Every year, I make many of my own Christmas presents, hearing my mother’s words echo in the back of my mind – “eat it, drink it or plant it”. She was a great believer in giving useful gifts, not just heading off and buying what she called ‘junk’ just for the sake of having something to give. Mum always said she would rather have a big ripe peach or a branch of bay leaves from someone’s home orchard than yet another bar of soap or a pair of socks. She had us making potato stamp cards, oven mitts, truffles, bird feeders and bath bombs year after year, and it was so rewarding that I just want to keep on making my own gifts.
I enjoy the creativity involved, finding cool bottles and jars, making labels and sourcing interesting new recipes to delight my family and friends. And of course, it’s great to be able to go out and pick what I need from my own patch if I can. There are usually always lemons on the tree and herbs in the garden at this time of the year to use for these four recipes. So, instead of rushing out to the shops this year, here are a few truly ‘tasteful’ gifts to try out this Christmas so you can share your garden with your friends and family. You never know, it might just start a new Christmas tradition.
Herby home-made crackers
Get cracker-ing and have a go at making superb platforms for your very own preserves. These little finger-licking crackers are a great hit with kids, especially on a nibbles platter. And they are gluten free, too! Perfect as a gift, packed into little cellophane bags with a snazzy ribbon and a home-made label, accompanied by jars of your very own trademark chutney or pickle.
- 125g butter
- 1 cup fine white rice flour
- 1 cup fine yellow corn flour (maize)
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 75g tasty cheese, finely grated
- 2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh herbs
- 2 Tbsp roasted sesame seeds
- Milk or water to mix
- Place all ingredients except the milk or water in a bowl and rub in butter and grated cheese until you have a fine crumbly texture.
- Add milk or water and mix well until you have a ball of dough.
- Tip it out onto a floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes.
- Roll dough out carefully (again on a floured surface).
- Cut into fingers and bake on a tray covered with baking paper at 180°C for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
If you are looking for an elegant home-made gift that looks good in glass, how about trying this unique fresh herb sauce from Italy? Salmoriglio is guaranteed to send your taste buds skyward! The herbs release their subtle flavours and energies into the oil, aided by the salt, which entices the plants to ‘let down their juices’. Herb sauces made this way are very intense so a small amount goes a long way. (Makes approx. one 300ml bottle.)
- A good big handful of fresh oregano, basil, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, summer savory, and for a peppery taste, try adding kawakawa leaves
- 2 tsp good sea salt
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 6 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 1 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- Chop the herbs coarsely and carefully tip into an attractive jar or bottle.
- Add the lemon or lime juice, garlic, oil and pepper and shake vigorously.
Shake me up and drizzle me onto fresh bread, pasta, slices of grilled polenta, pizza or new potatoes. Keep me refrigerated and use me up within four weeks.
Spicy preserved lemons
This method produces preserved lemons overnight. Perfect for a quick and trendy-looking Christmas gift. I keep my eyes open for unusually shaped jars for this one. (Makes approx. two small 300g jars.)
- 6 lemons, preferably thin-skinned
- 6 tsp salt
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp dried chilli flakes
- Trim lemons at both ends and slice lengthwise into six pieces.
- Toss lemons with the salt.
- In a shallow baking dish with a lid, spread the lemons in one layer, packed closely together.
- Cover with lemon juice and wine.
- Bake for about three hours at 150°C, or until skins are soft.
- Stir occasionally and add more juice and/or wine if lemons seem to be getting too dry.
- Remove from oven and add the bay leaves, peppercorns and chilli flakes.
- Leave to cool. This allows the lemons to infuse the flavours.
- Once cool, store in an airtight container or pack into decorative jars.
- Chop coarsely and serve with seafood or curries.
- Can be used as a basting for barbecuing chicken.
- Great chopped finely and tossed in a couscous salad with olives or on pasta.
If you know someone who loves roast veges, then this could be the perfect gift for you to make this Christmas. Rosemary always smells so amazing when it’s baking in the oven, enhancing and intensifying the flavours of whatever it accompanies. It’s also great sprinkled on popcorn. This recipe always reminds me of my favourite place to harvest rosemary – outside the Thames police station! The cops were always happy to let me prune their robust bush as it tended to block their view of the footpath. (Makes one small jar full, roughly 80g.)
- ½ cup sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp dried powdered rosemary
- 3 Tbsp dried powdered mixed herbs
- ½ Tbsp cracked peppercorns
- 1 Tbsp garlic salt
- Lightly roast the sesame seeds in a pan over a low heat.
- Powder the herbs using a coffee grinder.
- Mix all ingredients together and transfer into an attractive container or packet.
Sprinkle rosemary rub generously over roast veges coated in olive oil and pop them into the oven to bake.