Let me come out of the closet and reveal that I HATE CHRISTMAS. I especially hate trailing around the shops. But I can’t ignore Christmas entirely, so nowadays I combine the ‘eating to excess’ element of Christmas with the ‘presents’ element by making my own edible Christmas presents. This is satisfying on a number of levels:-
- Even if the recipient thinks ‘Ugh!’ they can always compost it.
- They don’t cost much.
- They’re unique and personal.
- You can make quite a lot of things early in the year and have the satisfaction of knowing you have a store of gifts just waiting to be given.
- You can find the ingredients in your own garden, or, locally, which makes them low-carbon.
- You don’t have to trail about the shops!
Apple jellies and derivatives
At this time of year you can use locally grown apples as the base, and the rest of the ingredients can be found in your garden or in the wild. A basic apple jelly extract is really easy. Chop 1 kg apples and cover with water, then boil until mushy. Strain through a jelly bag. Then simmer the extract with one of the following flavourings for about 20 minutes:
- a large bunch of tarragon.
- a handful of rose-scented geranium leaves.
Tarragon jelly is great with roast chicken. Rose geranium jelly is nice on a plain scone. Remove the flavourings, add sugar (450 g per 600 ml of extract), boil until set (10 mins roughly) then pour into sterile jars.
I’ve just made a hedgerow jelly from crab-apples (from my garden) and sloes, elderberries and blackberries which I gathered from hedgerows near Tayport. I cooked the crab apples and sloes first, with just enough water to cover as they’re supposed to take ages, but they were soft in 30 minutes. I also pricked the sloes but I don’t think that was necessary. I added the elderberries and blackberries and continued to cook for another 30 minutes. Then I put the mush through a jelly bag as above. It didn’t yield much liquid (less than I put in – how does that happen?) so I boiled up the stuff in the bag with half the original volume of liquid and put that through again and combined the liquids and added the sugar, etc. But I ended up with only a few small jars, so anyone who gets one of these for Christmas is really honoured! Quinces, if you can find them, also make great jelly, although the fruit itself needs to be cooked for ages. Apart from that, treat as apple jelly.
The Eden Brewery at Guardbridge makes gin now, so that’s pretty local. Distilling your own, however, no matter how low-carbon an activity, is illegal. There was recipe for raspberry gin in my ‘preserves‘ blog and I can now report that blackberry gin is also fantastic. Sloe gin is a classic and can be made now. Same recipe except you need to prick the sloes with a darning needle and leave it for longer – maybe 2 months. Lakeland in Perth sell nice little 100 ml bottles so you could give a set of flavoured gins as a present.
Flavoured vinegars and oils
Flavoured vinegars include tarragon (see ‘preserves‘ blog) and raspberry. Some of the stronger herbs do better in oil. I just made some herb and garlic oil which is supposed to be ready in 2 weeks, and keeps for 3 months. I used rather more herbs than recommended, but here’s my mix – 1 sprig rosemary, 2 sprigs tarragon, 4 sprigs thyme, 1 small sprig sage, 2 bay leaves, 2 peeled cloves garlic, 8 black peppercorns and 4 juniper berries. All of these were put in a wide-necked bottle (about 400 ml) and filled with oil. Scottish rapeseed would be the best oil to use. As an alternative, you could make basil oil if you still have some in the garden or greenhouse. Or chilli oil (ditto).
Red onion marmalade
This has endless uses. Great with sausages. Great with cheese. Great as a base for a savoury quiche. If you’ve grown red onions, use these, otherwise use regular onions. There are lots of recipes on the internet. This recipe is fairly simple. This recipe is more complicated and involves rather a lot of wine and port! Keeps for ages in the fridge.
I’m a bit fussy about chutney so I only make mango chutney, which isn’t remotely low-carbon, so here are a few recipes that involve stuff you might be growing, or can find a local supply of: beetroot and orange chutney, spicy blackberry chutney, tomato chutney. I haven’t tried any of these myself but they all sound interesting. A jar of home-made chutney, some Scottish cheese and some home-made oatcakes packaged up in a nice box would make a brilliant present.
Most of these presents should be made now, so it does take a bit of forward planning. However, if you miss the window of opportunity not all is lost, as there are still things you can make in November or December. So watch this space …