Simple recipes can make a big impact as gifts

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2020

As we enter the holiday season, it’s a great time to consider homemade or purchased preserved foods for gifting to loved ones.

While these are thoughtful and tasty gifts on their own, given the current conditions of the pandemic, they are also practical gifts to help people stock their pantry and minimize trips to the grocery store.

We’re lucky that Virginia’s apple season stretches into November, and you can use local apples in preservation recipes. Some water bath canning options include applesauce, apple butter, and apple pie filling. I recommend Food in Jars’ blog for these recipes. Dried apple slices, oranges and pears make beautiful additions to holiday decor, and you can decorate a wreath with them for gifting.

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There are simple recipes that can make a big impact as gifts. These include homemade vanilla extract, limoncello and dried soup mixes. I recommend Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for vanilla extract and the blog Love and Olive Oil’s recipe for limoncello. Both recipes involve soaking ingredients in vodka, and I’ve found that standard 80 proof vodka works fine rather than more expensive and pure alcohol (though I always soak my lemon peels for a month to extract the most flavor).

If you still have vegetables in your garden, you can dehydrate them and make dried soup mixes to gift in mason jars or plastic bags. Dried carrots, onions and garlic are a great base for a wide range of soups into which you can add pasta, beans or rice with dried spices. If you have leftover dried tomatoes from the summer you can add those, too. You can also take it up a notch by gifting a jar of dried veggie and noodle soup along with a pasture-raised chicken from the local farmers at Pamplin Poultry.

Local farms and food businesses are a great place to look for delicious gifts without the work of making them yourself. Under Virginia’s Cottage Laws, these businesses can make their own jams, pickles, and other products safely to sell directly to customers. A great place to start your search for these locally-made goods is the Heart of Virginia Buy Fresh Buy Local website: There is a list organized by county with each producer’s website or contact information, so you can find your gift items as well as local produce, meat and eggs for your family.

Preserving food for gifts is an economical choice as well, saving money as well as time shopping from store to store – or more likely this year, from website to website as you shop online. If you are in need of a recommendation, many of our clients at Virginia Food Works sell their products online, and I can point you their way. If curry sauces, jams, marinara sauce, pepper jellies or tea blends peak your interest, feel free to email

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on our website:

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at