HANDMADE gifts are special in this mass-produced world and are economical, too. They can be made ahead of time to avoid the rush of the holidays. Many baked goods such as breads, cookies, and jams can be frozen and brought out on the 24th, to be wrapped and given to friends and family. The possibilities for garden and kitchen gifts are endless. Garden-less friends appreciate gifts made from the garden, and many people are too busy to cook these days.
Here are some of my favorite gifts from my garden and kitchen: Wreaths
Almost any vine can be made into a wreath, including grapevines, morning glory vines, bindweed (yes, even weeds), and clematis.
Simply bend the vines into a circle and weave them around each other or tie in four places with string. Many herbs such as artemesia, mint, or tall oregano can be tied onto a wire that has been bent into a circle.
A coat hanger works fine. Now start building character onto the wreath with rose petals, baby's breath, dried flower blossoms, or other herbs and spices such as anise or cloves. Use white glue to glue on these decorations. Finish with a bow made from raffia or cloth. Add a piece of thin wire on the top as a hanger. Plant gifts
Early in the fall, houseplants can be rooted and planted in attractive pots. Herbs can be started in pots, as can amaryllis.
If you have extra dahlia bulbs or seeds you have saved from your garden, give these to the green thumb on your list. One year I brought in a ``Pixie'' tomato plant in the fall and gave it to an aunt who had no garden. She loved it! Dried flowers
Every year I dry bunches of statice, strawflowers, and celosia for bouquet gifts. I simply pick them while they are dry, tie a string around them, and hang them to dry in the attic or any dry room.
I sometimes dry flowers in the microwave by sprinkling silica gel over them, placing them in the microwave, and turning the oven on for two minutes. (Place a cup of water in microwave before you turn it on.)
I let the flowers sit without disturbing for 36 hours, then gently tap off the silica gel and use the dried flowers for wreaths, or arrangements. Produce and baked goods
Every year I make up a few baskets for special friends. Included in the baskets are jams, squashes and potatoes I have grown, and a special jar of pickles or mustard. I make my grandmother's pickles in a large crock and seal them in small jars.
Fresh dill bread or pumpkin bread are appreciated by almost everyone. Or how about jam bar cookies, mincemeat pies, herbed bread sticks, or fresh cinnamon rolls?
If you are mailing cookies as a gift, choose raisin or fig or other dried fruit filling, as these will stay soft longer. Make sure you wrap them in several layers of plastic wrap. I pack mine in small cardboard or tin boxes, and then put those in a Christmas box for mailing. Butters and sauces
I grow elephant garlic in my garden and use it to make a garlic spread and garlic mustard, which make nice gifts. Other sauce gifts include barbecue sauce, tomato sauce for pasta, cherry or strawberry sauce for pound cake, or mint sauce for ham dishes.
Keep sauces refrigerated, and don't forget to label them. Most sauces will keep only about a week in the refrigerator unless they are processed and canned. Herb gifts
Herbs can be dried and crumbled into small jars or bags and given to the cooks on your list. Herb vinegars are made simply by putting fresh herbs such as oregano, basil, and thyme into a bottle of white vinegar and sealing. Herb Vinegar 1 quart white vinegar 1 clove garlic, minced 2 teaspoons sugar 2 sprigs fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried oregano 1 sprig basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Bring vinegar to boil and pour over herbs. Add sugar, salt, pepper. Pour into an attractive bottle, add fresh sprig of herb such as oregano. Let age about two weeks.
This is an excellent marinade for meat or chicken, or can be used to mix with olive oil for a great salad dressing. It is delicious used to marinate raw cucumbers or tomatoes, too.
Save small decorative jars (mustard and jelly jars) for gifts, such as sauces, mustards, and jams. You can also purchase jars at some stores and craft shops. Microwave Jam 2 cups diced or crushed strawberries, raspberries, peaches, or apricots 11/2 cups sugar 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Prepare fruit of choice and put in 2-quart microwave-safe casserole or mixing bowl. Add sugar and lemon juice. Allow mixture to stand until juices form - about 30 minutes. Stir once.
Microwave, uncovered, on high power for about 14 minutes. Stir when mixture begins to boil and about every 4 minutes.
Test for consistency at the midpoint of cooking. Add more time if you want jam to be thicker. When thick, pour into prepared, sterilized freezer containers, seal, and store in refrigerator or freezer. This jam keeps well for three weeks in refrigerator or four months in the freezer. Label after defrosting with an attractive label and tie a bow around container. You might want to include the recipe with the present. Makes 21/4 cups of jam. Gingered Pears 2 pounds firm, ripe pears, sliced and peeled 1 ounce ginger root, shredded fine 1 lemon 11/2 pounds sugar
Peel and slice pears. Shred ginger root and sprinkle over pears. Grate rind of lemon and slice lemon and combine with pears. Sprinkle sugar over pears and let stand in refrigerator overnight.
Next day simmer mixture slowly until liquid is thick. Remove from heat, ladle into jars, and store in refrigerator. Potpourri
Almost any fragrant flower, spice, or herb can be added to potpourri, depending on what you feel smells good. During the summer, I dry fragrant rose petals in a large basket, along with mint and several fragrant herbs.
Here is one way to prepare your potpourri:
Two quarts fragrant rose petals (try to use only those roses that have the best scent such as Sutter's Gold, Damask roses, and ``antique'' varieties of roses such as Rosa gallica.) 1 cup dried mint leaves 1 cup assorted herbs such as basil, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, or lemon verbena Grated rind of 1 lemon (grate rind and let dry three days) 1 tablespoon fresh grated nutmeg 1 teaspoon cinnamon 3 tablespoons orris root (this acts as a fixative to keep mixture fragrant)
Combine this mixture and put in large covered jar or bowl to ``cook'' for about two weeks before giving. If you wish, you can add four drops of a scented oil such as rose oil, peppermint oil, or sandlewood oil.