Once more Christmas lurches purposefully towards us, engorged with expectation, and emotion, and the hopes and fears of all the years, and capitalism. Which means one thing, round these parts: it’s time again for my annual list of edible gift idea recipes, gathered from my prior blog posts over the past thirteen years. It’s a self-serving action, yes, but also hopefully helpful in some way – and all I ever really want is to be useful, but to also draw attention to myself in the process.
Time is forever a strange and fluctuating thing – and never in such a collectively experienced manner as this year with COVID-19. We all felt how it was March for six months, now next March is inexplicably three months away – and I know for many, this Christmas is not going to take its usual form. If you’re confined to a relatively small circle of people, there are still neighbours, the postal service, any number of people nearby who might be cheered by a small jar or box of something in their letterbox, or on their doorstep. Even just you, alone, are reason enough to bake a cake. I also realise to heaps of people Christmas is quite reasonably another day of the week! But generally there will be some point in your life where giving a gift is required, and almost all the recipes listed below work beautifully year-round (though I personally can’t eat candy canes out of season.)
As for the financial pressure of this time of year – I won’t lie, between the ingredients, time, electricity, storage and wrapping, homemade edible gifts aren’t necessarily that cheap, and there’s no moral superiority in making your own jam. It is undeniably delightful to receive something homemade – but if this is too strenuous, stick with the food concept and do your Christmas shopping at the supermarket. Chocolates, candy, olive oil, fancy salt, peanut butter, curry pastes, hot sauce, olives, a complicated shape of pasta – even just food you know someone eats a lot of. They love noodles? Get them noodles! I guarantee they’ll be pleased. Basically, we cannot escape capitalism but giving an edible gift of any kind has so many upsides: it’s delicious, it has immediate application, it will eventually cease taking up space in the receiver’s house, it makes you look like a really great person.
To the list! I’ve grouped the recipes into three categories, and have also included some of the recipes I wrote for Tenderly over the last year.
Two caveats: some of these recipes are from years ago, but while details and contexts and locations and motivations have changed, the deliciousness remains constant. Also I feel like it’s worth pointing out that anything involving an ingredient which either could melt or has been melted, should be stored in the fridge rather than under the tree.
Also – all these recipes are vegan.
Category One: Things In Jars
No matter how uncertain the world we live in, you can still count on Things In Jars. From relish to pickles to the unsinkable salted caramel sauce, it’s always well-received, it always looks like you’ve gone to arduous levels of effort, and it’s an ideal gift for everyone from your most marginally tolerable of coworkers to the most highly specific love of your life. For added personal flair – although this could just be my neurological predisposition for over-explaining – I suggest including a gift tag with recommendations on ways to use the contents of the jar.
- Cranberry Sauce
- Cashew Butter
- Red Chilli Nahm Jim (use soy sauce to make it vegan)
- Corn and Chilli Relish
- Marinated Tamarillos
- Taco Pickles
- Sake Pickled Radishes
- Preserved Limes
- Dukkah (perhaps accompanied by a nice bottle of olive oil)
- Spiced Peaches
- Olive Tapenade
- Caramelised Onion Butter
- Tomato Relish
- Ras el hanout
- Khmeli Suneli (for overachievers, consider making a tasting flight of these three spice mixes)
- Cumin and Paprika Spiced Pumpkin Seed Butter
- Peach Balsamic Barbecue Sauce
- Roasted Chickpea Butter
- Confit Vegetables
- Quick-Pickled Apples and Pears
- Quick Pickled Scallions/Spring Onions
- Pickled Eggplant
- Wasabi-Pickled Green Beans
- Rhubarb Fig Jam
- Berry Chia Seed Jam
- Black Salted Caramel Sauce
- Salted Pineapple Caramel Sauce (this stuff is incredible)
- Orange Confit
- Apple Cinnamon Granola
- Strawberry Jam Granola
- Buckwheat, Cranberry and Cinnamon Granola
- Caramel Walnut Granola
- Lux Maple Granola (or: a granola tasting flight!)
- Vegan Lemon Curd
- Salted Vanilla Brazil Nut Butter
- Coffee Cinnamon Hazelnut Butter (literally five zillion times better than Nutella)
- Apple Honey
- Rhubarb Fruit Mince
Category Two: Baked Goods
They’re baked! They’re good! While biscuits and cookies are more commonly gifted, don’t rule out a loaf, perhaps wrapped in baking paper and then brown paper – the banana bread and ginger molasses loaf below keep well (especially the latter) and would make a charmingly convivial offering. At this busy time of year, having something to slice and eat with a cup of tea or a snifter of whatever weird liqueur you can find in the back of the cupboard is nothing if not a stroke of good fortune.
- Chocolate-dipped Pumpkin Spice Lemon Pistachio Cookies
- Viv’s Crackers (good to make anyway for general nibbling)
- Vanilla Chocolate Macarons (high effort, high reward, but like, really high effort, this isn’t for people you feel indifference towards)
- Banana Bread
- Balsamic Triple Chocolate Squares
- Dark Rum Tahini Chocolate Walnut Cookies
- Lemon Bars
- Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies
- Ginger-Molasses Loaf Cake (I have made this more than I’ve made anything else this year, and it’s also wonderful made with treacle.)
- The Very Best Vegan Christmas Cake
Category Three: Novelty, No-Bake Sweets, and General Sugary Chaos
The best category, let’s be frank. Whether it’s dissolving candy canes in bottom-shelf vodka or adding pink food colouring to white chocolate for the aesthetic, sugar is the true reason for the season. And since dentists wildly overcharge us for their service, you might as well make them really earn it.
- Candy Cane Vodka, or Peppermint Schnapps if you will (it’s almost literally potable!)
- Coffee-Orange Liqueur aka Forty Four
- Old Fashioned Lemonade Cordial
- Candy Cane Bark
- Homemade Bounty Bars
- Salted Chocolate Cashew Butter Slice
- Almond Butter Toffee
- Old Fashioned Vegan Fudge
- Chocolate Caramel Rice Bubble Slice
- No-bake Cookie Dough Truffles
- Vegan White Chocolate
- Raspberry Rainbow Slab
Brooklyn Blues, by Clifford Gibson. Okay so I love early blues, but if I’m honest, I only initially got into Gibson because I found him on Wikipedia under the list of people who have the same birthday as me (April 17.) Fortunately this rather vain curiosity was highly rewarding because he was a wonderful musician (of course!)
Irma La Douce, by Shirley MacLaine from her fantastic Live at the Palace album. This is the English version of the title number of the French stage show on which the film of the same name was based, in which Shirley MacLaine played the title character – Irma La Douce – very straightforward. It’s one of my very favourite films and I love her performance of this song, from its wistful, introspective beginning to its unhinged, full-throated conclusion.
Also – I was genuinely heartbroken to learn of the passing of Broadway legend, icon, star, Ann Reinking. I could say SO MUCH about her, and Fosse’s choreography, and Gwen Verdon, and the way they all worked together – but instead I’ll just link to this clip of her dancing in a dream sequence in All That Jazz – a film I could watch every day and never tire of. It’s a deceptively simple number, but her precision and ownership of the movements is astonishing. Everything she does – even just lowering her eyelids in a blink at 46 seconds in – is a dance movement, on a level the rest of us can only dream of.
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