Long ago but not so far away, in a time when all telephones were land lines, I decided to get a jump on Christmas by gathering my gifts in the summer. I found the perfect present for my mother in July; it was so perfect I couldn’t wait and gave it to her right away, which left me looking for yet another to fill the space under the tree. I had discovered the value of planning ahead without first learning how to keep a secret.
I am wiser now. This year I am only now starting to make Christmas gifts, concentrating on things I can make from the garden. I have spent the intervening years indoctrinating my kids, my brothers and David (with varying degrees of success) to the value of organically grown, fully mineralized produce, so I hope they like what I give them. I am including the usual canned nectarines, relish and tomato sauce and will add a few dried apples from our trees. I dehydrated and blended the rest of last year’s garlic into powder and will add that to my dried oregano, basil and peas with a recipe for pea soup or Scotch broth.
An old friend gave us some quince from her tree, so I stuck whole cloves all over two of them and when they’re dry I’ll wrap ribbon around each one so they can be hung in a closet as a pomander. It took so long to do them that I turned to easier pickings and made more from lemons and a Mandarin orange. I have never cared for cloves in food, but the aroma from these drying fruits is so heavenly that it’s worth buying cloves just to make pomanders.
For the gardeners on my list I’m buying Steve Solomon’s 35th anniversary edition of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades because it’s head and shoulders above any other gardening book I’ve read. Packets of homegrown seeds might be welcome, along with a gift card for a garden centre.
A friend of ours used to take the time to make one-of-a-kind gift wrappers that were so amazing that his girlfriend saved every one. This might be something the kids could get interested in, or card making: cut a potato in half and cut out a Christmas motif like a tree or bell or angel on the potato half. Make your dyes from vegetables: beets for red, spinach for green and onion skins for yellow. The dye needs to be concentrated, so don’t use much water. Grate or chop each one and cook them separately, puree them in the water, then strain them through a jelly bag. You can even save the extra in the freezer for colouring eggs at Easter.
Another thing I learned from mom was that these homegrown and handmade gifts work better than the usual run of knick knacks, because they are useful and do not usually require dusting. The exception to that last would be the mincemeat David’s grandmother sent every year. She had been dead for a quarter century before we opened the last jar, and by then it was 80 proof!