Handmade Gifts Challenge

Local Food Gift Idea: Apple-Maple Jam

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I like making jam, and my friends and family enjoy eating homemade jam, so it’s one of my standard gifts these days.  However, much as I love eating strawberry marmalade in the cold of January, I hesitate to call such sugar-intensive recipes local, and they require a lot more planning ahead for use as holiday gifts.  Local apples, though, are still widely available, and don’t require as much sugar for gelling.

The two jars above are two different batches of apple-maple jam; the smaller jar, on the left, is this year’s batch, and the larger jar is last year’s.  Here’s the recipe I used:

3 qts chopped, peeled apples (~6 lb)
6 c sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t cloves
1 c maple syrup

Prepare as jam and can in a boiling water bath.  (Put apples and sugar in a large pot.  Cook on low to medium heat, stirring, until there’s enough liquid to keep the apple bits from scorching.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until the apples are soft.  Add spices.  Cook a little more, then bring to a boil again and divide into sterile jars.)  Makes about 8 half-pint jars’ worth.

That recipe is really for an apple-y, mapley jelly with chunks of apple suspended in it.  I prefer fruit preserves that are easier to spread on toast or PB&J sandwiches, so I purée mine with an immersion blender.  And I don’t peel the apples.  Otherwise, last year’s batch is pretty close to the recipe.  This year, I wanted to make my apple-maple stuff entirely local, so I used about 2c honey and 1.5c maple syrup instead of the 6c sugar and 1c maple syrup called for.  It came out quite nicely, if closer to applesauce than jam on the preserved-fruit continuum.  , If you’re looking for something to take to a latke party this week, some of what didn’t get canned was very tasty on latkes a few days ago.

Posted by Naomi on 12/21 at 08:45 PM

Jelly Belly

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Even though I’m trying to get away from taking cookies to parties and giving people cookies as gifts during the holiday season, some cookies still allow you to showcase local products and stuff that you’ve made with local produce.  One of my favorites is the thumbprint jelly cookie - mostly because it really gives me a chance to use up preserves that I made during the Summer.  And right now I have strawberry jam and raspberry preserves, plus some blueberry port compote a friend made (which is delicious).

1.5 c. butter, softened
1 c. sugar
3 egg yolks
3 c. flour
1.5 tsp vanilla
jam, preserves, or some filling

Cream the butter and sugar together.  Add yolks, and then flour and villa.  You can work in more flour if the dough is too soft, but I like to refrigerate it for an hour to make the dough a little stiffer.

Roll into balls, make an indentation (my flatwear ends are perfect for this, as you can see), and fill the indentation with jam or some other filling.  Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 9 minutes.

Thumbprint Jelly cookies nicely packaged with a jar of the preserves used to make the cookies would make a great gift!


Posted by Nicole on 12/10 at 06:12 PM

Seeds of Change

Monday, December 08, 2008


After roasting butternut squash and kabocha squash today for soup, I was left with a few handfuls of seeds.  Any Winter squash with larger seeds can be treated just like pumpkin seeds - they’re great just roasted with a bit of salt and olive oil. 

Now I like roasted squash seeds, but there are lots of things you can do with them.  One of my favorites is to make pesto, using the roasted seeds in place of nuts.  Basil is out of season right now (unless you’re growing it inside under grow lights), but I still have a few herbs out in the garden - and that means a good portion of the pesto can be local (like this sage and pumpkin seed pesto)!  If you preserved garlic scapes this past Summer, you might want to use them to make garlic scape-pumpkin seed pesto.  I know that arugula is seasonal right now, and I found one recipe that uses arugula, pumpkin seeds, and garlic.  Pack up some pesto in a nice jar and it makes a great hostess gift!

Roasted pumpkin seeds can also be used to make brittle - pumpkin seed brittle can make a really unusual gift.  Even Nigella Lawson has a recipe for her own version of this yummy treat!  I also found a delicious-sounding recipe for Chocolate Toffee Pumpkin Seed Bark.

Here are some other recipes involving roasted seeds that can be used in hostess gifts and potlucks:

Pumpkin Flan with Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Candied Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin Seed Cream Scones
Pumpkin Seed Butter

I can just about guarantee you’ll be the only person to bring something to the party with pumpkin seeds that you roasted yourself!




Posted by Nicole on 12/08 at 10:28 AM

Handmade Gifts: Not Another Fruitcake

Sunday, December 07, 2008


The word “cake” brings to mind something sweet, spongy, and rather delicate. The word “fruit” brings to mind something sweet, juicy, brightly flavored, and nutritious.  So, why is it that when you put the two words together - “fruitcake” - the result is nothing like sweet, spongy, delicate, juicy, brightly flavored, or nutritious? When we’re deciding on food gifts for the season, we studiously avoid fruitcakes, as the last thing anyone needs to give - or receive, for that matter - is another rum-soaked brick of raisins and candied “fruit.”  Yet, this year, we’ve decided on an appropriate substitute: the Bolognese bustrengo

Someone, someday, will devote an entire cookbook to the Italian tradition of dessert cakes made for the afternoon (accompanied by a glass of wine, preferably) rather than the end of a meal.  The bustrengo should hold a place of honor in that cookbook.  A mixture of apples, dried fruits, and cornmeal, it is the perfect cake for the Fall and Winter.  It is moist, but avoids heaviness of a fruitcake because of breadcrumbs.  In addition, olive oil is the primary fat, so you can feel smug about eating a second piece. 

This version is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy.  I’ve made some alterations to “localize” it:  substituting maple sugar for cane sugar; replacing 1 cup of the milk with 1 cup of buttermilk to maintain the acidity lost from not adding lemon and orange zest; using white spelt flour rather than white flour; using a mixture of various dried fruits rather than sultanas and dried figs.  Obviously, not everything is local, but the cinnamon is a crucial flavor component, and, more importantly, how can I feel smug about eating that second piece without olive oil?

Adapted from Jamie’s Italy
1 cup cornmeal
1 3/4 cups white spelt flour
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1/3 cup maple sugar
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1 cup buttermilk
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
7 oz.  dried fruit, chopped
18 oz. apples peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 and butter a eleven-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
2.  Mix together the polenta, flour, breadcrumbs, and sugar in a large bowl.  Mix together the milk, eggs, honey, and olive oil in a separate bowl.
3.  Add the wet mixture to the dry, stirring well.  Add the dried fruit, apples, cinnamon, and salt and stir again.
4.  Pour the mixture into the tart pan and bake for 50 minutes. 

Note:  I attempted this in a bundt pan, and it did not cook evenly.  However, anything relatively shallow should be fine.  Try it with some small loaf pans or maybe even muffin tins.  Whatever you use, be sure to butter and flour the interior first. 

Posted by Kevin on 12/07 at 02:42 PM

The gift of quince

Monday, December 01, 2008


The quince is not a very common and recognizable fruit to most Americans.  It’s not really a fruit that you can eat raw (it’s kind of hard and sour), but cooked it’s amazing!  I used quince this year in my cranberry sauce and it was fantastic (even though he won’t admit, even my husband really liked it).

Because the quince is not commonly found in the grocery store, it has a faintly exotic air - making it really perfect for use in holiday food gifts.  And luckily quince is in season right now (the Fair Food Farmstand is carrying them, and I’m sure they’re available elsewhere in the area)!

Below are some great ideas for turning quinces into portable gifts to give at parties!

Quince Paste.  This might be a good gift for someone who bakes.  Many recipes call for quince paste, but you can’t just find the paste anywhere!  Alternatively, quince paste is great served with cheese and crackers - it would be a fantastic gift for the host of a wine and cheese party!

Quince Pound Cake.  Pound cake is the gift that keeps on giving - and the pretty pink/red color the quinces turn when cooked make this a highly festive gift.

Quince Cheese.  Fruit cheese is a firm jam that is meant to be molded and cut into chunks to eat with meat.  Shockingly, this gift has real longevity - it will last for up to two years!!

Spiced Quince and Brown Butter Cake.  These little mini cakes look tremendously good! No doubt they would be a very welcome gift wherever you go!

Quince Jam.  Any jam or jelly makes a great gift around the holidays, but quince jam makes a statement!  I love the idea of giving away quince jam with some good croissant.

Quince Sambal.  If you’re calling on someone who isn’t down with the sweets, consider handing over some quince sambal.  This is a spicy condiment that’s super easy to make!

If you are feeling particularly motivated and want to offer a homebrew, I did find a recipe for Parsnip and Quince White Wine.  I don’t know how I feel about the parsnips, but I am definitely intrigued!  Of course, you’re supposed to age for one year…so this may be a gift better suited for next year!

Posted by Nicole on 12/01 at 12:02 PM

It’s Handmade Gifts Challenge Month!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Captive audience

The holiday season is always full of parties and other events for which we are expected to bring a gift, or we want to bring a little something to the host or hostess just to be polite.  In nearly all cases, I lug along a bottle of wine.  While that sort of thing is almost universally appreciated, most of the time I have a little bit of guilt - I feel like I should have put more thought into my gift, more effort.  When I have a holiday party, I love receiving little gifts of handmade food and things like that - from cookies to canned goods to special vinegars.

In many ways, I feel like - no matter what holiday you do or don’t celebrate in December - this is the time to show your friends and family how much you appreciate them.  Handmade gifts say alot, and it’s my goal this year to make more of an effort deliver handmade gifts wherever I go this season.  And that’s why I’m declaring December Handmade Gifts Challenge Month at Farm to Philly!  I and the other contributors will be posting our favorite ideas for handmade food and beverage gifts made from locally grown foods throughout the month of December.

On a related note, Farm to Philly would love to have a few more writers!  We don’t have many rules around here - there’s a one post per month minimum, and the focus of your post has to be related to seasonal eating and locally grown products in the Philadelphia area (that includes the ‘burbs and South Jersey).  It’s a volunteer gig.  Becoming a contributor is easy - just email me and we’ll get you set up with a log-in and password and all the pertinent information.  The more, the merrier!!

Posted by Nicole on 11/30 at 07:03 PM

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