Saturday, December 1, 2012

Homemade Holiday Gifts

The gift-giving season is upon us yet again. We have jars of jam and jellies, along with dried peppers and various other foodstuffs that we made last summer and fall. I like to create food baskets for gift giving. For packaging, I save the little wooden crates that clementines are shipped in, and re-purpose them as holiday baskets. Lined with tissue paper or even clean, dry pine needles, they can hold an array of goodies. Don't forget to include a copy of The New American Homestead for your gardening friends.

If you grow herbs, any cook on your list will appreciate a bundle of fresh cut rosemary or other fresh herb tucked into the gift basket. Tour your yard for other possible decorations, such as pine cones, evergreen boughs or hollyberries, rather than purchasing artificial items.  

Didn’t put up any canned goods this summer? Not to worry. You can create delicious, Earth-friendly homemade products with store-bought ingredients. Consider this recipe with pineapple and pecans, both in season in the markets now.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake Jam
  • 3 ¼ cups chopped fresh pineapple (from one whole pineapple, trimmed, or about 2 lbs)
  • 3 oz pecan pieces
  • 1 box pectin
  • ½ teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 1 pound cane sugar
  • ½ pound light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine fruit, pecans, butter and pectin in a large pot. Combine the sugars in a separate bowl and reserve. Bring the fruit mixture to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add sugar all at once, bring to a full rolling boil again, stirring constantly. Boil exactly one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, skim foam if necessary. Stir in vanilla. Transfer to hot half pint jars, adjust caps. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.

Here’s another recipe for a great homemade food gift:

Market Bean Soup

The dry ingredients for this soup constituted the first gift of food I received when I moved into my first apartment in 1971.  I have been perfecting my own formula, and giving this wonderful winter soup as a gift, ever since.  Be sure to copy the recipe to include with the soup, so friends and family can make their own gift jars. You can purchase a decorative jar or canister for the soup mix, or just use an extra canning jar.

All the dehydrated ingredients are available in well-stocked groceries. Mine come from the bulk department at Three Rivers Market. Don’t have a kitchen scale? No problem. Just use the scales at the market. The plastic bags come from there, also, and at no additional charge. As long as the total weight of the beans is one pound, the recipe will work. The bean mixture is separated into parts one and two because the legumes in part two do not need soaking and have a tendency to break down after long cooking. Preparing the soup in two stages avoids this. Nevertheless, you can just mix all the legumes together if you prefer. It will taste great and no nutrients will be lost. By the same token, feel free to use different combinations of dried legumes. As long as the ones that need soaking get it, they will be tender when the soup is finished.

Here’s a tip for going greener: Instead of wasting a disposable canning lid, purchase plastic re-usable lids for Ball™ canning jars. They are great for storing unused home-canned products in the refrigerator, and are typically available wherever canning supplies are sold. They are dishwasher and microwave safe, but don’t try to use them for canning.

Soup Preparation Instructions
  • 1 Ib mixed beans (See below.)
  • seasoning mixture (See below.)
  • 1/2 pound ham or kielbasa, chopped (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste 
  • Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese or croutons (optional)
  • soy sauce (optional)
1. Soak Part One of the bean mixture overnight in water to cover by 1 inch. 

2. Drain.  Place soaked beans, Part Two of bean mixture, and three quarts water into a large pot.  Bring to a boil and simmer 1 hour.  Add seasoning mixture.  Simmer 1 hour.  Add ham or kielbasa, if used.  Simmer 1 hour longer. Taste and adjust seasoning.  Serve topped with cheese or croutons, or both. Pass soy sauce at the table, if desired.
Bean Mixture:
Part One
  • 3 3/4 ounces dry white baby lima beans
  • 2 1/2 ounces dry red kidney beans
  • 1 1/2 ounces dry great northern beans
  • 1 1/2 ounces dry black turtle beans
Part Two
  • 2 1/2 ounces dry green lentils
  • 2 ounces dry green split peas
  • 1 3/4 ounces dry red lentils
  • 1/2 ounces dry yellow split peas
Seasoning Mixture:
  • 1/2 ounces sun dried tomatoes, in small bits
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated chopped celery
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated chopped carrot
  • 1/2 ounces dehydrated onion flakes
  • 1 tablespoons dried basil leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoons dehydrated Worcestershire sauce*
  • 1/2 teaspoons dried lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic
*For a vegan version, substitute an equal amount of nutritional yeast for the dehydrated Worchestershire sauce. Substitute mushrooms for the ham or sausage. Omit the cheese.

To Prepare for Gift-Giving:
Combine the seasoning ingredients and place in a small plastic bag secured with a twist tie. Place Part Two of the bean mixture in a second plastic bag. Place Part One of the bean mixture in the bottom of a large jar, stuff the plastic bags inside and cap. This will keep for months in a cool dark place.

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