I had a slight epiphany (I say “slight” because I think I had this epiphany before. Or maybe that’s a re-piphany). Anyway, it seemed worth sharing in case anyone out there needed the reminder I just gave myself: Local food makes a lovely gift!
I was feeling a little panicky about the impending holiday because, while I am really excited about the seeing-family-and-friends part, I did not feel very prepared about the gift-giving part. My family refuses to embrace the one-gift policy, though we have given heifers and honeybees in honour of each other from time to time. I know there are many other ways to celebrate the season. Many people out there are successfully embracing the idea of having the holidays NOT be about “material stuff”, and that’s an important conversation to have this year. But if, like me, your family is not all on board yet, arriving with small and thoughtful food gifts may be a good transition or a new tradition.
So, this week as I looked at the few presents I had socked away over the year, I suddenly recalled that I planned to give each family household a jar of my first-ever pickling project (a.k.a. “Libby Dean’s Dilly Beans” has a nice ring to it, eh?). In fact, I recalled that one year I brought a jar of local (to Maine, where I was living) dilly beans to give to one of my sisters’ kids to share. It was their favourite present. They gobbled the green beans in a just a few minutes, before breakfast. My kinda kids!
Of course, when I hauled out my precious 6 jars of personally pickled dilly beans I had to open a jar just to be sure it was a worthwhile thing to share. It was! Crunchy and dilly summer-time green-ness in a jar! [And by the way, pickled beans and their juice are great in a classic (dirty) martini, if martinis feature in your Yule-time plans or your pickle-gift recipients are in need of an alternate way of consuming them].
One aside here: I travel for the holidays and will not see many of my friends until New Year’s Day, so I’d also like to put in a word for the tradition of ‘first footing’ that I experienced when I lived in the Highlands of Scotland. The first person to cross the threshold in the New Year is called the “first-foot” (look it up for more lore).This person is expected to bring several gifts, primarily whisky but also a coin, bread, salt, and a lump of coal. These represent wishes for the household to experience (respectively) good cheer, prosperity, enough food, good flavour, and sufficient warmth. It is easy to find meaningful local representation for all of these good wishes and of course you can add your own take on it and include other wishes (shelter, compassion, health).
So in case, like me, you have had a recent little ‘uh-oh’ feeling about the holidays, think local food gifts. I think it’s lovely to get a food gift and there’s really something for everyone. Some of my personal favourites available here in the Halifax area are listed below with ‘pairings’ if you feel extra creative.
1. Maple cream or maple sugar candy. I get blocks of maple cream from Ripley’s since it come as a wax-paper-wrapped ingot of sweet delight (just be sure to tell an unfamiliar-with-maple-cream the recipient that it’s not soap!). [Pairings: a little locally-made cutting board, maple wine, mittens].
2. Honey. There are several local vendors to choose from … a heavy jar of amber honey is a solid and cheerful gift that will make the receiver think of you whenever they have it! [Pairings: local herbal tea, a salad-dressing recipe that uses honey, local bread]
3. Lobster. Off the Hook, our local community supported fishery (CSF), is offering fresh, live, hard-shell lobster straight from the Bay of Fundy. Lobsters are $10 each, and must be ordered in advance. (Deliveries will be at the Halifax Brewery Market on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve) (Pairings: local wine, local butter!]
4. Jam or pickles. Homemade is great, but of course there are rainbow rows of jams and pickles to choose from at the farmer’s markets. [Pairings: local bread, local vodka or gin for that martini, locally-made pottery bowl]
5. Local wine or local beer (or, for that matter, local blueberry or Arctic kiwi vodka) [Pairings: local food and your fine company to share]
Giving the gift of local food is a great way to share my interests, support the local economy and stick to my values! Plus I ensure that I eat well with those I love. I wish you all the same joys.
~Libby Dean (‘Our Food’ researcher at Ecology Action Centre) is driving to Boston with her partner and several jars of honey and Dilly Beans for Christmas with their relatives. She plans to come back to Nova Scotia with peach jam and pickled wild mushrooms her friends’ farms in Waldo County, Maine. (Wish her luck at the border).