Food gifts for the holidays are always welcomed. Most of us have a houseful of family, friends dropping by, parties to attend. What to serve? What to ship to those farther away?
If you're just dropping off some homemade goodies to neighbors, it can be just about anything: spiced nuts, a delicate walnut cake, cured salmon with creme fraiche (also homemade!), liqueurs, a loaf of bread.
If you're shipping gifts, there are many online resources for gourmet foods, such as Goldbelly, Omsom, Fly by Jing, D'Artagnan, Hatch Chili Store, Food 52, Masienda, Frog Hollow Farm. From Hanukkah chocolates to tamales to peach preserves, the possibilities are endless.
What if you want some great local items to ship? Consider jars of jams, hot sauces, or chutneys from Carissa's, L & W Market, Loaves and Fishes, Amber Waves, Harbor Market, Springs Fireplace. Local honeys are everywhere. Did you know that if you treat yourself to a teaspoon a day of honey from your region it can help your allergies? I do not have allergies so I can't put this to the test but Mary Woltz of Bee's Needs (the O.G. of East End beekeepers) told me this and I believe her.
How much you want to spend is up to you. A grand bottle of olive oil could cost $30 to $50. But a jar of beach plum jelly is less than $10. An extravagant gift that would no doubt be appreciated by the receiver (and the farmers) could be a winter or summer membership share to Amber Waves, Quail Hill, Balsam Farms, or Marilee's Farmstand. Restaurants offer gift certificates as do a number of high-end gourmet shops.
I have a community garden plot at Bridge Gardens where my herbs grow to enormously impressive heights and widths in our fine Bridgehampton loam. I dry huge bunches of sage, rosemary, thyme, and lemon verbena to give as gifts, either bundled with a ribbon or in a recycled Mason jar. That literally costs no more than the puny plant I purchased for $4.50 at Green Thumb last June.
Cooking equipment is another thoughtful gift. At the age of 35, my son is just now embracing cooking. He's going to get a Le Creuset casserole for roasting chickens and baking various gratins. (Don't worry, he doesn't read my column, so it will still be a surprise.) A good paring knife, or even a complete knife set, is one of the most helpful of tools in a well-equipped kitchen. A wooden salad bowl, a cutting board, hot pads, these can all be useful for your culinarily-inclined friends and family.
It is inevitable that someone might stop by your house or office with a weird re-gifted scented candle, a peculiar soap from HomeGoods, or some cocktail napkins with a dumb saying on them, like "I drink to make other people more interesting." Okay, that one is from Ernest Hemingway so I guess it's not that cornball. And yet. . . .
For those unexpected drop-bys, you should have a stash of food-related gifts: a jar of Virginia peanuts (addictive), a bottle of local wine, or a local cookbook.
One of my favorite discoveries is Fly by Jing, a company that makes a variety of Sichuan condiments. With rue, my heart is laden that there are no authentic Chinese restaurants out here, so attempting complex dishes at home is a necessity. Fly by Jing was started in 2018 with a Kickstarter campaign by Jennie Gao, born in Chengdu, China. Her first product was chili crisp, which soared in popularity immediately. Then Covid-19 hit and production and shipping issues ensued. Her company's growing pains have been eased, the product line has expanded to include frozen dumplings and other condiments, and she has changed her name back to her native Jing Gao. Once The New York Times, Forbes, and Eater wrote about her, the company, based in Los Angeles, became huge. You can find her tingly sauces at several local stores, I have seen them at Harbor Market and Sylvester's in Sag Harbor. Momofuku also makes an excellent chili crisp, along with a line of ramen packets that will make you and your teenaged offspring forget about the garbage at the grocery stores.
Omsom is another company that sells packets of seasonings to ease your way into making many Southeast Asian delicacies, like Thai larb and krapow, Filipino sisig, Vietnamese lemongrass barbecue, Korean bulgogi. Their recipes can be modified by using tofu and vegetables in lieu of meat, fish, or poultry.
Goldbelly is probably the biggest online source for all things food. You can get barbecue from Memphis, cakes from Charleston, even lobster rolls from the Lobster Roll, a.k.a. Lunch!
Masienda is a company based in L.A. that sells everything you need to make tortillas: organic nixtamilized heirloom corn, cookware and tools, heirloom beans, tortilla warmers, and a lot more.
The variety of food gift options has come a long way since the days when our family got jumbo tins of popcorn from our cousins in Detroit. And while I prefer to shop local, I am not averse to purchasing some of the delicious, peculiar, esoteric, and exotic comestibles from around the world. I hope some of these suggestions have sparked some creative ideas for your holidays, and may they be filled with warmth, good health, and cheer.