Click to View Latest IssueClick to View Latest Issue

Herbs for the Holidays

By  0 Comments

Here it is December already, and you should have been thinking about the holidays months ago. No, not because Walmart had their big Christmas-in-July Sale. Although July would have been a good time to start thinking about Christmas gifts, since your garden was in full production. I know what you’re thinking―what could you possibly pull out of the garden that would make good gifts for the holidays? Well, most gardeners, including city dwellers with balconies and small back yards, have at least a pot or two of herbs. You know, those savory plants we keep close by the kitchen, within arm’s reach, so we can sprint over and snip off a sprig to toss into our spaghetti sauce or sprinkle over our salad. But what can you do to make an herb look attractive and useful enough for a holiday gift?

Here is just a sample of easy, inexpensive and highly appreciated homemade goodies that will show your family, friends, and coworkers that you are not only talented and creative, but have been thinking about them long before the first frost hits the ground. And that truly gives profound meaning to the idiom―It’s the thought that counts.

Start with an assortment of attractive bottles and jars, which can easily be found cheap at a dollar store. Make tags or labels with a charming quote or saying, the ingredients, suggested recipes or uses, and your name or logo. Look for rustic ribbons or ties, or just recycle some you’ve had collecting forever in that kitchen junk drawer. Just keep it simple so the aura of the herb shines through.

Dried Herbs

The easiest way to give herbs is by just drying and packaging them attractively. Start in August when they are at their flavorful peak. I like to make a nice Italian mix–oregano, rosemary, parsley, basil, thyme, sage, and savory–and, to spice it up a bit, I toss in a coarsely ground dried jalapeño or two. Gather the herbs in the morning when it’s cool to keep them at their just-picked freshness. Clean out the dead or brown leaves, rinse them in cool water, lay them on towels, and pat dry. Arrange loosely in baskets or on baking racks to dry in the sun. A dehydrator or the oven works, too, but there is just something earthy and authentic about using solar (and free) energy. When they are completely dry (a crispy-leaf test will indicate), make them pretty in small jars tagged and tied with jute or raffia.

Herbed Oils & Vinegars

Again, presentation is key here. Clear glass bottles with jade and amber-tinted, herb-flavored oils and vinegars can immediately heighten the senses. Try something vintage and simple, yet still trendy, like fresh tarragon in apple cider vinegar and rosemary in extra virgin olive oil. Tie on a tag with fancy ribbon and call it epicurean splendor in a glass (bottle).

Your Own Herbed Seasoning

This one is so easy, useful and tasty, you’ll want to make plenty for yourself. I use this on everything from meat and veggies to homemade croutons. You’ll wonder why you never thought of it before.

1 6- or 8-oz. container of garlic salt from the dollar store

1 heaping Tbsp. fine black or white pepper

1 heaping Tbsp. dried Italian herbs (oregano, rosemary, parsley, basil, thyme, sage and savory)

Grind in small batches in coffee grinder until powder. Pour into cute little spice jars and fancify with your personal tag and ribbon.

Mint Jelly

This recipe is so tempting, it will be hard not to open on the spot to slather on that holiday ham. Just don’t try to double the recipe, or you will end up with a big gooey mess.

2 cups mint leaves

2 cups water, clear juice or wine

¼ cup lemon juice or white vinegar

4 cups sugar or honey

Pinch of salt

1 (1 3/4-oz.) box powdered pectin or 1 pouch (3-oz.) liquid pectin

Bring water just to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat, stir in mint leaves, and let steep for 20 minutes. Strain mixture into deep pot, discarding mint leaves. Stir in lemon juice, pectin and salt and continue stirring until dissolved. Bring mixture to boil over high heat. Stir in sugar. Return to hard rolling boil (2 minutes for soft gel, 4 minutes for medium gel), stirring occasionally. Drop a dab of jelly into a cup of cold water to check for desired thickness. Spoon into prepared jars and seal. Cut a small square of fabric to place under the ring for that quaint, old-fashioned farm house appeal.

On the day of the festivities, place all your gifts in a pretty basket and hand out one by one so your guests will have a moment to appreciate your hard work. Now, this does not mean you won’t have to make that last-minute shopping trip to Target for gift cards and video games, ’cause there won’t be anything in your basket for the kiddies.