Back in the days before I felt obligated to buy holiday presents for my friends and loved ones, I came up with brilliant and crafty ideas from time to time. Or, well, they always seemed brilliant and crafty to me.
My crowning achievement, amidst the stale cookies and the discount store candies, was a batch small snowman mints from a recipe I pulled out of an American Girl magazine. The book from which they were excerpted disappeared from bookstore shelves long ago, but thanks to the Internet, the recipe is still alive and well. If you choose to try these out, be careful with them. The batch that was to go to my mom's parents melted a bit during the six-hour car ride, and the batch for my dad's parents two days later never actually made it. Halfway there, to my dismay, they melted into a heap of marbled blue and white goop.
Most years since then I've knitted my gifts, with the occasional book or trinket thrown in on the side. But yarn can get expensive, and the price of books? Forget about it.
On Black Friday, I read the Facebook statuses of friends being trampled at Best Buy and Wal-mart, and I felt a little badly about my complete lack of motivation (and a large offshore savings account) to shop for gifts.
But then I realized that I could make food, which would involve much less work than knitting and much less money than store-bought gifts.
Baked goods are excellent, of course — cookies hold up well to travel, and most fruit breads and coffee cakes stay moist when kept covered. Fudge, granola and puppy chow (which is much less gross than it sounds) are also both festive and dangerously yummy.
But if we stray a bit off the beaten track, there are countless other ways to liven up your holiday gift-giving, and do it cheaply.
Even though apple butter takes a while to make, the work itself is pretty low intensity, especially if you have a crockpot. The Addy Indy's own Katie Flagg has already started making apple butter and canning it for gifts. Just think of how much less stressful your holiday season would be if you already had your gifts made. Here's hoping her relatives don't read this blog.
It's a bit past season for canning fresh fruits, but don't worry if you didn't think ahead — there are plenty of other things that you can toss into a jar. Think condiments. About.com's Gifts from your Kitchen list has recipes for honey mustard and apple mint chutney.
And for a slightly more expensive venture, the Massachussetts Maple Producers Association has a recipe for making maple candy and cream.
To package your gifts, just head down to almost any store that sells food or hardware to find mason jars, which are cheap and come in all sorts of sizes. Just tie a ribbon around the top and you're good to go!
Andrea does reporting and online media for the Addison Independent. You can find her on Twitter here or see other Table Talk entries here. Feel free to weigh in on this post or suggest future topics, either in the comments section below or at andreas [at] addisonindependent.com.