Written and photography by JACKYE MEINECKE
I preserve something nearly every month of the year from spring asparagus and strawberries to end of summer tomatoes. I do this for several reasons, including choosing my favorite flavor preferences, creating a better product than is available in grocery stores, and to know what is in my food.
However, I began canning and continue to do so to make gifts for family and friends. It all began with a habanero marmalade recipe from Sunset magazine. I had grown an abundance of these orange and extremely hot peppers in my garden. Despite no experience and none of the proper tools for canning, I succeeded in creating a sparkling, orange marmalade. And my family— especially my mother—and friends liked it a lot.
The wide beautiful selection of colorful jams, marmalades, and pickles is especially handy during the holiday season for gifts. A pretty jar of strawberry jam is a lovely hostess gift.
A jar of fig preserves is a sophisticated addition to a cheese tray.
However, this close to the holidays with not much fruit in season, making jams and jellies may not fit your schedule. Still there are some very easy recipes that can be made on a weekend or evening.
Most of the ingredients for gifts from the kitchen are in the pantry all the time or can be purchased easily on the way home from work at any grocery store. An evening or weekend afternoon spent making a few treats will make the holiday season special for friends and family.
Recipes for the following types of gifts or party foods are online and in many cookbooks. Or create your own with whatever you have on hand. Most require less than half an hour to combine the ingredients. Some may require some resting time to impart flavors. Then the flavored treats may require less than half hour to pour into containers or bottles; it just depends on how much time you want to spend on the decorative labels and packaging. These types of projects easily can fit into short windows of opportunity.
Here are some ideas:
- Create flavored sugars with vanilla or cinnamon or pumpkin spice.
- Create flavored vodka or gin by steeping citrus fruit, peppers or herbs such as thyme or rosemary for a week or so. Then strain blend into decorative bottles. These make a fabulous gift for a hostess or to create signature drinks for a holiday party.
- Create flavored simple syrup (boiled water and sugar) with citrus, fruit, herbs such as rosemary or basil, or dried flowers like lavender. These syrups are wonderful over fruit or cake for desert or to create tasty cocktails.
- Raid your spice cabinet to create flavorful herb sachets in cheesecloth or similar packaging for spicing cider, tea, hot cocoa or wine. Package the sachets in decorative boxes or tins for gifts.
Thoughtful gifts created in your kitchen with your personality will be a hit with many on your holiday list, as well as a treasure for hostesses and as a thank you for many services and occasions.