I’m a perennial giver of food. Whether it’s for a holiday, at an event, or just because someone expresses random interest in something I made, I can’t help myself: I have to gift a jar or bag of homemade goodness.
I love receiving food too, but sometimes even I—someone who processes hundreds of jars a season, dehydrates and freezes, ferments and smokes—am hesitant to open a gifted jar. These are usually the ones that have perhaps a single word on the lid identifying the contents. No date, no maker, and no suggestions for putting it to use. These jars often work their way to the back of my canning shelves, hiding behind the familiar and loved. It makes me think some of my gifts go just as astray. So I’ve devise a way to change that—and I’m gifting my idea to you.
I give food year-round, but when the winter holidays come, I go big. My parents and sister’s family get a flat or two of home-canned goods under the tree each year, and my niece and nephew excitedly request and receive their favorite fruit rolls. Friends are passed bags of smoked nuts and blocks of smoked cheese, and people who share their wisdom and skills with me yearlong get packs of pickles and jams. Then there are the ski buddies, who eye my pockets for Christmas cookies as soon as we drop the bar on the chairlift.
Many of these people have been receiving food from me for years and know and trust what I make. But unless they also can and bake, dehydrate and ferment, they likely don’t know how to store that jar, whether to freeze the leftover pie, how to keep dehydrated goods dry, and when to put that sourdough bread in the fridge. Even if they know what to do with my gift, they may be hesitant to dig into a container of Baba Ghanouj, pop open a jar of Grilled Tomatillo Salsa, or mix a Rhubarb–Rosemary Rum simply because the primary ingredients aren’t staples in their diet.
So this year, I’m giving the gift of knowledge, as well as food. And I’m encouraging those of you who give food to do the same—and those of you who receive food to seek the answers that will put you at ease.
To help food givers, I’ve created gift tags you can download for free here. Print them on both sides (choose the “flip on long edge” option) of any color of paper; be sure to fill in the blanks front and back. Then cut along the dotted edges, punch a hole where shown at the top, and attach to your gift.
Whether you use these tags or come up with your own system, here’s the key information I think you should include with every food gift:
- Who. This may seem unnecessary, but if you aren’t giving a card and your recipient gets a lot of food items, remembering the source may be a challenge.
- What. Identify the contents of the jar, container, or bag. It may be obvious to you, but I guarantee it’s less so to someone else. While you’re at it, make a note of any likely allergens: nuts, gluten, dairy, etc.
- When. Date of creation is key. Homemade foods lack the chemical preservatives of commercially processed ones, so knowing when something was made is essential to knowing when it might go by. I make it even easier for recipients on my gift tags; on the backside, you’ll find or can write in how long the gift will keep.
As a bonus, these tags briefly tell the recipient how to store a baked, canned, dehydrated, or refrigerated item. These details may seem obvious to you the maker, but they could surprise the receiver.
Finally, you could take this one step further and focus on How. A separate card that gives your favorite uses for or things that pair with your creation goes a long way to getting that food into play on someone else’s table. If you think they’re going to love it so much they’ll want to make the next batch, you can even share the recipe.
If you’ve received a well-labeled food gift, most of the work has been done for you. But there are three things I would suggest that will make the gift more enjoyable—for you and the giver:
- Ask questions. If there’s something that makes you uncertain about a food gift, don’t hesitate to ask the person who made it. Let’s be honest: even if you love the giver, you won’t put something in your mouth (or the mouths of your kids) if you have doubts. And foodies rarely reject an opportunity to talk about food. Let the giver set your mind at ease.
- Place upfront. To ensure you eat an unfamiliar food gift at its peak, keep it prominent in your pantry or fridge. If you’re uncertain about what to pair it with or spread it on, ask the maker or look online for ideas. The longer it sits, the less likely you are to eat it.
- Give feedback. Even if you thank givers initially for their gifts, they’ll love you more if you tell them what you think once you’ve tasted it. Use your judgment, but in most cases even less than glowing feedback is welcome—it may lead to a better version in your gift bag next time.
Twice as Tasty
I think the best way to gift food that people will love is to use a Twice as Tasty recipe—but I may be biased. Still, many of the recipes on this blog can lead to food gifts; check out the new Recipe Index for ideas. Next week, I’ll be sharing some quick bread recipes that are great for gifts or parties, as well as your own table. This month, I’ll also share a potato salad recipe with a couple of variations that can be made winter or summer. The recipe is easy to double up for a gathering—and may just make you rethink those basic mashed potatoes at your big holiday meal.
A happy holiday season to you all!