It’s mid-December, Use Good Stuff fans, and that means there are only so many more sleeps until that big ol’ jolly fella squeezes his butt through your heat pump to drink your low fat soy milk and snack on your Mallowpuffs. While some of you clever so-and-so’s have shopped ahead of time online or caught one of the multiple Briscoes ads about yet another sale and acted on it, some of us were not so clever. Maybe we got lost in the Briscoes Lady’s eyes and time and space floated away. It’s easily done. She’s a babe. Never fear. Your local mall is open 24/7 and has endless possibilities for thoughtful gifts that you still have time to rustle up, and it’s all in your back yard. Here are some ways you can use your garden to create presents that will keep you off the naughty list.
Make a Jam or Preserve
If you have anything remotely fruity in your garden, a jam or a preserve made with your homegrown produce is an excellent present to give someone else. Single fruit jam is quite a simple step-by-step and with a bit of patience, or with the assistance of a friend who has made jam before, you will get there. I made strawberry jam with strawberries from my patch last year and it was a hit. Here is how I did it:
Firstly I saved my fruit gradually over time rather than trying to keep fruit on the plants until I’m ready to make the jam. I did this because strawberries are easily stored in the freezer (if anything they are easier to deal with once defrosted than fresh fruit) and you don’t risk losing them all to birds or rotting. Freezing is not ideal for all fruits so if you are dealing with another type of fruit then it might be worth a Google first.
Once you are ready to make the jam you need to deduce how much sugar you will need. General ratio of fruit vs sugar for jam is 1:1, so measure your fruit (called hulling) and then match that with your sugar. Make sure your fruit is clean and clear of anything that isn’t the pure fruit, I cut off the little leaves and such before putting the fruit into the freezer. You can also use fruit that may have had a slight bird attack by cutting off any part of the fruit that is affected and putting the rest of the good, clean fruit in the freezer. Make sure the jars and lids you are going to use are clean and better to prep more jars than you think you will need. If the fruit is frozen then the act of defrosting them should make them pretty mushy but if you are using fresh fruit you might find its helpful to cut or mash up the fruit a bit.
Put your fruit in a pot with about a quarter of your sugar and start to cook, making sure you are stirring enough because you don’t want to burn it. You can add pectin- that will help your jam set to a good consistency- but you don’t have to. Now add some lemon juice (how much depends on how much jam you are making, give it a Google) into the pot and bring to the boil. You will get a sore arm from stirring but everyone wants some sweet Christmas guns, right?
Warm your jars and lids now by putting them in warm water or some such. Keep stirring till you hit a boil which can’t be deterred by your stirring and chuck in the rest of your sugar. If you are using pectin, once the consistency is good then you are good to plonk it in the jars and seal it with the lids. If not, the way to check your jam is ready is pop a little bit on a saucer and tip it and see how it reacts. It needs to not be watery and run away on you. That’s the sweet spot. Once in the jars and lids on, you are good. If you are not sure the seal is good (you need a good seal for the jam to maintain its integrity) then you can boil the jars of jam in a hot water bath. I’ve never had to do that so I’m not going to give you any tips on it.
Done! if you want to be a real cutie you can get some tartan fabric squares and rubber bands to pop on the lid or make a cute label to stick to the jar about it’s vintage.
Lemon curd is delicious and versatile. It can be lemon honey on your toast, or you can spread it into a pastry casing and make some tarts or a lemon meringue pie. So great. I am optimistic that you will have a tree full of lemons, but if not you can get some from your farmers market. Hit up those jars, like above, and give them a good clean if you just want to give the gift of curd. All you need is 1/4 of a cup of soft butter, 3 large lemons to juice and to grate the rind of, 1 cup of caster sugar, 4 tablespoons of cornflour, 3 egg yolks and 1 cup of water. That ratio is pretty much what I use every time but some things will depend on your lemons or your cookers, etc.
My advice, pop the butter, lemons, sugar and egg yolks in the pot with half the water. Some people use double boilers for curd but I haven’t had any success with them. If it’s worked for you in the past then totally rep it.
Put it on the stovetop with your cornflour and water handy. Stir frequently making sure it doesn’t burn or that you don’t cook the egg. Keep adding the water slowly. Once all of the water is in, you will start to get a good idea of the consistency. You need it to be like jam or thicker. Cornflour will thicken it up so add it in tablespoon at a time. After each tablespoon mix thoroughly and see if it is thickening on the heat. You might need more than 4 tablespoons, you might need less – just make sure you don’t burn the curd and that you are giving each tablespoon of cornflour an opportunity to mix in and do its stuff. You’ll get there but because it’s reliant on a few variables it may take a while. Keep stirring and keep the faith. Bam, curd!
Chuck it in jars or I would highly suggest making a lemon meringue pie. You can buy the sweet pastry pre-baked or frozen sheets or make it from scratch, regardless, your curd will make it awesome. You could also buy a pack of meringues to place on top or make some meringue with left over egg whites from earlier and, once the curd is in the pastry shell, give it a bit of time to cool off and smooth the meringue over the pie making sure you are sealing in the curds and the meringue is meeting the pastry round the each. Bake that sucker till its brown. You are done. Beaut.
OK, OK, I’m sure it seems weird, but this gift I pump most Christmases and it goes down better than a cheeseburger chaser. Just grab any flowers that are in bloom around your house (don’t steal from other people’s places) (or do) (I mean just judge it in yourself) and as long as they aren’t weeds then they are beautiful. Some of you are lucky enough to have Christmas lillies, GIVE THEM AWAY TO PEOPLE WHO WILL APPRECIATE THEM. MY next-door neighbours paid like $50 for a bunch of them last year.
Don’t be afraid to incorporate edibles! Rosemary, kale, lime leaves all give your bundle a unique look and makes it smell actually delicious. Grab some wire from a craft shop and a box of cheap Christmas baubles. Thread the wire through the loop of the baubles and make them a flower stem shape and place them throughout your floral masterpiece. Seriously, it sounds weird but those baubles actually look boss as if placed correctly. Wrap it in some Christmas paper and put a ribbon around it (what else) and if you have time make a little water parcel to keep them fresh for the journey.
If all of this seems a bit too fiddly for you, you could give a friend a cutting of a successful plant in your garden for them to plant! Not all plants will work for this obviously, but rhubarb is a great gift and all you have to do is dig a section of it out of the ground and plant it in a good shaded position in someone else’s garden. With some water and some attention it should be good to go. Give your strong plants a Google to see if you can gift cuttings.
Or if you get really desperate, anything your garden is producing is a gift. A bag of home grown spuds, lemons, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, man just whatever. People are grateful for things you have put thought and love into. As far as I can tell, that’s actually what Christmas is meant to be about. I gave my friend Kathleen a plastic bag full of potatoes for her birthday one year and she was delightfully stoked.
Merry Christmas, homies. Eat heaps. High five your loved ones. Take a day off discussing how to save the world and put your feet up and have some lols.
Much love baes, E Cus x
image via https://littlesliceoflife.wordpress.com/2008/11/08/preserves-for-christmas/