Most of these gifts cost little to make and require only a bit of effort. But they look impressive. Jars are the little black dress of food—everything looks good in them.
"I'm So Organized I'm Starting These Now" Gifts
Prepare these gifts in early November.
1. Vanilla Extract
New batch of vanilla extract infusing
Start this as soon as possible. Here’s all you do: Split three vanilla beans, not quite to the top. Place in a jar. Pour in a cup of vodka, bourbon, brandy, rum or single-malt whiskey. Close the jar. Shake the jar every week or so. Your delicious vanilla extract is ready in about six weeks to two months. If you start this a bit late, don’t worry. Your recipient might not use it right away. Tell them when they can use it. For more info, read this blog post.
New jar of mead brewing (right) and ready-to-drink (left)
To make this delicious honey wine, dilute 1 cup of raw honey with 4 cups of water in a jar and wait. Stir it daily. Depending on your kitchen environment, this ferments in a couple of weeks. I usually let mine go for much longer, about six weeks. Fill flip-top bottles with the mead a week or so before you give it away. Depending on how bubbly it is (i.e., how much carbon dioxide it contains), burp the bottles every few days to avoid geysers or explosions. Here are detailed instructions for making mead.
3. Preserved Lemons
Prepping preserved lemons
These cost a bundle in the store—if you can find them. Preserved lemons add intense flavor to Indian dishes, hummus, bean dishes, soup. Traditionally, they go into a Moroccan chicken tagine. Cut organic lemons (you don’t want pesticides or wax on skins you’ll eat) in quarters but leave attached at the end, stuff with a tablespoon of salt, stuff the lemons into a jar, pour lemon juice over and wait for a month before eating. Here are the full directions.
"I Still Have Plenty of Time to Plan" Gifts
Work on these a few weeks or a month before Christmas. For some, you’ll need to make starters first.
4. Ginger Beer
Very carbonated and spicy ginger beer
You can start this a few weeks out, depending on your recipient. The longer it ferments, the more alcoholic it becomes. It’s highly carbonated so burp (i.e., open) your bottles every two days, or even every day, depending. To make this, you first need to start a ginger bug. That can take about a week so plan accordingly. Here is my ginger beer recipe.
5. Sourdough Crackers
Sourdough crackers are a delicious way to use up older sourdough starter
These cheesy-tasting-cheese-free crackers freeze really well so you can make them a few weeks in advance. If you don’t want to freeze them, make them the day before you give them away, or the morning of. You’ll need a sourdough starter for these, which can take a couple of weeks to get going. Here is the cracker recipe.
6. Loose Leaf Chai Tea Blend
Store-bought on the left, home-blend on the right
You can make this one any time but you’ll need to first buy and eat oranges and dry the peels (again go for unwaxed, organic oranges). Mix chopped dry peels with black tea and spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, coriander seeds, black peppercorns and ginger. Find the full instructions for loose leaf chai here.
7. Candied Citrus Peels
Candied citrus peels drying on a rack
This makes a small amount of candy only but it tastes fantastic, like gumdrops with an intense citrus flavor, made with actual citrus rather than nasty chemicals formulated in a lab to taste like citrus. They keep in a jar of sugar for months if not longer. Here is the recipe.
"Christmas Is a Week Away, How Will I Ever Get Everything Done" Gifts
Work on these the week you’ll give them away for optimum freshness.
8. Cookie Mix
Chocolate chip cookie mix
For the chocolate chip cookie mix pictured above, you can fill your jar in a few minutes after you’ve bought all the ingredients. If you do lots of baking at the holidays, you probably already have all of the ingredients on hand. Include the directions and voila, check off another person on your list. Go here for the post with full instructions.
9. Staples in Jars
Jars filled with pantry staples
For the crazy jar lady on your list, how about several jars filled with pantry staples? Above, I have flour, chickpeas, sugar, brown rice, white rice and popcorn. You could start looking for jars now (I’ve scored really nice bail-top jars at thrift shops) and—to ensure fresh ingredients—fill them the week you’ll give them away.
Simple and addictive kimchi, start of fermentation
Unlike sauerkraut, which ferments for a couple of months or longer, kimchi is ready in a few days. Traditionally, kimchi calls for fish sauce. I add dried kelp granules instead. They add a bit of a fishy flavor and aroma. The spice in kimchi—gochugaru—makes this fermented incredibly delicious. Find my simple kimchi recipe here.
Unlike the fermented foods I’ve included in this post, granola needs little planning ahead. Make it a couple of days before you give it away and it will stay fresh and delicious until your recipient gobbles it all up. You an add all sorts of foods to granola—a handful of this nut, a cup of that seed. Add some oil and sweetener, bake, cool, mix in dried fruit and transfer to jars. Read my granola post here.