In my October blog I blithely said I’d talk about edible presents you could make in December using locally grown ingredients. However, looking around the garden, there’s not a lot to be seen and I doubt anyone would thank me for a bunch of carrots, even if they were tied up with tinsel. But there are still some herbs that haven’t succumbed to the recent cold weather and I’ve been eying them up with a view to a few edible gifts I can make.
Herb butter This is very much a last minute present, but you can freeze it. Add chopped herbs in the proportion of 4 tbsp to 150 g softened butter. Either form into a roll, chill then slice, or pack into a nice little pot you’ve sourced from a local charity shop. Keep frozen until you give it away. Variations – Garlic butter, with or without parsley; Thyme or chervil butter – a bit different; Tarragon butter – delicious on carrots. My own tarragon has given up the ghost for the year, but if you can find some locally grown tarragon, I’d really recommend trying this out. Another ‘herb’ you can use is chilli. I still have lots in the freezer but they’re quite hot so need to be used judiciously. Add ground cinnamon and black pepper for a spiced chilli butter.
Labneh (Yoghurt cheeses) in herb oil This is another last minute present which should be kept in the fridge. Take a large carton of Greek-style yoghurt, season with salt and pepper and spoon into muslin. Hang up over a bowl and leave to drip overnight. It should be quite thick by the next day. Take spoonsful, roll into balls (a messy business) and drop each ball into oil to which you’ve added herbs, garlic and chillies. (Or use herb oil you made earlier – see my October blog.) Add oil after every cheese ball to stop them sticking together and make sure the balls are completely covered with oil or they’ll go mouldy. They’ll last a couple of weeks in the fridge and are nice on toasted sourdough. They’re quite bland but you could maybe add chopped herbs and/or garlic to the yoghurt. (I’ve not tried that.) Note that olive oil solidifies in the fridge so don’t panic if your cheese look ‘spotty’. Alternatively, you can serve them fresh, possibly rolled in toasted sesame seeds.
Chilli jelly I’ve still got apples from the Tayport Fruitfest as well as lots of frozen chillies. This makes a beautifully coloured jelly, especially if you add a finely chopped red pepper. Use the apples to make apple extract (see October blog). Add finely chopped deseeded chilli to taste (depends on how hot they are) and the red pepper if you want to go less low carbon. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar, 450 g per 600 ml extract, stir to dissolve then boil until set which should take 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and allow to cool, stirring to distribute the chilli evenly. Then, when it’s almost setting, pour into sterilised jars and screw on sterilised lids.
Other presents to make with herbs: Herb mustard (I don’t like mustard much so I’ve not tried this, but here’s a recipe I found for herb mustard.) Herb wreath This should be a doddle for anyone who went to the recent wreath-making workshop.
Home made biscuits are always a nice present to give or receive.
Gingerbread house biscuits I make these every year and although they’re not especially low-carbon they’re so useful, both as presents and as decorations. The dough freezes well so they can be run up really quickly. 250 g self-raising flour, 4 tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground cloves, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg. Sift together and rub in 80 g butter. Add 90 g caster sugar. Mix 1 medium egg with 3 tbsp golden syrup and 1 tbsp treacle. Add to dry ingredients and mix to a dough. Chill for 30 mins (or freeze if not using immediately). Roll out to 3-5 mm thick and cut out shapes. For decorations make a hole at the top with a skewer. Bake for about 10/12 mins at 160ºC. Cool on the tray before removing to a rack. For decorations, enlarge the hole while they’re still warm. (If making decorations only, use plain flour as they’re smoother – but tough to eat, as I recently discovered!)
Cheese biscuits Also a nice present. Use a Scottish cheese if you can. This is just one of many recipes. I like to brush them with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Again, the dough can be frozen.
Festive jammy dodgers A vehicle for your own home-made jam. From the BBC Good Food site, recipe by Tana Ramsay.
And don’t forget about all those jams and chutneys you made earlier in the year. Stick on a nice label and cover the top with a circle of Christmasy fabric or tissue paper, put into a cellophane gift bag and decorate with a ginger biscuit and some ribbon. Or recycle any lidded tins you have (coffee tins are good) by painting with emulsion paint and decoupaging with motifs from gift wrap, then varnishing with matt varnish. Fill with your home-made goodies.
So it looks like December’s going to be a busy month. Fortunately, I’ve already bought or made all my Christmas presents, and made two Christmas cakes and a batch of mincemeat. With all that taken care of, I’m beginning to get into the festive spirit. I’m even wondering where I can find a recipe for bah humbugs ….