Preserving summer's harvest to give away in winter Gifts from the Garden

July 20, 1994|By Leslie Weddell | Leslie Weddell,Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph

Everybody knows one of those super-organized people who do all their Christmas shopping by Labor Day, address their holiday greeting cards by Halloween and mail their holiday thank-you cards on the way to the post-Christmas sales -- where they buy wrapping paper, greeting cards and a few gifts for the following year.

These folks don't need to be reminded that the lazy days of summer are the perfect time to gather the season's fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and turn them into jams, jellies, conserves, vinegars and liqueurs.

But anyone can take advantage of summer's bounty and be ready for the holidays with a larder full of gifts. Gifts from the garden are among the most personable, pleasurable and practical. In such a materialistic age, these gifts represent an appreciation of a back-to-basics lifestyle.

But the recipes don't have to be basic. We've collected a cornucopia of gourmet gift ideas, all of which can be made with produce from the garden or farmers market.

Homemade gifts allow for creative combinations: Add extracts, spices or citrus zest to jams; combine an assortment of herbs in flavored vinegars; tinker with the alcohol base and flavorings for homemade liqueurs. Making food gifts also saves money -- similar store-bought gourmet foods are expensive.

Decorate your gift with a jaunty ribbon or bow and attach the recipe. Package them appropriately; for instance, provide a set of cordial glasses with the homemade liqueur, a collection of breads and biscuits with an assortment of jams and jellies or a pretty ceramic plate with the giardiniera.

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Vary the herbs in these vinegars according to your taste. Tarragon, dill and raspberry vinegar are especially popular. Use vinegars as a flavorful pick-me-up for salads, soups, vegetables or meats.

Herb Vinegar

2 to 4 rosemary sprigs, each about 5 inches long

2 thyme sprigs, optional

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

white wine vinegar

Poke rosemary and, if desired, thyme sprigs into a 3 1/2 -cup bottle. Add peppercorns, then fill bottle with vinegar. Cork bottle and let stand (at least 3 weeks) in a cool, dark place to develop flavor.

Spicy Chili Vinegar

4 dry bay leaves

6 small dried hot red chilies

4 large cloves peeled garlic (impale on a thin bamboo skewer, if desired)

red or white wine vinegar

Poke the bay leaves, chilies and garlic carefully into a bottle. Fill the bottle with vinegar. Cork bottle and let stand (at least 3 weeks) in a cool, dark place to develop flavor.

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Great for an appetizer tray, these brightly colored mixed vegetable pickles are much like those in supermarkets. If you like spicy, include jalapenos -- you can increase the amount up to about half a pound.

Giardiniera

Makes 6 pints

1 pound baby carrots (or regular carrots)

1 pound celery

1 pound cauliflower flowerets

1 pound white boiling onions (small onions, about 1/2 - to 1-inch in diameter)

1 pound each: red and green bell peppers

1/4 pound fresh jalapeno chilies, optional

6 cloves garlic

5 cups distilled white vinegar

1 1/2 cups soft tap water or bottled distilled water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup mustard seeds

1 tablespoon canning salt or noniodized table salt

If using baby carrots, peel and cut in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1 1/2 -inch long pieces. Is using regular carrots, peel and cut into 1 1/2 -inch long julienne strips. Remove strings from celery; cut stalks in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1 1/2 -inch long pieces. Break cauliflower flowerets into 1 1/2 -inch pieces. Peel onions. Stem and seed bell peppers; then cut into 1/2 -by-2-inch strips. If using chilies, leave whole, making two small slits in each one. Peel garlic and cut each clove in half.

In a heavy-bottomed 8- to 10-quart stainless steel or unchipped enamel pan, mix vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds and salt. Bring to a boil, then boil for 3 minutes. Add all vegetables except the garlic. Bring to a boil (this may take about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, pushing vegetables down into liquid occasionally, until vegetables are almost tender when pierced (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Place two pieces of garlic in each prepared, hot wide-mouth pint jar. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from hot vinegar solution and distribute among jars, leaving 1/2 -inch head space. Pour remaining vinegar solution over vegetables in jars, leaving 1/2 -inch head space. Gently run a narrow nonmetallic spatula between vegetables and jar sides to release air bubbles. Wipe rims and threads clean; top with hot lids, then firmly screw on bands. Process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adding 1 minute for each 1,000 feet above sea level. Can be stored up to a year.

Note: If not being stored, the processing can be omitted. Let stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature, then refrigerate. Lasts up to 1 month in the refrigerator.

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