Start Now: You Can Make These 23 Delicious Holiday Gifts

By Max Wong on 29 September 2016 0 comments

I have had no time to get my craft on and no money to spend on thrift store gifts, because I am hellbent on making an extra $31,000 by the end of the year.

However, my insane work schedule and budget have not stopped me from completing my holiday DIY gift list early. It's not even October, I have made 100% of my gifts from scratch, and I barely had to leave my house.

What's my holiday gift hack? Make ahead edible gifts.

1. Surplus Fruit Jam

I have a gigantic mission fig tree in my backyard. Even after I invited all of my fig-crazed neighbors over to pick as many figs as they could eat, I was still left with 50 pounds of fresh figs that I turned into 130 eight-ounce jars of fig jam. Total cost: $100 for jars and a 10-pound sack of cane sugar. (I traded figs for lemons and oranges with neighbors in order to keep my ingredient cost to a minimum).

Figs might seem like an exotic and rare fruit, but in southern California, there are feral fig trees that pop up in vacant lots. They are everywhere. Also, figs are like zucchinis, you only need one plant to supply an entire neighborhood.

2. Marmalade

I never liked marmalade until I figured out my own recipe for lemon marmalade. The basic recipe is made with just three ingredients: lemons, cane sugar, and water.

3. Preserved Lemons

Salt preserved lemons are one of my secret weapons in the kitchen. I use preserved lemons to perk up everything from traditional North African tagines to store-bought salad dressing. They are delicious as a garnish for fish or poultry. My favorite way to eat them is as a flavoring for thick, Greek-style yogurt that I then use as a savory topping for flat bread.

4. Limoncello

Limoncello, or Limoncino as it's know in Florence, is the classic Italian after-dinner drink made from grain alcohol, sugar, and lemon peel. Although most American recipes call for vodka, every Italian mixologist I know uses a high-proof spirit like Everclear as the base. For people who love kitchen science, I prefer to use the vapor method of infusion because I think it results in a smoother tasting drink.

5. Citrus Salts

Citrus salts are elegant food gifts that are super simple to make. All you need is citrus zest and flaky sea salt. Packed into small glass jars, citrus salts are great stocking stuffers, but they would also make beautiful wedding favors.

6. Canned Peaches

Eating a summer peach that was picked and canned at peak ripeness in the dead of winter is such a pleasure. Anyone who puts up food knows that preserving surplus food is a great way to save money and enjoy out-of-season flavors. Now is your last chance until next year to capture summer in a jar.

7. Blackberry Syrup

I grew up in Oregon, so I know that it is totally possible to eat too many blackberries. Since Marionberries grow everywhere, wild, my family never spent a dime to enjoy this summer fruit. As an adult, I now spend $8 per pound for a substandard blackberry experience.

For the love of all that is good and beautiful, if you have access to free, feral berry bushes, don't take that for granted. Stretch the last harvest of the season by making blackberry syrup instead of blackberry jam. It's amazing on everything from pancakes to ice cream.

8. Pickled Okra

Okra gets a bad rap. It's slimy. It's like eating a tiny luffa. But even haters will enjoy spicy, garlicky pickled okra, especially if it's served in a bloody mary as an edible stir stick.

9. Ketchup

Ever wonder why there are so many varieties of mustard and so few varieties of ketchup? Answer: Ketchup is a pain in the butt to make. Five years ago, I lost eight hours of my life making homemade ketchup from the sad, leftover tomatoes in my garden. It took that long for the tomato puree to cook down. This recipe makes ketchup that is so delicious, that my friends are still begging me to make it again to this day. To avoid my lengthy ketchup odyssey, use paste tomatoes that have more meat and less juice. (If you don't grow your own San Marzano tomatoes, buy the canned version when they go on sale.)

Unlike store-bought ketchup that has a shelf life of … forever, homemade ketchup needs to be refrigerated and has a life span of just a few weeks. If you want to make ketchup in advance, be sure to follow these instructions on how to can it properly.

10. Mustard

Mustard is a handmade food that requires advance preparation. Mustard needs time to marinate and mellow out, as freshly made mustard is very bitter. I use this versatile recipe as a jumping-off point because I can make it with a mortar and pestle and live out my wizard fantasies, and because it has a shelf life of 12 months in the refrigerator.

11. Fermented Tabasco-Style Hot Sauce

The secret ingredient of Tabasco sauce is time. It's aged in oak barrels for over three years! My food snob friends are suitably impressed by the artisanal version, even though I can never wait longer than 100 days for my hot sauce to ferment.

12. Cranberry Sauce

True story: I learned how to can because I wanted to be able to eat my homemade cranberry sauce year-round. As it turns out, I am not the only person who craves that sweet/tart flavor in the offseason. Cranberry sauce and peanut butter sandwiches are so yummy.

13. Cured Olives

When I was a starving student, I made marinated olives as the fancy holiday gift I gave everyone. Because olives are expensive and I was poor, I brined my own olives that I had foraged for free from my local park. Because I live in Los Angeles — where it's ridiculously hot until the end of November — I have subsequently switched to salt curing olives because I'm lazy.

14. Dried Persimmons

I was never a fan of persimmons until I tasted the dried persimmons sold by Korean and Japanese fruit vendors at my local farmers market. Luckily, I didn't have to look far to find a recipe to make my own. My superstar, homesteading neighbors not only own an over-productive persimmon tree, they also wrote this bang-up tutorial on how to make Hoshigaki (dried persimmons). These fruits are gorgeous when dried, and look great on a holiday cheese plate.

15. Prickly Pear Jelly

Nopal, aka prickly pear cactus, grows like a weed all over my neighborhood, so it's a free produce for the taking. Prickly pear cactus fruit season runs from September through January, but the cactus pads can be harvested and eaten year around. Fair warning: unless you love getting repeatedly stabbed with cactus needles, I highly recommend that Nopal newbs take the time to learn how to prepare the spiny fruits and pads before harvesting any part of the plant.

I find most prickly pear jams to be revoltingly sweet, but my neighbors developed a low-sugar prickly pear jelly that highlights the subtle taste of the fruit.

16. Pickle Prickle

My favorite way to eat prickly pear cactus is to pickle the cactus pads. My Mexican neighbor makes a spicy nopalitos salad that is my all-time favorite taco topping, but if you can't handle the heat of Mexican recipes, you can substitute cactus pads for okra in pickled okra recipes.

17. Pine Cone Syrup

Yes, I have a foraging instructor. (Insert pretentious hipster joke here.) Pascal Baudar regularly publishes free recipes for the budget-minded on Facebook, which is where I found this recipe for Pinyon pine cone syrup. Made from a 50/50 mix of brown sugar and unripe pine cones, Pascal's sun-cooked syrup is based on an old French recipe. Pretty much every European country has their own version of pine syrup, so if Pinyon pine cones are not available in your area, check out the comments section of this food blog for instructions on how to make Italian Mugolio, Romanian Sirop Muguri de pin, and Polish Syrop z Sosny.

18. Homemade Vanilla Extracts

Most flavored liqueurs are just infused spirits. If you can make flavored vinegar, you can make your own specialty cocktail supplies. One liter of bargain vodka can be turned into 20 fancy gifts.

One of the easiest make-ahead gifts from the kitchen is vanilla extract. We use vodka in our personal recipe for a pure vanilla taste, but you can use rum if you want a richer flavor. For home use, we decant our homemade extract into a huge bottle. For gift giving, we decant the extract into tiny bottles that we seal with wax for extra glamour.

19. Bathtub(less) Gin

Celebrity mixologist and food blogger Jeffrey Morgenthaler created a step-by-step tutorial on how to make your own gin without a still. All the street cred without the risk of blindness!

20. Dried Blenheim Apricot Liqueur

This recipe is a twofer. Make an apricot flavored liqueur by infusing brandy with dried fruit. The soused apricots can then be dipped in chocolate and turned into boozy candy.

21. Vermouth-Soaked Cocktail Olives

Fact: An excellent martini cannot be made with a mediocre olive. For those hard core gin drinkers who think a proper martini involves waving their bottle of gin in the general direction of France, these olives will provide all the vermouth required for the driest martini.

22. Offseason Maraschino Cherries

It's early autumn, and I want homemade maraschino cherries in time for Christmas in December, so I can be that girl who serves the totally from scratch Shirley Temple punch at her Chinese takeout Christmas dinner party. Shirley Temples are the perfect drink accompaniment for salty stir-fry! Source: I grew up in my grandparent's Chinese restaurant. So, to ensure I have maraschino cherries on my schedule, I am making my own cocktail accessories out of frozen cherries.

23. Metheglin

Metheglin sounds like the name of Bilbo Baggins' lady friend, but it's actually flavored mead. Although there are 3,000 years of metheglin recipes available, I've been meaning to try this recipe because it is flavored with lemons and herbs that are already growing in my backyard (and I am lazy and cheap).

On Wrapping and Packing

Good labels and presentation can make the humblest recipe look incredibly elegant and costly. Pinterest and Etsy are full of gorgeous labels and gift tags to buy or recreate. When is a gift not a gift? When the box arrives and it's full of broken glass and spoiled food. Pack food gifts carefully or hire a professional shipper to help you.

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Guest's picture
Olivia

Great ideas! I'm saving your article, even though the foraged items aren't available near us. (Who knows where we may end up?) We do have an abundance of dandelion and wild violet in the spring. They make lovely sweet wines and jellies.