One of the best Christmas presents I have ever received was a cardboard box full of food: maple cured bacon and three different kinds of jam made from apples and berries grown in a backyard garden. My husband and I were away from our families for the holiday, and waking up and frying that bacon—the salty smell of it filling the kitchen—whipping up some crepes, and spreading sweet homemade jam on those crepes made Christmas morning not only delicious, but somehow more of a celebration because I hadn’t needed to plan the whole breakfast myself. This relief from planning was a gift, and so was being introduced to maple-cured bacon, a delicacy I had never known existed before that Christmas.
Gifts from the kitchen are the perfect way to share the holidays with others. Food summons memories. We think of the people we have shared good meals and desserts and side dishes with. We think of conversations we have had, ideas we’ve proposed, encouragement we’ve received, and jokes we’ve exchanged. The meals and treats and side dishes a person makes also become linked to what we know about them. A woman I babysat for made the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. She said it was easy—you just had to make sure to cream the butter and sugar—but even after following this advice I haven’t been able to make them as well, so she still holds the record for most amazing chocolate chip cookies of all time and I think of her whenever I eat a chocolate chip cookie.
What is it that reminds people of you and your cooking? Is it the cranberry oatmeal cookies you bake? The spices you combine for the perfect roasted potatoes? The apple butter you have on hand for every winter breakfast? The quick breads you bake for brunch? Find a way to share these treats, make it look pretty, and you have the perfect gift!
Here are a few ideas:
I used to think taco seasoning was something that had to be purchased in a little paper packet and torn open whenever I was making a Southwestern dish. Not so! It’s easy to mix up a spicy blend. Put it in a little jar or bag and you have the perfect stocking stuffer. This recipe (from allrecipes.com) mixes together:
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, crushed red pepper, and dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper
You could even add to this and give friends and relatives a variety pack—taco seasoning, ranch dip mix, Cajun seasoning, rosemary and garlic seasoning—or just pick one favorite mix to pass along.
Every Christmas, my mom sends me home with homemade cookie mixes so my husband and I can easily enjoy one of his favorite desserts. The possibilities for baking mixes are as varied as your favorite treats—just pass along the dry ingredients for cookies, quick breads, pancakes, scones, muffins, or fruit crisp.
This year, since I will be traveling out east to see my family, it’s time to make lemon curd again, using this easy and delicious recipe from the Barefoot Contessa. Lemon curd accompanies scones, toast, cookies, and crepes delightfully. It can also fill tarts or pies, and you can spread it between layers of cake. Lemon curd can be canned if you are adventurous, but it also keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, and it is so good that it never seems to last much longer than that anyway!
Another ready-to-eat, spreadable gift is flavored butter. My Simply in Season cookbook proposes three variations:
Herbed butter. Mince shallots or chives, a garlic clove, and fresh basil, parsley, or dill, add a teaspoon of lemon or lime juice if you’d like, mix all of these into the butter, and then roll the butter into a ball.
Lemon butter. Add lemon juice and a few bits of grated lemon zest to butter and use a blender to blend until smooth.
Maple butter. A bit more complicated, but it sounds irresistible! Heat 2 cups maple syrup to 232-234˚F, cool to 80-100˚F, beat with an electric mixer until the syrup lightens, add 1 cup softened butter and beat until the mixture returns to a buttery texture. Chill.
Of course, if you’re keen on canning and have the materials, there is no end of applesauce, apple butter, jam, jelly, marmalade, chutney, salsa, sauces, or pickles you can make and share.
Local Grocery Favorites
Then again, there are some edible gifts that people love to receive but that require more than the standard kitchen equipment to make. For instance, my family has always dreamed of raising bees, but for now they have found a favorite local apiary and often give away big jars of local honey. If you haven’t gotten around to raising your own honeybees yet either, it’s easy to find honey at Wolff’s, too—we partner with several local apiaries to bring you locally produced honey, an ideal gift for the holidays. And if you haven’t yet learned how to cultivate and tap maple trees, you can also find pure Pennsylvania maple syrup on our shelves. Also, if you have coffee lovers gathered around your tree, Burlap & Bean brings expertly roasted, organic, fair trade coffee to Wolff’s from right around the corner in Newtown Square.
This holiday season, give your friends and family a gift that will remind them of favorite meals you have shared and will lead to even more shared meals in the coming year.