Out-of-the-ordinary edible gifts to give this season


At this time of year, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of gifts that we have to find. Gifts for our kids, family members and close friends are a given.

Then there are the gifts for all the people who touch our lives: teachers, coaches, office staff, the neighbors, the fellow parent who gives our kid a ride home from practice each week. That's a lot of presents. How can we show our appreciation to all the people who make our lives a little bit easier without going bankrupt buying Starbucks cards? - Emily Paster


One way to spread holiday cheer is by giving a homemade, edible gift.

I like to think outside the dessert box because we are all overloaded with sweets this time of year. Instead, I like to give gifts that will help people cook a little better all year long.

One of the keys to giving special holiday gifts is the packaging. Your colorful berry vinegars and elegant flavored salts will really impress when presented in attractive glass bottles and jars. You can find pretty vessels at stores like Jo-Ann Fabrics, Michael's or Hobby Lobby. Cost Plus World Market is another good source. For a really wide variety of choices, check out specialtybottle.com.


Flavored salts and sugars

One of the easiest edible gifts to make is flavored salt. Try giving your friends and neighbors a jar of citrus salt, which is heavenly sprinkled on fish or chicken. To make, simply layer strips of orange or lemon peel-use only the outer peel, avoiding the bitter white pith-with kosher salt in a glass jar. This is especially fun in winter when there are so many exotic citrus varieties in stores like Meyer lemons and blood oranges.

For bakers, flavored sugars are a welcome gift. To make vanilla sugar, which is a delicious addition to most baked goods, scrape the inside of a vanilla bean into two cups of sugar and stir to combine. Cut the bean in half and add it as well. Citrus sugars also are a wonderfully fragrant gift. The idea is the same as vanilla sugar: add the zest of a large lemon or orange to two cups of sugar and stir to combine.


Homemade vanilla extract

This gift requires advance planning. To make, split open half a vanilla bean and place it in a 2.6 ounce glass jar. Cover with vodka and seal. In about a month, you will have a flavorful version of vanilla extract. I sometimes use orange-flavored vodka to make orange-vanilla extract. If you are coming up against the holidays but want to try this project, you can always give the extract before it is ready and tell the recipient to wait to use it.


Flavored vinegar

Nothing elevates an ordinary salad like an exotic flavored vinegar. And a tall bottle of brightly colored homemade vinegar is a gift that will be sure to impress. Making flavored vinegar is an easy project. Berry-flavored vinegar is a great one to start with. Mix four cups of blueberries, blackberries or raspberries-frozen is OK-with one cup of white wine vinegar in a large bowl. Mash the berries lightly to release their juices. Add the remaining vinegar to the bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Store in a cool, dark place for one to four weeks, stirring every few days and tasting weekly until desired strength is reached. When the vinegar is ready, strain it and pour into decorative bottles for giving. This recipe will yield about three bottles of vinegar.


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