by Kate Heyhoe
(Don't miss the Global Gourmet's Holiday Headquarters—your complete holiday planner)
When I was a kid, Mom (an artist) always encouraged me to make gifts for people, rather than buy them. "They appreciate a hand-made present so much more," she would say. So breaking out my paints, scissors, glitter and glue, I'd craft such items as Christmas ornaments, picture frames and useless but personalized refrigerator art.
Somewhere along the line I started making food items as gifts—such as Sweet and Spicy Pecans or Parmesan Stars and Hearts—and discovered just how much joy a gift of food can bring, to both the giver and the receiver.
Food gifts, though, can be tricky: food is perishable, so you need to keep timing and packaging in mind. I once received a package of homemade sweet potato latkes in the mail; it took three days for them to arrive and I, not knowing the contents, didn't open the package immediately. When I did, the latkes were mushy, greasy, and likely contaminated with food poisoning. Needless to say, despite my guilt at throwing out a gift lovingly made by hand, I didn't eat them.
Latkes aside, other foods fare better. Well-sealed nuts and jams last a long time and don't require refrigeration before opening, so you can stick them under the tree or ship them without worry. Fresh breads go stale quickly, though, so you need to advise folks to eat them within a day or two.
What foods do people really want to receive? Even if the gift is handmade, not everyone appreciates fruitcake or jalapeño jelly. If you're hoping to get a genuine "Wow!" reaction, plan on two things: make sure the gift suits the recipient (don't give goose pâté to a vegetarian), and package the present in a handsome or festive container. Just as food on the plate looks more appetizing when it's artfully arranged, so too do food gifts profit from pretty packaging. Invest in satin ribbons, fancy cloth, and festive labels to help send the message "this is special, and so are you."
Of course, you don't have to hand-make all the foods you give —a personalized gift basket can be just as welcome and shows you care. My in-laws in Florida's Pensacola-Gulf Coast area once sent a big box of all-Southern foods: Dixie beer, Cajun spice blends, Louisiana coffee, and cornbread mix, packaged in a tidy suitcase-style box with straw cushioning. It made us as happy as pigs in mud.
Wondering what gifts to make? Try the recipes below or dig up your own versions for these types of homemade goodies: mustards, pastas, pickles and cornichons, hot sauces, flavored vinegars and oils, flavored olives, breadsticks or Italian grissini, corn chips, seasoned nuts, dessert toppings, crystallized ginger or edible flowers, brownies, fruit syrup, herb blends, croutons, pretzels (regular or chocolate covered)—and if you're feeling very Martha Stewart-ish—herb or chile wreaths.
Coarse Grain Mustard with Beer
Mixed Marinated Olives, Spanish Style
Parmesan Stars and Hearts
Peppery Cheddar Coins
Sherried Mushroom Cheese Pâté
Spiced Pumpkin-Seed Flatbread
Cream Cheese Cookies
Easy Coconut Drops
Milk Chocolate and Hazelnut Bark
Nut Filled Cookie Sticks (Sfratti)
Real Scottish Petticoat Tail Shortbread
Sweet and Spicy Pecans
Torrone di Noce (Walnut Brittle) by David Ruggerio
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 2000 and modified November 2006.
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