by Kate Heyhoe
Gifts to Make...
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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.
Tips for Handmade Food Gifts:
- Timing: Check the recipe to see how long a food will last and whether it needs refrigeration. Some foods, like cookies, fudge and crackers, will last several days but only if stored air-tight in a metal tin or plastic container.
- Labels: Tie a gift tag or stick a label on the outside indicating how long the gift will keep or how it should be stored, such as "Put me in the fridge, but eat me up before Dec. 25."
- Cushioning: Get creative with actual food items as cushioning material. For instance, try peanuts (real ones, not styrofoam) in the shell. I have a huge bay laurel bush in my yard and toss in bay leaf branches with natural straw as part of the cushion; the bay leaves smell great and can be cooked with as well (do the same with rosemary).
- Ethnic Wrappers: Foreign newspapers make great wrappings. Package a box of Chinese fortune or almond cookies in a Chinese newspaper, or tie up Japanese sushi supplies in a Japanese silk scarf, with a set of chopsticks in the knot.
- FoodSavers and Zipper Bags: Invest in a FoodSaver machine to seal foods air-tight and make them last longer. Or, use a zipper bag and squeeze out as much air as possible.
- Gadgets: Tie a kitchen gadget on the package as part of the bow, such as a cookie cutter, garlic press, measuring spoons or fancy serving spoon.
- Dried Pastas: Make flavored pastas and dry them. You can combine several colors and flavors in one package, or group them separately. Bundle them up with a jar of gourmet sauce.
- Gold and Silver Decorations: Add sparkle to baked goods and chocolates with edible gold or silver leaf, sold in thin sheets in Indian and pastry supply stores. Small, round silver candies, known as dragées, work well, too.
- Grinders: Fresh ground everything always tastes better. Package some nifty pepper grinders like the William Bounds Peppermills with jars of mixed peppercorns; you can buy premixed peppercorns or create your own custom blend using black, white and red varieties. Follow the same idea with sea salt grinders, nutmeg grinders and chocolate shavers.
- Cookbooks Plus: Package a cookbook with an item made from one of its recipes. For instance, buy the book Cookies Unlimited, make a batch of Easy Coconut Drops from it, and give them both as one gift. Or, for an ethnic cookbook such as Raji Cuisine, package it with an assortment of Indian condiments and spices.
Gourmet Gifts to Make
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
Kate's Global Kitchen for December, 2000:
Gifts to Buy, Gifts to Make, Recipes to Celebrate...
Copyright © 2000, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 2000 and modified November 2006.