I am aware that it sounds almost affectedly homespun to advocate the return of handmade Christmas gifts, but my fervour here makes me indifferent to any accusation of winsomely retro fancy. It’s too easy to feel the mania and the raging impatience come over you in the bustle of the shops, and then you end up with presents that cost too much and aren’t even right. I like to feel that what I’m giving means something – and for me, Christmas is created and celebrated in the kitchen. You don’t have to take the slightly emetic food-is-love line to know that giving a present of something you’ve made with your own hands, in your own time, is what Christmas is or should be about.
None of these recipes is complicated or takes very long. One of the joys of the edible present approach is that it’s less stressful – you can buy ingredients in the normal course of your grocery shopping and a pretty jar, some cellophane bags, a handwritten label and maybe a rosette or a ribbon are all you need in the way of wrapping. Don’t forget, though, to write any storage instructions on the label, and a note of how long your present will keep for.
If it’s biscuits you are after, may I recommend Edible Christmas Tree Decorations? These peppery gingerbread cookies are Christmas to me and my children, and I couldn’t contemplate Christmas without them. Packaged up prettily in a cellophane bag with a seasonal ribbon, they make for a lovely gift, too. If you’re catering to a more delicate palate, feel free to substitute Butter Cut-Out Cookies – a seasonal cookie cutter and some appropriate decoration and you’re away. Christmas Chocolate Biscuits and Vanilla Shortbread would also make lovely gifts both for Christmas Day itself, and as gifts to hosts in the many celebrations in the holiday season. And I think it’s hard to beat an old Quality Street tin filled with Star-Topped Mince Pies.
And for sweeter treats, try Christmas Rocky Road and Hokey Pokey. Again, cellophane bags and pretty ribbons are all you need to conjure up some lovely Christmas gifts.
If you want to try your hand at chutneys and preserves, I’d recommend Fig and Olive Chutney. It’s easy-peasy, and goes fantastically well with cheese, so is a perfect gift for the holiday season. My Chilli Jam is also a great accompaniment to a cheese plate, and to cold meats, and its fiery red stained-glass look is very seasonal. Another leftovers livener-upper is Spiced Peaches – remember, though, that these peaches are not preserves, and should be eaten up quickly. This never seems to pose a problem in my house.
One last bossy note; jars and bottles should be sterilized before having foodstuff put in them. I regard a dishwasher-clean jar or bottle (providing it comes fresh from the machine, with not so much as a finger touching the inside) as a sterilized one. If you wish to be more meticulous, you can sterilize by washing your jars well in soapy water, then rinsing them and letting them dry in a cool (140C/gas mark 1) oven. If you’re putting warm chutneys or jellies into them, all jars must be used warm.
And remember, whatever you make is going to be a better present than almost any you might buy. And, really, wouldn’t you rather be in your kitchen instead of the shopping mall at Christmas?