Edible Gifts

This week and next, I'm on vacation, but I've got a handful of helpful and savvy kitchen elves pitching in to keep the blog engine running. Today's treat comes from Shannon Henry, a former Post technology writer, who has transferred her talents into the kitchen.

This year, in these times, what I want to give and get most for the holiday is, simply, food. Edible gifts in pretty packages seem just right -- cost-saving, meaningful and most of all, comforting.

(Shannon Henry)

My friends this holiday will find jars of an Herbes de Provence blend -- several dried spices mixed together to subtly spice chicken, soup and stews -- in their stockings and mailboxes. Some other favorites I’ve given and received include: sugared cranberries, hot chocolate mix, herb-infused oils and vinegars, granola, spiced nuts, Russian tea, and of course, cookies.

As you’re thinking about making homemade gifts this year, instead of doing it by yourself, consider making them with friends. Choose a friend, a type of gift, and make a big batch of it in one of your kitchens, tying up bags or jars with ribbon. Making food gifts together might become an annual holiday tradition.

I’ve also been to edible gift-making parties, which are lots of useful fun. You choose a gift (such as jars of layered cookie mix), someone buys the ingredients and gets reimbursed, and you put together beautiful gifts in an assembly line. Another type of edible gift party to try goes like this: A host invites a few friends (four people would be good) to each choose a food gift, bring the ingredients for all to make a big batch, and then they meet at one house to make several different presents. So, for example, you’d walk into the Granola kitchen, Tea Mix dining room, and Candied Ginger sun porch, and walk out with lovely gifts for teachers, neighbors and friends.

It’s a communal gift-making party, a time to slow down and talk and create in the midst of the holiday season.

Herbes de Provence
This classic blend hails from the kitchens of French home cooks, who use it creatively and often. Mix with olive oil, salt and pepper, and brush on chicken or pork to be roasted or grilled. Or simply sprinkle in soups, stews, or egg dishes such as omelets and quiche.

1 part dried basil
1 part dried oregano
1 part dried rosemary
2 parts dried thyme
½ part dried lavender

In a large bowl, mix all dried herbs, crushing with your hands slightly. If you want a finer mixture, pulse in a food processor. Pour the mixture into airtight glass jars, label, tie with festive ribbon, and give away! (And keep some for yourself). Experiment with the herbs to find the taste you like best -- fennel, savory and/or chervil could be added. Include a favorite recipe using the blend if you like. Stored at room temperature, the herbs should keep their flavor for about six months.

Bonus ideas: More edible gifts from the Food section

Shannon Henry runs the Web site Cooking With Friends, publishes an e-newsletter and is writing a book about communal cooking with her closest friend from high school, Alison Bermack. She can be reached at Shannon@shannonhenry.com.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 9, 2008; 7:00 AM ET Gifts , Holiday Treats
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This looks like a great idea. I will be going over to the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Co-op to buy the bulk herbs this week.

Posted by: silverspring25 | December 9, 2008 10:55 AM

I'm so pleased to have a "recipe" for herbes de provence, esp. as I have all the other ingredients on my spice shelf! I make edible food gifts every year depending on what mood strikes me. This year I've been canning jams, chutneys, pickled green beans, barbecue sauce, etc. I always end up making so much (it's barely worth it to make a small batch) so those will be hostess gifts or a little something for people to take home after a get together at my place. I also found a great recipe for rum-glazed pecans that is spectacular and spectacularly easy! That's an easy thing to make a lot of and then package nicely for simple giveaways.

Posted by: otabenga | December 9, 2008 11:08 AM

Hi Otabenga, Yum! Those gifts sound delicious, and are sure to be appreciated.

Posted by: ShannonHenryKleiber | December 9, 2008 3:50 PM

Interesting idea. I picked up some Herbes de Provence a few weeks ago at the Penzeys in Falls Church, so I'm set. I have made a few spice blends

Garam Masala - Once you try it, you won't go back to curry powder. Warning: it has a kick.

Berbere - Essential to Ethiopian cuisine. It also makes a terrific spice rub for something such as pork tenderloin or chicken breasts.

Perhaps a homemade pumpkin spice blend? Might be kinda nice. I'll have to think this over for a bit. We were thinking of some food gifts, so perhaps a combination of spices might be fun for the right folks.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 9, 2008 4:50 PM

I'm making a variety of spiced nuts (rosemary/garlic cashews, cajun peanuts, mayan pecans). I got all the recipes from Party Nuts by Sally Sampson.

Any idea how to package them?

Posted by: bug123 | December 9, 2008 6:57 PM

Hi bug123, spiced nuts are a beloved edible gift and your concoctions sound wonderful.

I like them in clear plastic bags, tied with festive colored ribbon and labeled clearly. They'd also be great in glass jars. Michael's has the bags and ribbon; Container Store has an amazing array of jars, including some cool ones with silver tops. The good old Ball canning jars in their various sizes make perfect gift containers, too.

Posted by: ShannonHenryKleiber | December 9, 2008 7:34 PM

My neighborhood friends and I all exchange food gifts at Christmas. Quick breads, muffins, cookies, nuts are all swapped. One year I made marshmallows and hot chocolate mix and it was a lot of fun. The Herbs de Provence looks like a good idea.

Posted by: RockyMountainHigh | December 9, 2008 10:51 PM

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