Exchanging gifts on the holidays can be fun, but how often have you struggled to find that perfect gift for someone you don’t know very well, or who seems to have everything? Instead of the joy it is meant to be, gift giving can sometimes be a stressful and challenging chore.
Years ago, holiday gifts were made at home from the materials gathered in the garden and the kitchen. After the harvest, folks came together to hand-craft items to share with family and friends during the holidays.
Today, challenging financial times remind us of the joys of handmade gifts. Environmentally safe, fair trade, and local products are popular in the commercial gift market, but what is greener than a hand-made edible gift? Preparing edible gifts for your loved ones warms up your kitchen, fills your house with sweet smells, and inspires everyone with holiday joy.
Here are some homemade edible gifts that make great duos: Two quick-to-prepare chutneys that go well with mini tea loaves with berries. Gifts for several people can be made within a couple of hours.
There are two popular types of Indian condiments—pickles and chutney. Pickles are often salty, oily and/or sweetened, and preparation is a lengthy process. Fresh chutneys, which are primarily prepared with digestive spices such as ginger and lemon juice, can be made quickly and many of the nutritional benefits of the ingredients remain. The texture and the intensity of a chutney can vary to taste, and depending on the accompanying entrée. A thin, hot chutney might be used as a dipping sauce for appetizers such as samosas, while a sweet and sour jam-like chutney, such as the cranberry chutney here, can be served as a condiment, or spread on a bread or cracker.
Fresh chutney can be made quickly with a blender or food processor, and will keep for at least for few weeks in the refrigerator. Some, like cranberry chutney, can stay for months.
If you are preparing the chutneys as a gift, get some clean (sterilized) half-pint glass jars with lids.
Caution: when making chutneys in a blender or a food processor, allow the ingredients to settle for a few minutes before you open the lid; the hot essence of spices can irritate your skin.
Shanta Nimbark Sacharoff, author of Flavors of India: Vegetarian Indian Cuisine, lives in San Francisco, where she is a manager of Other Avenues, a health-food store.
Cranberry Chutney(Makes 5-6 half-pint jars)
I created this recipe as an alternative to traditional cranberry sauce.
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup water
2 cups honey, sugar, fructose, or maple syrup
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon each ground cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
Chop the cranberries coarsely using a food processor, a blender, or knife. Transfer them to a saucepan with the water and cook for a few minutes until the berries are soft. Add the sweetener and spices and cook 10 to 15 minutes more, until the chutney looks jam-like and shiny.
Pour the hot chutney into clean glass jars and seal the jars while the chutney is hot. It will solidify further as it cools. Refrigerated, this chutney keeps well for several months.
Shanta’s Tropical Chutney(Makes 4-5 half-pint jars)
You can use any combination of mangoes, papayas, pineapples, peaches and/or apricots along with sultanas (yellow raisins).
1 cup dried and chopped tropical fruits
1 cup warm or hot water
1 cup yellow raisins
2 tablespoon fresh, grated ginger root
juice of one large lemon or lime
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon salt
additional water as needed
Place the dried fruit in the warm or hot water and set aside for ½ hour or longer to soften. Then place all ingredients, including the water in which the fruit pieces are soaking, in the jar of a blender or a food processor. Puree the mixture, adding more water as needed to yield a fine-grained pudding-like consistency. Allow the chutney to stand for a few minutes before transferring it to a serving bowl for storage, or to clean glass jars for gifts.
This chutney will keep for several weeks if refrigerated.
Mini Bread or Tea Loaf With Berries (Makes 2 loaves)
3 cups unbleached white flour or
a combination of 1 ½ cups white flour with 1 ½ cup whole wheat flour.
4 teaspoons baking powder cup wheat, oat or rice bran
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar, honey, maple syrup, or sweetener of your choice to 1 cup orange juice, any fruit juice, or an infusion of green or black tea cup canola, corn, or sunflower seed oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup blueberries or raspberries, rinsed and drained, or frozen and thawed
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil the inside of two mini loaf pans and set them aside.
Sift flour and baking powder in a bowl. Add the bran, cinnamon and sugar, and mix with a fork to blend. (If you are using a liquid sweetener, add it with the wet ingredients below.)
In a large separate bowl combine the wet ingredients, including any liquid sweetener, until well-blended. If you are using a liquid sweetener, use only 1/2 cup of the juice. Add the berries to the wet ingredients and mix well.
Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet, being careful not to overmix. Spoon the batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
You can slice the loaves after cooling them for 20 to 30 minutes and serve. But, if you are giving them as gifts, cool them completely before wrapping. Wrap each loaf in waxed paper or cellophane wrap and add a festive ribbon or gift wrap. Be sure to let your recipient know that this is a perishable gift.