My boy is learning about the early colonists to America at school. The early colonists were very limited in the ways they could light their homes. Tallow or beeswax were needed to make candles, but honey bees were a later European import, so there was no beeswax to be had, and there were too few cattle to generate much tallow. So the colonists learned to extract wax from bayberries, a native New England plant, made reed lamps, and used oil lamps. An interpreter at the 1620's village Plimoth Plantation told me that for oil, the English used "trane," cod liver oil.
I wanted to use a little clay pot my daughter made for our lamp, but a canning jar would make a perfect lantern which would shed light beautifully. You also need a piece of cotton household string, or wick, a piece of wire, and some olive oil.
We prepared our string by soaking it in salty water. A salted wick will burn long. After it dried, I made a wick holder from wire. My wick holder has a little loop for a handle, which bends over the edge of the pot, and then a wick stand made of a coil. The loop on the top of the coil is for holding the wick in place.
Wrap the end of the wick stand around the wire, leaving about a quarter of an inch of wick standing up.
Put the wick stand into the lamp and fill it with olive oil so that the oil touches just below the pinched end of the wick.
You can use the handle to lift out your wick for lighting if you want. The lamp sheds a quiet glow, and we love it. It has been dark and rainy recently, and it is cozy to have a little lamp.
We'll show you how to make a bayberry candle in a few days.
I learned how to make an olive oil lamp from an article in Mother Earth News. Olive oil is considered a relatively safe lamp fuel. It has a high flash point, which means that the flame will go out if the oil sloshes. It has no odor or smoke. An olive oil lamp can be very handy to have during a power outage, since you probably have the ingredients at hand, and if you make it in a mason jar, you can just screw on the lid for storage. I like to remember that this kind of lamp has been used for thousands of years, and that the Holy Family ate dinner by the light of an olive oil lamp. Click on the title of this post for the link.