The winter holidays are all about giving, and there’s no better gift than one that’s made by hand, and destined for the belly. Homemade edibles have a special place in the holiday Hall Of Fame, and there probably isn’t a person alive who hasn’t unwrapped the perennial jar of fruit preserves. From Granny’s grape jam at a family affair, to that super-posh Asian ginger marmalade from your crafty gourmet gal pal, almost everyone leaves December with an extra mason jar or two.
And traditional canning is fine and dandy. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate a delicious strawberry jelly in the dead of winter?
However, there just so happens to be a homesteading renaissance going on right now, and with modern upgrades like, oh, say, Internet tutorials, this time around it’s a whole new homemade world. So if you feel like getting kitchen crafty this winter, here are a few new ideas:
Baking extracts: From vanilla to coffee, lemon to cocoa, extracts are one of the least labor-intensive gifts in existence. All you need is liquor (vodka or light rum work best), flavor (like a vanilla bean, cacao nibs or orange peel) and time. You can make your extracts in big batches and bottle them once they’re done, but they do take three months or so to develop. So for these upcoming holidays, simply add liquor and flavor to pretty little bottles, and attach instructions to “open next spring.” Adorable!
Tea bags: A sprinkle of loose leaf tea, a square of cheap cheesecloth, a snippet of pretty ribbon and voilà! You’ve got yourself an elegant-yet-economical gift. The best part about homemade tea bags is that they’re so easy to tailor for your friend’s specific tastes. And there’s nothing more thoughtful than that!
Spice blends: In my neighborhood there’s this little hole-in-the-wall herb shop. Rows and rows of exotic seasonings, all sold in bulk from little bins, each one bearing a whispered promise with every delicate whiff. Oh I could get lost in there!
The romance and intrigue inherent in spice is a festive one, to be sure. Which sort of blend will represent you? Madras curry? Barbecue rub? Herbes De Provence, perhaps? It’s best to start with traditional formula, but make sure that you put your personal spin on it.
Herbed salts or sugars: Another super-fast project that makes for an extra-fancy presentation. But don’t worry, we won’t tell them that it took you only 20 minutes! Herb-infused salt, perfect for finishing fancy dishes, is the perfect little goodie for your favorite aspiring gourmet. Conversely, a scented sugar is a special treat for even the most seasoned of bakers. Ooh-la-la!
Pickled vegetables: A little further outside of tradition, but closer to the current trend, lies the world of pickled vegetables. Who would have thought that kimchi — a spicy Korean cabbage blend — would become the next haute cuisine ingredient? Who knew that sauerkraut, that old sausage stand-by, would be popping up on the trendiest menus across the country? But there they are! (You can see photos of Networx editor Chaya K.'s own kimchi on the home & garden social network Hometalk.)
And lucky for you, they’re a snap to make at home. Once you’ve fermented your veggies, pack them into pretty jars and affix a handwritten label. May I also suggest including one of your favorite recipes? It’ll make things a bit less intimidating for the recipient.
So there you have it, five completely unique DIY culinary holiday offerings. No jam necessary!