Holiday Gifts for Food Lovers of All Stripes
“The harried modern person looks to the winter holidays like someone slumped across a railroad track contemplating an oncoming train,” mused food writer Laurie Colwin more than 20 years ago. Her words resonate today amid the ever-increasing shopping frenzy and hype, and I, for one, refuse to get caught up in the fray.
Not that I’m a total curmudgeon, mind you. Choosing just the right present for someone is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Below are some ideas fitting the sustainable ideal in one way or another that have caught my fancy.
For an Aspiring Orchardist or Cider Maker
Thanks to the thriving interest in eating locally wherever you may be, a whole new generation or two has discovered not just the amazing diversity of apples in the United States but their links to the culture and history of various regions. In the postelection turmoil, I can also think of nothing more optimistic and cheering than cultivating trees.
The folks at your local county extension service can help you find nearby specialty nurseries for heirloom stock, but here are several mail-order sources I know about firsthand: in the East, Century Farm Orchards in North Carolina, which specializes in old Southern varieties, and Vintage Virginia Apples. Trees from $20.
If you’re feeling flush, why not include a copy of Old Southern Apples, by Creighton Lee Calhoun Jr. or Apples of North America, by Tom Burford—both classics and beautiful books to boot.
Fans of Diane Flynt’s splendid Foggy Ridge hard ciders (which made my 2015 list of gift picks) should know that the award-winning cider house in the Blue Ridge Mountains also offers a wide array of scion wood (budded dormant sticks) for traditional English cider apples (including Dabinett and Tremlett’s Bitter), as well as American heirlooms such as Hewes Crab and Harrison. The scion wood comes in 10-inch sticks. $3.50 each ($35 minimum order). Curious about hard cider in general? Got you covered.
If you’re based in the western United States, one small yet great source for apple and other fruit and nut trees is the Felix Gillet Institute, named for the father of perennial agriculture in California and the Pacific Northwest and “dedicated to the appreciation, preservation and propagation of edible and ornamental heirloom perennials from the Sierra.” Trees from $30.
For Bakers and Whole-Grain Lovers
We all know that messing around in the kitchen somehow makes us feel better, but as it turns out, there might be a scientific reason why. On Nov. 29, the Smithsonian reported that a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology may suggest that people who frequently involve themselves in small, creative projects like baking report feeling more relaxed and happier in their everyday lives. Let’s take that and run with it.
Ever since I wrote about the virtues of grinding your own flour—a terrific example of how something that takes just minutes repays you a thousand times over with freshness and flavor—I’ve been mildly obsessed with household mills. Yes, they can be super expensive, but personally, I’d be thrilled to find a Mockmill, an attachment to fit stand mixers, under the tree this year. $149, Mockmill.
For DIY Fermenters
The beauty of this countertop-friendly two-liter fermentation crock from J.B. Prince, one of the world’s top purveyors of culinary equipment, is that it’s clear glass, so it’s easy to keep an eye on the transformative process within, whether making pickles, kimchi, sauerkraut for a simple choucroute garnie, or more. $30.
Now, a spot of shameless self-promotion: Throw in a copy of the inaugural issue of Cured, a magazine devoted to the art and craft of preserving food. I’m the executive editor, but even if I weren’t, I’d still think it’s the hottest new publication out there. Available at selected indie bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and by mail order from curedmagazine.com (shipping is free, free, free); $20.
For Cheese Heads
These days, when you can get a perfectly serviceable piece of cheese at a big-box store, a cheese-of-the-month club or sampler sounds outmoded—but not when you’re talking the finest artisanal examples from Formaggio Kitchen, the legendary shop in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York (it also offers tasting classes). Gild the lily by adding a copy of the just-published The Oxford Companion to Cheese, the most comprehensive (and compulsively readable) reference book on the subject. Cheese clubs, from $225; samplers, from $33.
For the Hostess
Helping to fill someone’s house with delicious things to eat or otherwise use up and enjoy is something that will be appreciated and remembered long after the holidays are over. In a perfect world, of course, you would have the time to make something—a roll of slice-and-bake cookies or cheese wafers, for instance, that the lucky recipient could tuck into the freezer for a later date (or not).
An inspired pairing of honey and beeswax candles or pure maple syrup and artisanal pancake mix are a couple of tried-and-true options. When it comes to the freshest possible extra-virgin olive oil, look no farther than the new Limited Reserve from top-drawer producer California Olive Ranch. This, the first harvest of the 2016 season and tremendous bang for the buck, is made in the Italian “early harvest” tradition—that is, bottled with little nuggets of the olive fruit, and it’s richly flavored without being too grab-you-by-the-throat peppery. 500 ml bottle, $20.