In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
Simple herbal vinegars and pickled garden vegetables make elegant holiday gifts.
Herbs Make a Myriad of Holiday Gifts
Most everyone appreciates handmade gifts, and I especially like to give foods I've grown in my own garden or gifts made from things I've grown or collected. Simple gifts can be made absolutely elegant with added personal touches. What could be simpler and more refined than a basket of homemade scones and jam made from your own currants, tied with a ribbon and sprigs of juniper?
Fresh or home-dried herbs are always well received by people who love to cook, so take advantage of your garden by harvesting for others as well. I snip small branches of fresh leaves from my bay laurels and rosemary, and then tie the sprigs of both herbs in bundles to tuck in a basket with some exotic pastas, a head of garlic, a wedge of Romano cheese and a bottle of homemade basil-garlic-peppercorn vinegar.
Herb and spice blends are becoming quite popular, especially for adding flavor to mild meats like chicken and fish. Since I dry all sorts of summer herbs, combining them in specific blends in shaker jars is easy to do. I often combine a jar of blended herbs with a few recipes for their use. One of my favorite gifts to give is a bag of red salad potatoes (either my own or from the grocery store, put in a decorative cloth bag), a jar of Cajun or Italian seasoning mix and a recipe for herbed, oven-roasted potatoes.
Herbal vinegars are easy, elegant gifts to give. Add bunches of basil, dill, tarragon or thyme to white or cider vinegar and let it steep for several weeks. Decant through a sieve and pour into decorative bottles. Add a couple of peeled garlic cloves and a spoonful of peppercorns, tie with a ribbon, and you have an instant marinade or salad dressing.
I like to bake for the holidays, but with so many people being calorie-conscious these days, I bake fewer sweets and concentrate on breads, English muffins and bagels. A basket of fresh English muffin bread can be easily enhanced by adding an herbed butter. To make the butter, soften 1 cup of sweet butter. Add 3 teaspoons of the dried herb (or 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs) of your choice and mix well. Pat into a log and refrigerate. Some of my favorites are basil, tarragon and parsley.
Herb-infused honeys are unusual additions to the breakfast or tea table, and relatively easy to make. Heat honey until just warm. Stir in herbs, pour into sterilized jars and cap. Let sit one week. Warm the honey again and strain out leaves. Put into jars, label and seal. Herbs that make tasty honey include lavender, marjoram, mint, rosemary and thyme. Keep honeys in mind next spring, and collect rose petals and violets to flavor them.
To get out of the kitchen altogether, consider herbal bath mixes or facial tonics. A cheesecloth bag filled with dried bay leaves, lavender flowers, lemon balm leaves and mint leaves hung under a faucet of hot water fills the bathtub with an aromatic, soothing scent. These are simple to make and beautiful when you use fancy fabric to make the bags. A teaspoon of herbs in a bottle of witch hazel makes a nicely scented astringent.
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