With the holiday season on your doorstep, you’re likely planning meals and buying and making gifts. If you’re like me, you’re preparing to give the gift of food. It may not sound as sexy as an Apple AirPod or gravity blanket, but when you’ve taken the time to make it, package it, and set it aside with a specific person in mind, it carries far more love.
Still, giving and receiving food has its challenges. I’m not talking about the effort you put into preparing it, which you’ve likely already planned into your schedule and budget. I’m talking about ensuring your hard work will truly be appreciated by the receiver—and about how you, when you’re the receiver, can value what’s been created for you. With a little thought, you can make your food gifts the highlight of someone’s holiday season—and of yours.
I gift lots of food in December: to family, to friends, to people who make my life easier all year. I also receive many food gifts—some of which I find in the back of my canning shelves or bottom of my freezer when I make room for next season’s stash. I always feel guilty that I didn’t enjoy someone else’s efforts earlier, and I want to be sure they don’t feel the same way about my homemade gifts to them. Here are some of the things I keep in mind when I give food.
Although it can be fun to surprise someone with a food treat, gifts can backfire if you don’t know your recipient well. So many people today have special food diets, needs, or desires, many of them unexpected and evolving. One year I gave my extended family my Uncle Sunny’s Hot Swedish-Style Mustard and didn’t even consider that my cousin wouldn’t be able to eat it because the jar had 1/2 teaspoon of flour. I’ve offered jams to friends who welcomed them the year before but had to turn them down the next season because they were on a sugar-free diet. Friends celebrating their first child have sent me home with Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce because they worried that a home-canned jar with less than a teaspoon of honey blended in could give their infant botulism. They always feel bad about rejecting such gifts, and I always feel bad for offering up the wrong treat.
Even your closest recipients may appreciate a heads up about what you’re planning to send their way. My parents and sister’s family get flats of home-canned jars each Christmas, but we chat before I show up to see what they still have on their shelves and what the7 canned for themselves that summer. My young niece and nephew request packets of Auntie Julie’s Fruit Leather in their favorite flavors. I make sure that teetotalers receive Vanilla Bean Cookies and save boozy Chocolate Rum Balls for imbibers. If I’m not sure what someone would enjoy, I prefer to ask.
Sometimes it’s impractical to check on diet and preferences. And sometimes a surprise food gift may introduce friends or family members to a flavor they never would have tried otherwise. When I’m not sure exactly how a food gift will be received, I make the portions small. When I’m canning, my final jar of a jam or syrup often comes up shy of the normal size, so I load the rest into 4-ounce jars, process them for the same amount of time as half-pint jars, and set those samples aside as gifts. The same tiny jars readily hold beverage pastes, herb infusions, and for those who tell Santa they’ve been very good this year, Home-Smoked Chili Paste.
Holiday parties let you share food gifts without sharing guilt if your intended recipients don’t fall in love with your creations. I regularly show up with an array of pickles for a party tray; whoever says they enjoyed a particular flavor the most takes the rest of that jar home. I took Switchel to Thanksgiving dinner this year, not sure whether I would be the only one to drink it that day. My pregnant niece loved it, so the rest of the bottle traveled home with her. Even freshly prepared dips and freshly baked breads tend to stay behind with hosts.
Have you ever received a food gift you’re not quite sure what to do with? You might question how it was prepared, what’s in it, or simply how best to serve it. It ends up at the back of your cupboard, fridge, or freezer, and the longer it stays there, the guiltier you feel about throwing it out but the less likely you are to try it.
When you gift food, try to ensure your receiver feels comfortable digging in. Canned goods can be a particular problem: Be ready to assure people you followed safe canning practices and answer their questions about your process. Let your recipients know how soon your creation should be eaten and, if you think it contains potential allergens or triggers, what’s inside. Even noncooks get busy in the kitchen over holidays, so mention ways to freeze or otherwise store your gift into the new year. Twice as Tasty gift tags let you put much of this information right on your package.
I especially enjoy passing on my favorite ways of eating my favorite treats. When I’m writing out gift cards, I let people know Roasted Raspberry Syrup is delicious on waffles and ice cream but also in cocktails. I recommend spooning Pear–Ginger Marmalade over warm brie and using Sweet Pepper Jelly as a shrimp, chicken, or tofu glaze. And I tell them Grilled Tomato Bloody Mary Mix is so tasty you can skip the vodka if you’re not ready for alcohol at brunch.
Some foods make better gifts than others. Anything you canned this season can be easily packaged and gifted, particularly if you processed full batches that leave you a few jars to share. But what about other recipes, including ones you can make now that the garden has been put to bed for the season? Here are some of my favorite holiday food gifts:
- Quick breads. Quick breads and muffins freeze well, so your receiver doesn’t need to devour them straight away. I recommend slicing before freezing so that it’s easy to pull out a piece or two at a time.
- Cookies. Cookie gifts can be underappreciated because so many people are baking their own this month, but I always plan some for parties, dinners, and exchanges. Many can be frozen for a post-holiday treat.
- Granola. With one batch of granola, I can have gifts ready for half a dozen people. Be sure you know whether your receivers need a gluten-free, nut-free, or seed-free version. Homemade granola pairs beautifully with a jar of jam or fruit butter that can be stirred into plain yogurt.
- Dried fruit and fruit leather. Unsweetened fruit leather is my favorite food gift for kids: their parents love it just as much. It slides easily into lunchboxes and can be made with frozen fruit you stashed away during the growing season. For teenagers or outdoorsy folks, dried fruit pieces are just as welcome.
- Herbs and spices. When my niece was 4, she started giving me baggies of dried herbs she grew in her own garden bed and spread out on dehydrator trays; it’s now one of my annual food gift requests. For a fancier presentation, gather together an Italian Seasoning Blend, infuse salts and sugars, or create a Sweet Spice Mix. Or offer up bottles of your favorite salad dressing flavors.
- Beverages and mixers. Holidays encourage food indulgencies, so why not make them homemade? Step up holiday cocktails with a bottle of homemade triple sec or bag of spices for Gløgg. Give tiny jars of batter for Hot Buttered Rum or paste for Golden Milk.
- Party snacks. There are so many sweet and heavy things on holiday tables, hosts and guests alike will appreciate lighter savory additions. They’ll snap up Sweet and Spicy Nuts and Baked Chickpea Snacks. Add some Barely Fermented Carrots and Sourdough Pita Chips to the table for a little tang.
Twice as Tasty
Holiday gift making is already in full swing at my house. Cookies that need to age are in canisters, fruit leather has been rolled and wrapped, and boxes of canned goods are lined up for handouts. But there is plenty more to be done. Next week, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gingerbread variations to add a little spice to your holiday trays. I’ll also offer up some winter beverages to make and serve on the spot. Happy holidays to you and yours!
Want to learn more? Twice as Tasty workshops make fabulous experience gifts for you and your friends and can be purchased as gift certificates to use any time in the new year. Contact me to learn more.