipping and my still had a dent in it. Luckily, I've taken many metal smithing classes and felt comfortable doing as Copper Brothers customer service suggested, and used a rubber mallet to gently tap the dent out. Phew, disaster diverted! And by the way, I found Copper Bros customer service to be prompt and helpful. Also, I received my still within the week of ordering! Yes, that was an international order.

Besides the still, you'll need a heat source. I chose a 1500W electrical burner. You'll also need to cool the coils in the condenser unit by keeping a flow of cold water. I didn't want to be wasteful with free flowing water, and opted for recyling it. A bucket or container for the water, aquarium pump, and some tubing does the trick. I bought a very inexpensive pump for $12. I wish I had gotten a better pump that had a knob to control the flow of the water instead of twisting the tubing to control the flow. The knob would have been much easier. It's worth the extra $10 to get this feature, and you'll probably get a stronger pump to boot. 

I found setting the still up took some time and finagling. You need to find the right height of supports for under the condenser unit to match the burner and still height. The cooling water system has to be just right. And how to catch the hydrosol is another conundrum. Have lots of bricks, tiles, bowls, stools, etc around to figure this all out. I took a picture when it all worked to refer to the next time I set up. 

I like having the thermometer built into the still. You'll want to seal any joints that might let vapor escape with either a paste of rye flour and water or with teflon tape. It's not actually "tape" in that it doesn't have adhesive on it (Thank goodness! I mean, who would want to get this gorgeous copper all sticky and gunked up???) Plumbers use it to seal pipes. It clings to the metal and doesn't allow any steam to escape. My still was pretty air tight, but I did notice one tiny spot that needed the tape.

You can use the still without the column and put plant matter in the pot with the water. You can pack the column with plant matter. You can also do both in combination. If you put plant matter into the pot, it's suggested to put a strainer or something on the bottom of the pot to prevent the plant matter from resting on the pot bottom and getting scorched from the heat. I mostly used just the column. 

It takes a long time to get the water to boil, so it's much quicker to pour boiling water into the pot right from the beginning. Once you reach 100 degrees celsius or 220 degrees fahrenheit you should soon see tiny spurts of hydrosol come out of the condenser. I would run the still anywhere from one to three hours, getting one to two pints of hydrosol. 

The essential oil floats to the top of the hydrosol and can be removed by a variety of methods. I would guess there is only one to two tablespoons of essential oil in one batch. I decided this year to just leave the oil and hydrosol together and not bother with removing the oil. I found the hydrosol to be very long lasting and fragrant. In fact, my sage blend was REALLY sagey, and smelled like Thanksgiving. I sprayed about four spritzes and it lingered for weeks! Perhaps a little too long to smell like Thanksgiving dinner in summer.

I distilled rabbit brush blossoms, which has a very green, lightly pineapple like fragrance. I also tried juniper berries and pine blossoms. My favorite, of course, is the lavender. I tried fresh and dried and love them both.

I've put my still away for the year, but look forward to next season. I hope to plant additional fragrant plants to try along with my native growers. 

If you keep your hydrosol in the refrigerator, it should last about a year. I've purchased some pretty cobalt glass sprayers from Amazon in different sizes to fill for gifts. 

I'll be putting together sets of hydrosol, handmade linen towels, and wax wraps for Christmas gifts this year. I'll try to put up a post on the wax wraps soon. For now I'll enjoy the lingering scents of summer with my hydrosols.

Encaustic Wax, Flower Printing, and Plaster Play

I've finally carved out a niche in my outside studio to play around with encaustic wax!! (Happy dance here.) It's summertime, so I can throw the doors and windows open to keep the studio well ventilated. I just need to make sure no critters get caught inside! (On acreage in the middle of the forest, this is a real challenge.)

Also on my list of things to try out is creating prints by pounding flowers into either fabric or paper. And in keeping with my non-linear, crazy mind these days, I'll throw in a smattering of plaster to mix things up even more.  The options are growing exponentially as I write.

I had a damaged wooden board stained with indigo India ink, cast off from a failed project. This would be perfect to start my foray back into the world of encaustic wax. Blue = sky, easy beginning; and I love flowers, so there you go. 

Here are some detailed shots:

That was soooo much fun! But that's just the beginning. 

I have a large bare spot on one of the walls in our cobalt blue tiled bathroom. Unfortunately, the first piece is a horizontal panel, and I needed a perpendicular panel to fill the void. So on to the next experimental art adventure I go.

We are in the middle of a pandemic, thus I am trying to use things I have on hand. Since I didn't have a correct size wooden panel, I ripped leftover drop cloth into the size I wanted, and added a layer of plaster of Paris to the front (let it dry) and then the back of the cloth. I had seen this done by Jeanne Oliver for smaller journal pages. Perhaps this isn't the best thing for a larger panel like I'm making as it may crack or break fairly easily, but I forged on ahead knowing that it's just for me, and on the wall, and I'm pretty careful.  

What shall I put on this panel? I have been vying to try hammered flower cloth. What, you ask, is hammered flower cloth? Take flowers and hammer them into cloth. I used a very thin, woven, cotton muslin type cloth. I went around my yard and gathered a variety of flowers to try.

I layered a piece of paper underneath, added the thin cloth, arranged the flowers on the cloth, covered the flowers with parchment paper, and used a rubber mallet to hammer the flowers into the cloth. The parchment paper allowed me to faintly see where the flowers and colors were transferring onto the fabric, helping me create a more cohesive design. I went in after the first pass and added more flowers and greenery where it was needed. The bottom layer of paper had a faint ghost print from the color that seeped out from the fabric. You could use this paper for a mixed media piece, or attach it into your journal, or whatever you like. 

Here is the cloth panel. 

I won't wash this. If you wanted to use this technique on a washable item, you would need to treat the fabric before and after doing the flower pounding. Since I knew this was for the wall and wouldn't be washed, I used untreated fabric. 

To attach this fabric onto the plaster substrate I used encaustic wax. I laid the fabric onto the plaster panel and added a layer of encaustic wax on top of the flower print. The wax soaked into the thin cloth and down into the plaster. I am hoping the encaustic wax will not only act as a binder, but also help to seal in the color of the flowers and keep it from fading. 

Here's a portion of the cloth before the encaustic wax was applied.

And after the wax was applied.


And here's the same area after I added some darker encaustic wax accents. 

Sweet peas on fabric.

Sweet peas after clear and some white encaustic wax. 

Here are close ups of areas with the darker encaustic wax and some indigo colored wax details added. I wanted a little of that indigo/cobalt color of the bathroom tiles in the piece. 

I left the edges rough, but felt it was a little too rustic. I had leather straps that I added to the piece by stitching a loop and hanging them onto the copper tubing I used to hang the piece by. 

The leather covers the rough edges on the longer sides and makes the piece look cleaner. I used a piece of wire as a hanger, but wanted to obscure it a bit so I added a few pussy willow branches to the top. 

I like how the plain plaster is still visible at the top and bottom of the piece. 

I learned a lot by just playing around with materials I had on hand, trying to make do. I'm happy to have a piece of art to hang in the bare spot of the bathroom. I hope you give the flower printing a try. It's very easy. There are all sorts of tutorials on Youtube showing different methods. I even saw that some people used rocks to pound the plant materials into the fabric. 

Happy summer, everyone!

Nut Meal Recipes ~ One Savory, One Sweet

What to do when your favorite soy or nut milk is no longer available due to pandemic supply problems? Make your own. I had never tried making nut milk before, so I was surprised at how easy it was and how much better the flavor and texture was.

The more I made, the more nut meal I had to use in some creative, delicious way. There were a few recipes online, but none that fit the flavors I wanted or ingredients I had on hand. A cold, rainy day makes the perfect time for a grand baking experiment. Usually I never bake. Why? Because I'll just eat it all! I have no will power. But today was the exception, so I tried to keep it somewhat healthy. I do not know how many calories or what the nutritional values are. This is a baking experiment day, not a math day.

I made one savory and one sweet batch of batters with only ingredients I had in my pantry. I am pleased with the results, and happy that they are more than edible. I hope you enjoy them as well, or perhaps you can do a little experimenting of your own with what you have on hand.

                                                             Pumpkin Spice Mookies 
                                       (cross between a muffin and a cookie ~ yep, I just made that up)
                                       (edit: actually I didn't make it up because I just hashtagged it on IG and it's                                                        already a thing. Who knew?? I didn't until now.)

1 C nut meal (mine was dried and somewhat ground up like flour with a few lumps in it)
1 C pumpkin puree (about half a can)
1 old banana
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon all spice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 
1/3 C whole raw oats
1/3 C chopped pecans
1/3 C maple syrup
1/3 C coconut oil, in liquid form
1 egg

Mix all the ingredients together. The batter will be fluffy and slightly stiff, like cookie dough. On a parchment lined baking sheet, mound heaping tablespoons of batter. Cook at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until the outside crisps up a bit and begins to crack. Take them out of the oven and let them cool for about 15 minutes so they set up a tad before handling. I'm not sure how many it makes because we ate a few before I thought to count them. I think it makes about a dozen.

These mookies are the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.

Next up is savory ~ slightly spicy, depending on the salsa you use, dense and moist, yet the cornmeal gives it a nice crunchy tooth. 

                                                Chili Pumpkin Nut Meal Slices and Croutons

1 C nut meal (mine was dried and somewhat ground up like flour with a few lumps in it)
1 C pumpkin puree (about half a can) 
1 tablespoon Organic No Salt Seasoning
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 C salsa verde
1/4 C olive oil
1 egg

Mix all the ingredients together. Pour the batter into a buttered 9" cake pan. Cook at 350 degrees for 45 - 55 minutes. Cool on a rack. Once cooled, slice it up. If you would like croutons, dice some up and put into a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and/or under a broiler for about 5 minutes. Turn off the oven and let the croutons cool down in the oven to further dry them out. 

I put the croutons in my salad ~ yum! Tonight I'll melt a bit of cheese on the slices and serve them with dinner.  

I'm happy to have used up a few languishing ingredients; and to have created some new, tasty treats while sheltering in place. 

Edit update: Rhubarb is in season, so I'm adding another recipe.

                                                         Rhubarb/Pear Coffeecake 

4 C rhubarb, stems only, 1/4" slices
1 pear, cubed
1 1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 1/2 C nut meal
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger (I used 1 cube of frozen ginger)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 C full fat coconut milk

Toss cut rhubarb with 1/4 C sugar. Add pear and mix. Butter 9" round cake pan, and dot with 1/2 stick of butter. Add rhubarb mixture. 

In a separate bowl, whisk nut meal, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, beat remaining butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in ginger, lemon zest, and OJ. Beat in one egg at a time. Add vanilla. Add dry mix and blend. Add coconut milk and mix. 

Spread mixture onto rhubarb. Bake about an hour or so in a 350 degree oven.