Dec 112009

If the idea of crafts does not excite you for handmade holiday presents, another option is food. Food is in many ways a great gift. It is delicious but also consumable so the giver doesn’t have to worry about storing it, dusting it, displaying it, etc. Food is the source of many fond holiday memories for many people. It is also one of the chief ways we hand down traditions from generation to generation and remember our ethnic and cultural heritage.

If you are a great cook, this is your moment to shine! You can adopt a signature food that you give every holiday season. Some of the staple food gifts in our families have been:

  • Virginia fudge (made in Utah! with brown sugar and marshmallows)
  • Greek cookies: Koulourakia, Melomakarona, and Baklava
  • White chocolate dipped pretzels (an interesting mixture of salty and sweet)
  • Garapiñados (candied almonds)
  • English toffee
  • Mint jelly

One of the most interesting food gift traditions to me is fruitcake. In my lifetime, I have met many people who make or give fruitcake but I have yet to meet a person who actually enjoys eating it! I don’t particularly care for it myself. I think some people make it out of a sense of obligation to traditions past. Fruitcake might have been a popular dessert at some point in time but in today’s world with so many options for sweet things to eat (especially chocolate), fruitcake seems more akin to something like wheat germ or spinach, that is good for you but not especially craveable, than a treat. (If you are a fruitcake lover, please fill me in on what I am missing in the comments.)

You can give food in many ways. My favorite way to receive food is in the ready-to-eat variety (a plate of cookies, a jar of salsa, etc.). You can also give pre-made baking mixes with a recipe attached. For a zillion, “mix in a jar” ideas, including cookies, flavored coffees, hot chocolate, soups and spice mixes, check out this link.   Another idea is to give a nice holiday card with one of your favorite recipes printed on the back (bonus points if you include a picture of the food or yourself or family members eating the food).

The downside of food gifts, of course, is when you have people with special diets or allergies on your list. Many people struggling with their weight detest receiving sweets. There are also those who are just picky and won’t eat anything that they don’t already know and like. For folks on a diet (and really anyone these days!), a smaller sized portion of your goodies would be thoughtful–enough to get a taste but not enough to over-indulge. For the picky folks, the recipe route might be the way to go, unless if you are willing to make a special food that is exactly to their liking.

If you are not a cook, you can of course purchase food as well. One of the most thoughtful presents I received when I just delivered my first child was a fruit and sweets box from Harry & David. It was great to serve to folks dropping in to visit or for us to snack on when I was too tired to cook. We have also received and enjoyed grapefruit juice from Pittman & Davis and Priester’s pecan pies. If you are going to purchase food, make sure you purchase something of excellent quality and something that the person is likely to eat.  Beware of cultural sensitivities in this area too.  Sausage or alcohol might be unacceptable to some people.  Less is more when it comes to food. A really nice small box of Godiva chocolates is more of a treat than an enormous but cheap assortment box. Local restaurants may also offer food gifts that could introduce the recipient to a new restaurant as well. The Metrocurean blog offers some great local food gift suggestions for those in the Washington, DC area.

This evening at sundown is the start of Hanukkah. Happy Hanukkah to those who celebrate! I looked up what foods are popular during Hanukkah. According to judaism.about.com, fried foods and dairy foods are the staple foods during Hanukkah. Soofganiot (fried donuts) and fried potato latkas are favorites. On the dairy side, cheesecake, cheese blintzes, cheese kreplach (like a tortellini) and even cheese pizza are popular. You also must check out this story on NPR about the Hanukkah song Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch wrote in collaboration with writer Jeffrey Goldberg….it’s actually kind of catchy!

Have a wonderful weekend!

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