I’m just going to put it out there: I LOVE Christmas. I’m the sort of girl who will put on a Christmas album in early November and spend six weeks organising my gift wrapping strategy. I love wearing ugly Christmas jumpers, I love sending out cards and I love putting up the tree (yes, even untangling the hopelessly knotted ball of fairy lights). And of course, I love the food.
However, a strange sense of foreboding comes over me when I think about giving food as a gift. Maybe I overthink it, maybe I’m too obsessive, but there’s definitely something nerve racking about handing over something that you’ve created and hoping that the recipient thinks that it’s as delicious as you do. There are no guarantees – you can’t blame the shop for their poor ingredient choices, or the manufacturer for the bland and boring packaging.
It’s all on you, and that is a scary concept.
And it’s not just down to the presentation, or heck, even taste (although it pains me to admit this). In this dizzying modern world of free from foods and calorie counting, where two in five people are on a diet and Coeliacs UK has more than 50,000 members, it’s not just a case of mastering flavours – it’s a case of mastering your recipient’s requirements too.
Fear not, gentle readers. It is not impossible. You can still give food as a gift and be everyone’s favourite Santa this year, but there are a few things to consider before you go wrapping up that hunk of turkey. Here are my three top tips for giving food as a gift this holiday season:
1. Play it safe
If you’re giving a gift to someone you don’t know that well – a colleague, or maybe a neighbour that you only exchange an occasional hello in the hallway with – there are certain foods you should probably avoid (for instance, giving a great hunking slab of pig to a vegetarian, or a nice bottle of wine to someone who is three years teetotal) Jars of homemade jam or chutney, or sweet treats such as truffles, cakes and cookies are generally safer bets. Or alternatively, a basket of goodies from your garden or a bunch of freshly clipped herbs would make a great gift for someone who can’t (or won’t) each sweets.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t bite off more than you (or your recipient) can chew. It’s all very well to declare yourself to be the next Martha Stewart and set about making an epic holiday hamper, but you’ll have so much other preparation to do over the festive season that you may find yourself winding up as a sobbing, fondant covered shell of a woman surrounded by broken gingerbread houses (me circa 2010). Focus on making one delicious recipe really really well, rather than trying to come off as showy or ‘gourmet’, and let the sweet and simple flavours shine through. It’s also important to consider portion control – is that single person who lives alone really going to eat 25 cookies before they go stale? Be realistic about what’s achievable and you should be on your way to gift giving success.
3. Presentation is 9/10ths of the law
One of the perks of giving a homemade gift is that you’re in charge of the packaging; allowing you to transform a relatively expensive gift into something worthy of Harrods Food Hall. If I had to choose just three presentation essentials, I’d go for cellophane, ribbons, and sticky labels, but you don’t have to rush out and spend your life savings in Hobbycraft – be creative and use what you’ve already got. I recently spent 20 minutes painting the lid of a jar with glitter nail polish, and now that it’s been filled with chestnuts and dressed up with ribbons, it wouldn’t look out of place on an upmarket supermarket shelf. Add a pretty label, some floral fabric, and a bit of sparkle, and hey presto – you go from cheapskate to great mate in a matter of seconds and sequins.