From preserved lemons and scrap scarves to flavored salts and bath melts, these handmade gifts can be made en masse for everyone on your list.
When I first started making holiday gifts I would make different things for everyone, an endeavor that I soon learned was not so compatible with things like a job. Or sleeping. Now I make things that can be created in batches; it is great way to still make handmade gifts while maintaining a little sanity. You can gather all the supplies at once and do everything in stages all together – and then personal touches can be added at the end, or in a card. Following are all things I have made over the years, some of them more successful than others – like, I thought preserved lemons would be my triumph? Uhm, nope.
Fancy bath salts
For these you need a few big bags of Epsom salts and a few drops of skin-friendly pure essential oil, and some type of inclusion to make it look interesting. (But not a lot of an inclusive thing, because too much is annoying to clean out of a bathtub.) I have done rose oil and petals, citrus with dried lemon rind, and a sporty one with rosemary. A nice recycled jar, label, done. Another idea: 8 homemade salt and sugar body scrubs
This is fun because it is seasonal and decorative, but then can go to the kitchen and be used up. I made simple wreath forms out of hanger wire, about 10 inches wide, but you could use anything. My garden had tons of rosemary and sage left, and a vendor at the farmer's market gave me great deal on a bulk purchase of other woody herbs to complete the wreathes. It is pretty easy to do, just secure alternating bunches to the form with florist wire (or other very fine gauge wire, or even twine) until they are full and festive. They smell so good.
Dried homemade pasta
Homemade pasta may seem tedious for a weekday dinner, but dedicating a day to it for gifts is another story. There will be flour in the air, and you will need room for it to dry, but once done, it's fun and special. You can flavor it and make it festive with different colors.
One year I made ravioli for all of my local people (I didn't think they would ship well). I made sheets of green pesto pasta and red pepper pasta, and used a star-shaped cookie cutter for the shape – so, they were stars, green on one side and red on the other. They were pretty cute. See the link in "Dried homemade pasta" above for more.
After I had exhausted all of the obvious "things in jars" options, I looked up homemade mustard and saw that it is really easy to make. I love this recipe from David Lebovitz.
Hot sauce may not be for everyone, but for heat lovers, well we know how obsessed they can be. I love making hot sauce; if you go in this direction, just remember to wear gloves when handling peppers. For recipes, like the Tunisian red chili paste harissa, homemade Sriracha, and a Tobasco-type sauce, see: 9 fiery hot sauces.
This was one of my first culinary gifts many moons ago, back when flavored vinegars were all the rage. I still stand by them; whether using herbs like dill or tarragon or fruit like raspberries, they are fun and versatile. The CSU Extension has a great primer on the topic, which you can see here. Alternatively, you could go with something like "DIY shrub syrup: How to make your own drinking vinegars."
I love flavored oils; especially spicy hot ones, or ones scented with citrus. One thing not to do is to make garlic oil that has garlic cloves in it that is not refrigerated – because nobody wants a bottle of botulism for Christmas. Checkout the CSU Extension page on flavored oils for more information.
One year I made batches and batches of five types of brownies; there were turtle ones with caramel and pecans, peppermint bark ones, dark chocolate and sea salt, peanut butter, and cheesecake-swirled ones. It was a big kitchen mess, but I mixed them up in packages and they were so decadent and over the top that it didn't matter that I was just giving baked goods.
Candied flowers / petals
I am not sure this was my biggest success. I got bunches of organic roses from the farmer's market and spent what felt like years painstakingly brushing each delicate petal with sugar syrup. In the end, somehow, I had like two little spice jars' worth. I mean, they were loved and the petals were gorgeous, but I kind of fell short. That said, you could try any of these, like flower sugar or flower syrup, which are all easier: 7 Simple Recipes For Preserving Edible Flowers.
Sweet and spicy nuts are fantastic. They can be snacked on with wine and cheese, tossed in salads, used to garnish pasta or side dishes, or randomly tossed into the mouth by the handful. The year I made big batches of nuts I thought I was kind of mailing it in because they are sooo easy to make. But everyone raved about them. I am not sure what recipe I used, but it was very much like this one for spiced pecans.
Homemade granola may not win you the same admiration that a big box of gooey brownies might, but it's healthy! And unexpected! I packaged it in big old Mason jars I got from a junk store, and it was cute. And I did make it a little extra decadent with lots of nuts and dried fruit, so it wasn't a completely Spartan affair. Here's my basic recipe: Make your own granola.
We somehow ended up with a box of cashmere scraps – some from old broken sweaters, some from secondhand shops, etc. I wish I had photos of the mufflers I made, but you will just have to use your imagination. I just cut out rectangles and stitched them tightly together using embroidery thread, (rather than going for a refined look, they were cute, chunky seams). I had enough fabric to make about five of them, each one about 10 inches wide and about four feet long. Cozy! The video above shows how to make ones that look a bit more refined than mine, they're cute too.
Some people have sweet tooths, I have a salt tooth. So one year, I shared the gift of salt. But I flavored it to make it, you know, a gift. I made seaweed salt – I wish I could say by harvesting ocean water and seaweed straight from the shore, but no, I ground up nori sheets and mixed them with sea salt. But I made it look pretty and it did taste great. I have also made lemon zest salt and porcini salt. For more ideas, see: How to make your own flavor-infused sea salt.
Whenever I am done with a vanilla bean, I sink it into a special sugar canister where all the vanilla beans go to die. But what a noble death, that sugar is magic. I mean, cinnamon sugar is one thing, but vanilla is out of this world. For a gift, one could give three small bottles of flavored sugars – vanilla, lavender, and cayenne for a little kick – and it would be lovely. It takes about a week of infusing for the flavors to take.
Calendar with homemade paper (made from old scrap paper)
I was really into making handmade paper from scrap paper one year, so I endeavored to make calendars out of it for everyone. I am not sure I would recommend doing exactly that, but the premise of a homemade calendar is really fun. If you are a scrap hoarder and/or have collaging accouterments on hand, you are halfway there. Bonus: You can add little notes throughout the year for a fun personal touch.
Oh man, this was going to be one of my greatest of gift givings. I pictured jars of bright vibrant lemons gracing everyone's Christmas haul, before being cherished with each Moroccan tagine made afterwards. I started in November and got all these beautiful quart jars from second-hand shops, scrubbed them, and filled them with salt and lemons. I stored them, rotating them regularly, and they turned out perfectly. And then I packed them up to send them to my family across the country ... and they were so heavy that, on my college student budget and having already spent too much on bushels of organic lemons, I could not afford to send them! So not a triumph. I gave them away to local friends instead, and learned a very important lesson about homemade gifts: Go light, or go home.