Special to the Record
It’s gift giving season now and what better gift is there for those who have everything, than something homemade from the garden. A recent workshop hosted by the UC Master Gardeners, for Master Gardeners only, was a delightful foray into gifts made with herbs and such. To whet your appetite, and stimulate some gifts made from your garden, consider the following ideas gleaned from the Herb Study team, and beyond.
- Bay laurel wreath or swag: Considered one of the oldest cultivated trees, Laurus nobilis, or Bay laurel is an aromatic evergreen tree in the flowering Lauraceae family. Using a grape vine wreath or store bought frame as a guide and support, short branch trimmings can be easily wired to follow the wreath shape. Berries and bows add a festive look, and make a good gift for cooks, or just for the ornamental hanging. Bay laurel can also be added to a collection of evergreen branches, to hang as a swag on your front door. Another consideration for gardening friends, would be a little bay laurel potted plant. The gift that keeps on giving.
- Orange pomander balls: Especially with many citrus plants giving fruit these December days, a good craft to do with children, couldn’t be any simpler than whole cloves, oranges, or other citrus fruits, toothpicks and paper towels. Simply punch your fruit with the toothpicks, making a design as you go, then drill the cloves down into the holes. They make lovely hostess gifts, and will eventually dry in 4-6 weeks.
- Homemade vanilla extract: Another simple gift to make, is homemade vanilla extract made with vodka, or alcohol of your choice. “Vodka is most commonly used to make vanilla extract as it doesn’t add additional flavor, but any 35%+ ABV/70+ proof liquor will work (you can experiment and find what you like – popular alternatives are bourbon or rum)”, according to Beanilla.com (https://www.beanilla.com/blog/homemade-vanilla-extract#recipe). The ratio is one ounce of vanilla beans by weight, to one ounce of alcohol by volume. Put in a lovely bottle, and wait a few weeks, shake once or twice a week, then enjoy, or give to your cooking friends.
- Dried fruits: Fruits in season now, sliced and dried, make great gifts for anyone. I just bought a food dehydrator at an estate sale and hope to dry persimmons in time for my Christmas gifted friends. You don’t have to look far in San Joaquin County to be able to find a fruit stand selling local produce, or if you are fortunate enough, you have trees heavy with fruit ready for the giving.
- Herbed butter: How about some good homemade bread and some herbed butter as a savory gift? Dried basil, thyme, tarragon, Italian parsley, cracked pepper, or rosemary all make a good herbed butter. Simply soften the butter to room temperature and add the herb (s) of your choice. Shape back into butter wrapper, or small dish and refrigerate. Many recipes are available online to spark ideas. There are also many butter molds available online to add to the gift basket, or to make yourself and plate as a gift.
- Baked goods, pickles and preserves: UC Master Preserver Program’s website is chock full of good ideas for creating gifts from garden fruits, vegetables and herbs. Visit https://mfp.ucanr.edu/Resources_/Recipes_and_Information/Recipe_Card_Library/.
- Dried flower arrangements: Wreaths, wall art, and baskets can be arranged with dried flowers either store bought, or home dried. Pressed flowers can be used on bookmarks, candles, andeven jewelry. A quick check online will drop you down rabbit holes to explore to help give youmore ideas.
- For the birds: Homemade suet, another fun idea to do with children. Simple recipe is 1 cupshortening (such as Crisco), 1 cup crunchy peanut butter, 2 cups oatmeal, 1 cup cornmeal, and 2cups birdseed. Melt the shortening and peanut butter together in a heavy saucepan over mediumheat. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir in the oatmeal. Stir in the birdseed and cornmeal. Packdown tight into your containers for shaping the ‘bricks’ of suet. Wrap in aluminum foil. Placecontainers into the freezer overnight. Carefully remove the solid suet from the containers andfeed the birds. If you are a birder, consider the Backyard Bird count in February.Check out https://www.birdcount.org/.
Happy gifting from your garden !
Do you have a gardening related question? Contact the San Joaquin UC Master Gardeners at 209-953-6112. More information can also be found on our website ucanr.edu/sjmg.