Here is a gift I would love to receive (hint, hint friends and family!). It’s pretty hard to go wrong with this one: Walk around the market and pick up locally made cheeses, jam, pickles, and seasonal fruit, and if you want to get more elaborate, add wine, bread, pretzels, mustard, honey – anything locally produced that would nicely accompany a cheese plate. I’ll bet you can put something together that’s just as good or better than any mail-order gift basket.
To start with, you’ll want something to put all of your treasures in. I used a vintage-looking wood and plywood box that clementines had come in—clementine citrus fruits are everywhere this time of year, and these boxes are ideal for gifts—but you could use any suitably-sized basket or tin box, too. I like to line the box with pine boughs or other winter greens, which are also available at the farmer’s market. These tree clippings are biodegradable, so you’re not creating a lot of artificial packing material that winds up in the trash–and they smell wonderful!
Add a splash of color with winter berries, abundant at this time of year. Another eco-friendly option would be to line the box with shredded paper from a paper shredder, which can also be composted.
Cover the bottom of the box and the sides with your box stuffing so you have a cushion for your treats to nestle in. Place the big items in first, then fill up empty spaces with small fruits. I chose tiny, 4-bite Seckel pears and Lady apples for the box because they’re attractive as well as delicious (when we served both of these fruits with the lunch we made for The Colbert Report last week, virtually every woman who saw them declared them “adorable” and added a few to her plate). Tuck some decorative berries or dried flowers around the sides. If you like, tie the whole package with a ribbon.
While these handmade gift-baskets are easier handed off in person than shipped, you can certainly ship them if you like; canned and jarred goods are no problem, but if you’re sending perishables, just be cognizant of how the shipping time might affect freshness, and alert your recipient that they’ve got foodstuffs coming to them that may need to be refrigerated. What’s great about making your own gift-baskets is that you can tailor each one to what the gift-getter likes. For instance, if you were considering sending me a gift-basket, I might suggest, oh, a nice blue cheese, a bottle of local hard cider, perhaps a jar of honey or mustard, some raspberry preserves. . . these are just ideas, mind you!
Good luck with your gift-baskets, and may they bring joy to you and yours this season!