Newest Review: ... on all those lovely cold cuts of left over turkey meat. If you've never grown chillies before, here's a quick low down. You can ge... more
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Homemade Christmas Presents
Member Name: Stewwydablue
Homemade Christmas Presents
Advantages: Cheap, thoughtful and something good to do with the kids
Disadvantages: Not as easy as online present buying
You might think it's completely the wrong time of year to be writing about this, we've only just survived last Christmas and the next one seems a million miles away. However, there are some things that can be made into Christmas presents that require a little prior preparation. I'm lucky enough to be the father of two little girls, and we find that the following things to make are a good way to spend time with each other, and are gratefully received by the people we gift them to. They'll also save you a bit of cash too!
I'll try to include as much information as I can to help you make these things yourself.
When you take down your Christmas cards, sort through them and look for any that have a decent sized image on the cover that could be cut out and used as a gift tag for the following Christmas. We have some of those "crinkle cut" scissors that leave a zig-zag effect, and I supervise the girls as they cut out robins, snowmen, reindeers etc. One thing to check for is that the person who sent you the card hasn't written on the inside cover, you will be writing on this side so it needs to be blank.
When we have a nice pile of neatly cut out pictures, we then make one hole near an edge with a hole puncher. This allows us to thread a small length of ribbon through it so that the tag can be attached to a wrapped present. If you're careful, you can re-use the ribbons from presents you have unwrapped - no-one will ever know and together with the labels cut from cards, you've saved a few quid and also have one less set of things to buy in October / November as you prepare for the next Christmas.
We don't actually thread the ribbon through as soon as we've made the tags and punched a hole, but keep it all together in a box ready to be used nearer the time.
Start saving jam jars and their lids now. Then, starting in march, I plant some chillie seeds and nurture them from seedling to fully ripe chillies in September / October time. Chillies for Christmas on their own would be a bit "new age" for most of my family and friends to receive, so instead we make them into a "jam" which can be spread on all those lovely cold cuts of left over turkey meat.
If you've never grown chillies before, here's a quick low down. You can get seeds quite cheaply from shops such as Wilkinsons, B&M bargains etc. In March, pop a seed into a small pot of compost and keep moist and warm, it'll take a couple of weeks to germinate and start growing. At this stage, I keep my seedlings on my kitchen window sill - it gets a good chink of sunlight through the day through the window and stays warm because it is in the house. Don't let the soil dry out, but don't swamp them.
By about May, you should have a small plant that's about 3 or 4 inches high. Put this into a larger pot and either keep on your windowsill or put outside into a green house or under cover. As the summer progresses, you'll get small white flowers on the plant which will drop off and the chilli starts to grow where the flowers were. They're ready to pick late September / early October.
Once you've picked all your chillies, wash them, and remove the green stalk from the top. Finely chop them and remove some but not all of the seeds and white pith. The more of this that you leave, the hotter the chilli jam will be. Also, finely chop the same amount of red or green sweet peppers, prepared in the same way. If you can't be bothered doing all this fine knife work, then blitz the peppers and chillies in a blender for a few seconds. Put all of these in a big sturdy pan with roughly the same weight of golden brown sugar and roughly a quarter the equivalent weight of clear vinegar. You can add chopped garlic cloves and chopped ginger if you like for extra flavour and spice. Bring this to the boil and skim off any scum that appears on the surface. Once at the boil, turn down and leave to bubble away slowly for about an hour.
Now get your jam jars ready - wash and sterilise enough jars and lids to hold it all and use the type of lid that has a depressible safety button in on the top. I use the dishwasher to wash my jars and lids, then put them in a low oven for 5 minutes as an extra precaution. Use oven gloves to take them out of the oven, and try not touch the inside of the jars or lids once sterilised.
After this time, turn off the heat and carefully pour out the jam into a sterilised jar - using a funnel. Fill them right to the top and screw the lid on tightly straight away. The jars will be very hot so you might want to use oven gloves. When screwed on tightly, keep the jars hot by placing them in a bowl of boiling water. Every couple of minutes, try pressing down the button on the lid until it no longer pops back up - when the button stays down, the jars are sealed.
When I seal chilli jam in this way, it will last for months. When the jars have cooled, they can be stored in a cupboard out of sunlight until you are ready to get them out and start giving away as Christmas presents.
To make the jars more "Christmassy", I print out labels from the internet to stick on the jar, and to make the lids more festive I cut out a square of paper and let my girls colour them in and draw fancy patterns on them. These then get put over the lid and are held in place with either wrapping ribbon or tinsel - it's a bit fiddly but looks great when done.
Dead easy to make - peel and chop your apples, removing the seeds and hard bits around the seeds from the core. Then chuck into a big sturdy pan with the same amount of weight in sugar - I use ordinary granulated as there is enough pectin in the apples to help make it "jammy". To make the sauce taste more festive, I add a couple of teaspoons of ground allspice and two cloves - removing the cloves at the end prior to pouring into jars. I have been known to also add a splash of sherry. Bring the pan to a boil - as it gets hotter the sugar will melt and the juices from the apples will also be released, let it boil for a good five minutes then turn down so that it slowly bubbles away for about an hour. Prepare your jars as mentioned above for the chilli jam recipe, then funnel the sauce into the jars and do the "pop dwn lid trick".
Again, labels are easy enough to find and print off from the internet, or you can make your own and also the lids can be covered and decorated as per the chilli jam jar lids. 6 large Bramley apples made me 5 regular sized jars last year. Store it as per the chilli jam. I think they make a useful present as nearly everyone buys apple sauce for Christmas - tell the people you intend to give it to beforehand though so that they don't waste money on buying their own.
I make the apple sauce when Bramleys are in season in the autumn as the apples are noticeably cheaper.
Wash and de-stalk your cranberries, then add into your by now well used (but washed!) sturdy pan. Crush them ever so slightly with a masher, but not too much as they will pop themselves once the heat is high enough. Throw in roughly the same weight of granulated sugar, a splash of water and a splash of something alcoholic - port, red wine, sherry etc. Orange and lemon zest works well with this recipe too. Let the pan boil for five to ten minutes, then turn down and simmer for an hour. Easy peasy - cranberry sauce easy. Jar up as per above into pre-sterilised jars. I make this in November / early December when the supermarkets start selling cranberries for the Christmas season and it's something that most people will eat over Christmas so makes a handy present.
I also make my own Christmas cake, plus one for my mum, although I won't put the recipe on here as there are plenty of recipes kicking about on the internet. One thing we do as a family with the Christmas cakes is to follow the "stir up Sunday" tradition where, the last Sunday in November, we all have one stir each of the mixing bowl as it's supposed to bring good luck. We "feed" our cakes too - every 5 days we peel back the tin foil and drizzle a table spoon of sherry or brandy over it until it gets unwrapped two days before Christmas eve when we apply the marzipan. The day after that we roll out the icing and adorn the cake with decorations, then on Christmas Eve itself, we put the cake out and dig in!
These things that we make not only save a few quid, but they also ring true with the "it's the thought that counts" adage as it shows your gift recipients that you've spent a bit of time on them and their gift rather than just buying socks, shower gel sets and novelties like musical keyrings.
Thanks for reading.
Summary: Nice little touches for home made presents