Thursday, November 1, 2012

Best Homemade Gifts: Food, Fiber, Photo and More, Pt. 1

Part 1 Food

The Holiday Season is coming up fast.  It used to sneak up on me like a thief in the night.  There I was, out in the crowds frantically trying to snag last-minute gifts, when I wanted to be home baking cookies, or just enjoying sweet Christmas music while admiring my decorated tree and candles glowing in the windows.. 

I still have to do some shopping.  Let’s get real.  I can’t make everything. 

But I can make a lot.  And I do.  Right now I’ve got four knitted gifts on the shelf for gift-giving. 

I get into the full swing starting this month, November, and continue right on up to the big day.  I keep finding things to make…thank you, Pinterest!

Knitting and crocheting pretty much finished, I'm looking at food gifts now.  Here are some of my favorite.

I’ve had more raves on food gifts than anything else.  People like to eat!  We make jams and jellies in the summer months,  and some of these turn into Christmas gifts.  Just tie a ribbon or rafia around the top of the jar, and that’s it. 

I like to make winter jam, though, expressly for Christmas giving.  And one of the best I’ve made is “Christmas Jam” from my Southern Heritage Gift Receipts Cookbook. 

Christmas Jam                                                                                                                              

1 (8-oz.) jar maraschino cherries, undrained
1 (20-oz). can pineapple chunks, drained
2 (6-oz.) packages dried apricots
3 ½ cups water
6 cups sugar

Drain cherries, reserving juice;  cut cherries into quarters and set aside.

Combine reserved cherry juice, pineapple, apricots, and water in a flat-bottomed kettle; stir well.  Let stand 1 hour.

Cook fruit mixture over medium heat 20 minutes or until apricots are tender.  Reduce heat; add sugar, stirring occasionally until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil; boil stirring frequently, until mixture registers 216 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Add reserved cherries, stirring constantly, until mixture registers 220 degrees, or until mixture sheets from a cold metal spoon.  Remove from heat.

Quickly ladle jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 –inch headspace.  Cover at once with metal lids, and screw bands tight.  Process in boiling-water bath 4 minutes.  Yield: 3 ½ pints or 7 half pints.

The above jam is beautiful in the cute little Ball jars, colorful with the cherries.  It just looks like Christmas.  And it tastes scruptious.  I tied red satin ribbons around the jar necks, and that was that.

About three years ago, and again last year, I made Orange Marmalade.  Seems like schools in this area have the students sell oranges, and I always buy a box.  That’s why I decided to make the marmalade.  And citrus is just good in the winter months.  I’ve had more raves over the Orange Marmalade than anything.  It’s hard to make enough for us to keep because it is that good. 

 I used Sure-Jel from the grocery shelves for this one last year.  The recipe that comes inside the box uses lemons as well as oranges.

One warning:  Orange marmalade is not so quickly made compared to other jams and jellies.  The trickiest part is cutting the rind off the fruit and then scraping the white pith off with a sharp knife.  I hate that part, and Gary (my husband) did it for me last year.  Then you slice the rind into thin strips and boil them with baking soda before adding them to the rest of the fruit with the sugar. 

It always turns out perfect  for me when I add about a half-minute more to the suggested final boiling time.  I got that from my mother-in-law years ago.  She said she always extended the called-for boiling time for her jams and jellies about an extra 30 seconds.  Then she turned the heat off and let the mixture stand on the burner, while she got the jars out of the hot water and lined them up on a towel.  I do the exact same thing.

My Southern Heritage Cookbook, mentioned above, has a recipe for Orange-Lemon Marmalade, and it’s a good one, just a little longer to make.  I might make it this year again.



Here in my community, neighbors take food gifts around to the houses to give.  One neighbor down the road makes homemade sausage.  We really look forward to that.  Another makes a tin of fudge, or cookies some years.  Cookies are the most popular.  My mother-in-law gave gifts of her homemade jams and jellies on Christmas day to the neighbors. 

We are a gluten-free household because of my youngest son having celiac disease, so all of our baked goods are minus gluten.  The best  cookie we’ve made, gluten-free, are the pressed spritz sugar cookies.  Last two years my son and granddaughter have made them.  They’re practically melt-in-your-mouth.

If you aren't gluten-free, you will still think they are one of the best, lightest cookies ever.

I can’t remember where I first got the recipe, but here it is:

Gluten-Free Spritz Cookies                                                        

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp almond extract
1 ½ cups white rice flour, ½ cup potato starch, ½ cup tapioca flour (or 2 ½ cups white flour blend like Bob’s Red Mill)
½ tsp xanthan gum (unless it is included in the flour blend)
½ tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar.  Add egg and extracts.  Beat few minutes.  Combine dry ingredients and add to mixer.  Mix about 30 seconds.

Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.  Watch carefully, depending on your oven, because these bake fast.

We decorate them by brushing tops with beaten egg white and then sprinkling with colored sugar.  Or making tinted confectioner’s sugar icing and using sprinkles. 


One year I gave my nieces a basket of oranges with one of the Pampered Chef citrus peelers.   Another year I baked pies for them in glass pie plates they could keep.  They were newly married, so this was a good addition to their bakeware. 

Then I’ve made the hot chocolate mixes, which everyone loves.  The mocha mix was a big hit.  You can’t beat homemade fudge.  We like the Hershey’s Cocoa recipe, which I’ve made since I was a child.  We also can devour platters of peanut butter fudge, made following the recipe on the jar of marshmallow cream for chocolate fudge, switching the amount of chocolate for peanut butter.  This is one truly addictive treat.

I made a trail mix for my mother-in-law one year, after she’d eaten some of what I made to take on a long driving trip.  So I made her a bag of her own. 

I put just about everything in my trail mix…remembering we are gluten-free.

Nuts, both dark and white raisins, chopped dried apricots and cherries and/or cranberries, chopped dates, chocolate chips or M & Ms, as many kinds of nuts as I can (sunflower, pistachio, and walnuts or pecans make for a good texture).   Sealed in gallon zipper bags, these are good for a long time.

Homemade bread is a great gift, and even better if you wrap it in a pretty kitchen towel.  That’s a double treat gift. 

Since we can and preserve so many foods from our garden, we never run out of gift-giving ideas.  When our bees were doing well—I think our queen flew away—Gary always had jars of honey for gifts.  People loved them and continue to ask for more.  One year he sent off and bought those plastic honey bear containers.  We tied ribbons around the bears’ necks.  What a great gift that was.

In this economy, making your own gifts is a great way to save, and I’ve found over the years that everybody loves homemade.  Teachers, pastors, mailmen, school bus drivers, co-workers, bosses, friends and family. 

The teachers in our family have said repeatedly they prefer gifts of food rather than anything.  When I taught adult court reporting, one of my favorite gifts was Godiva coffee!  

Now is the time to get going, seeing what you can make, finding innovative containers and decorations, and stocking those edible gifts away for the big day. 

Part 2, Fiber, I’ll have my favorite knitting, crochet, and sewing gifts from past years and this year.  It’s more than just pot holders!

Part 3, Photo, features the gifts I've made centered around photos, including scrapbooks of course, but many, many others using pictures.

For anyone interested in the Southern Heritage Cookbooks collection, I found them on Amazon.  Mine were a Christmas gift many years ago.  I might order these for a gift for someone else.  There are so many recipes on the web now, it hardly seems practical to have hardbacks, but I kept the best on my shelves when I downsized.  All the rest, boxes full, went to our library.


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