Ever since I was a kid, I have valued hand-made and homemade gifts. Forget your Macy’s gift cards and your Land’s End slippers, if you want to make me happy, give me something that you have taken the time and effort to make by hand.
I’m lucky to have friends who feel the same way. Over the past two decades, I’ve given baked goods, handcrafted chocolates, quilted table runners, even beaded jewelry and bookmarks, to friends and coworkers for Christmas and birthday gifts.
I had quite a streak going with the handcrafted chocolates. It started in 1994 when my friend Chip suggested we take a chocolate candy making class through the county’s Adult Education program. Since it was chocolate, he didn’t have to twist my arm.
For the next 20 years, Chip and I would gather at his house or mine…and later at my mom’s house in WV…to dip, drizzle and divide up our spoils. These candies were extremely popular with friends and co-workers, who would remind me of their favorite variety in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
But life brings changes, and eventually Chip was transferred to a job in another part of the state. Mom and I attempted to keep the tradition going but frankly, it got too expensive to continue. So I had to look elsewhere for inspiration.
And that’s how I got started making jellies and jams.
As a city girl, “canned” to me always meant something you’d buy at the grocery store. I knew nothing about pressure cookers, wide-mouth jars and pectin. But a couple of summers ago, I asked one of my mom’s West Virginia buddies to teach me how to can. While I’ve never gotten over my fear of the pressure cooker (used for canning low-acid items like beans and corn), I’ve mastered the art of the water bath and have branched out from basic strawberry jam to more exotic offerings like peach salsa, tomato jam and wine jellies.
I’ve even won some ribbons for my efforts at the county fair: Five Blue Ribbons (first place), four Red Ribbons (second place) and four White Ribbons (third place), and “Best of Show”. Not bad for a novice, huh? And speaking of ribbons, I highly recommend Linda J. Amendt’s book, “Blue Ribbon Preserves: Secrets to Award-Winning Jams, Jellies, Marmalades and More.” I have grown to regard it as my canning bible.
So this weekend, as I begin to organize my Christmas gift list, I’m going to whip up a batch of Blueberry Marmalade to give as hostess gifts during the holiday season. Or maybe four or five batches…you can never have too much marmalade this time of year!