This time of the year we often get consumed with buying the best gifts and wrapping them beautifully, decorating our homes, baking treats and planning parties. Giving gifts is special during Christmas and what better way to treat your loved ones but with homemade gifts made with love?
These are some of my favourite gift to make and over the years they’ve warmed many hearts
- Potted Herbs
- Hot Pepper Pickle in Mason Jars
- Sorrel Jam
- Jamaican Coconut Cake
- Carrot Wine
- Potted Herbs
Apart from their marvelous flavour and nutritional value, most herbs can grow in all sorts of places such as rocky slopes, gardens, and space saving containers. What could be more useful than a pot of herbs for a gift? On the plus side, planting herbs in pots can give each herb the ideal condition it needs to thrive. Some good ones to plant are:
Basil is an annual herb (only lives for one season) and ideal for growing on a sunny deck, terrace or windowsill. Sow seeds, or plant seedlings, using standard potting mix and keep in a warm spot until it’s well established. Pots need to be deep as basil has a long taproot. Water well during dry weather but not at night as damp leaves can be susceptible to fungal disease.
There are many different varieties of mint including apple, pineapple, lemon and peppermint. These are best grown in large pots and not in the garden. Keep soil compost mix moist at all times and feed with a liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season. Place the container in a partly shaded area.
Parsley can be grown indoor or outdoor. They will thrive in pots if kept moist, harvested regularly and given a liquid feed occasionally. A little shade is best in summer and a sunny spot during the cooler months. Remove any flowers to ensure plants produce leaves and not seed. Both common and flatleaf parsley only live for two seasons.
Rosemary should be grown in a large pot as plants can reach a metre in height and spread. Proper drainage is crucial. Rosemary also needs little water, especially during the cooler months. During the cooler months position the container against a sunny wall and mulch around plants or move to a sheltered spot. Trim after flowering to keep it in shape.
Common sage, the one used most often in cooking, is evergreen and perennial. Sage plants can reach up to 60 cm in height and spread. Therefore, choose a reasonably large container that is not too shallow and has good drainage. It is best to use a mixture of composted fine bark and soil-based compost. Always remember to trim back after flowering in summer and avoid over-watering.
There are many different varieties of thyme to choose from, they are evergreen and perennial as well. Some strains of thyme grow low, while others will reach about 30 cm in height. They all do well in containers provided the soil is well drained and they get plenty of sun. Avoid using fertilizers and keep watering but do not over water!
- Jamaican Hot Pickle Pepper
This recipe has been a staple in the Jamaican household for decades. Growing up in the rural parts of the country most kitchen tables had a hot pickle pepper to be accompanied with meals.
Before Jamaican hot sauce there was hot pepper pickle, the original Jamaican preserve. Some call it “Hot Pepper Pickle” and some call it “Hot Pickled Peppers”. The mixture is for those who like their food spicy. It is relatively easy to make and will last for a very, very long time. I have had a jar of hot pepper pickle in my fridge for a few years and it is still as fresh as the day I made it!
This recipe will fill a 1-quart mason jar. However, you may double it and use small jars to share as gifts for the spice lovers in your life.
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1 chocho peeled and thinly sliced
6 scotch bonnet peppers, sliced
2 cups (500 ml) white vinegar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried pimento berries (whole allspice)
2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
1-inch fresh ginger, sliced (optional)
Warning! After you slice the scotch bonnet pepper, wash everything that encountered the pepper with cold water, for example: the cutting board, knife, and rubber gloves.
- 1. Place the mason jar and lid in a large pot of water and boil for 20 to 30 minutes; use tongs to remove jar from the pot and set aside
- 2. Warm vinegar, sugar, salt and pimento berries in a saucepan; set aside
- 3. Layer the vegetables, peppers and pimento berries in jar; press to pack in jar
- 4. Using a funnel, pour the warm vinegar mixture into a jar; set aside and cool
- 5. When cool, put the lid on jar and refrigerate
Decorate the bottle with festive ribbon with a small card expressing exactly what the person means to you.
- Sorrel Jam
During Christmas time Sorrel juice is a MUST. While most people like it served with ice, I like it both warm (like a tea) and cold. The same process for making the juice will be used. However, I will go a step further and make a delightful jelly that can be used as a condiment for breakfast toast or as a spread on top of a slice of ham during the festive season.
Recipe for Sorrel Jam
100-gram dried sorrel petal
10 cups water
3-5 thick slices ginger
1 stick cinnamon
1 orange (cut into segments)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated is best)
5-6 cups granulated sugar
1 package of (pectin) powder gelatin
- In a big pot, place the dried sorrel, stick of cinnamon, orange segments (with skin), ginger, nutmeg, cloves and top with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
- Cook for 30 minutes to intensify the flavor and to reduce.
- Turn the stove off and allow the mixture to steep for 30 minutes or until completely cool
- Strain and discard the solids, about 4 cups of sorrel liquid. It is recommended that straining a couple times will ensure you do not get any small pieces in the finished jelly.
- Pour the sorrel liquid back into the saucepan and heat a second time on medium heat. Pour in the sugar and whisk to melt the sugar crystals. Simmer for 20 minutes to reduce the spicy Sorrel flavor.
- Add the lemon juice and stir. This will help to balance the ph of the finished jelly.
- Whisk in the pectin and thicken. Add more if you want it more of a jam consistency. 2-3 minutes later until done. As it cools it will thicken further.
- Place hot mixture in sterilized glass containers and seal.
- Store in a cool dry place. Once the jar is open it must go into the refrigerator.
This can be packaged in a nice mason jar with a bandana ribbon around it and given as a gift for Christmas. An open jar will last for a couple of months in the refrigerator easily.
- Coconut Cake (Jamaican Toto)
Many are not big fans of the traditional Christmas cake for various reasons. Whatever the reason, Christmas does not have to be celebrated with the traditional fruit cake. Coconuts are always in season and grow in abundance in Jamaica.
Why not use them to make a coconut cake? Here’s a favourite recipe of mine.
1 tsp ginger (ground)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 tsp allspice
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 cups flour (all-purpose)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter
2 cups milk
1 tbsp Jamaican rum (optional)
1 1/2 cups grated coconut (dried) unsweetened or freshly
Image Published in the Gleaner Tuesday | July 28, 2015 | 12:00 AM
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Grease an 8 "x 12" baking pan.
- Using a stand-up mixer, cream the butter and sugar, then add the vanilla and the eggs and beat for additional 2-3 minutes.
- In a separate bowl sift flour, and baking powder. Mix in the cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.
- Slowly begin adding the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Add the evaporated milk 1/2 cup at a time. Add the coconut milk.
- Finally add the shredded coconut 1/2 cup at a time.
- Pour into baking pan and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
- Place the cake on a cooling rack and allow it to come to room temperature.
This can be made and packaged in small transparent bags and placed in a woven basket decorated nicely with festive colours or covered with a clean vibrant tablecloth or bandana tablecloth.
5. Homemade Carrot Wine
Jamaicans are experts at “tun yuh han’ mek fashion”. Did you know that many fruits can be used to make wine? Peanut, cashew, breadfruit, guava, mango, pineapple, Otaheite apple, sorrel, Irish potato, sweet potato & yam are all good options.
Carrot wine is one of the delicious and tasty treats I like to make, bottled and give away as Christmas gifts. Based on the time involved, if you haven’t started yet, this will make a new year gift.
3 lbs of carrot
10 cups water
1 tbsp cloves
2.5 lbs sugar
½ cup raisins
2 tbsp cracked wheat
2 tsp yeast
- Zest the lemons and keep aside. Then make lemon juice. Keep aside
- Wash then peel carrots and chop them in a food processor
- Bring the water to a boil. Add the chopped carrots and cook again on medium heat until soft
- Remove from heat and let it cool
- Add the lemon zest and lemon juice when it is still warm
- Transfer the carrot lemon mix into a large glass jar
- Add sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon
- When the mix is cooled completely, add the raisins, cloves and cracked wheat and mix well
- Sprinkle the yeast on top of the mix. Do not mix. Let it sit undisturbed for a day
- Cover the mouth of the glass jar with a cheese cloth and wrap tightly
- Let it ferment for 21 days. Keep stirring everyday with a wooden spoon
- After 3 weeks, strain the fermented liquid using a strainer or cheese cloth
- Then transfer to the bottles and cork tightly
- Chill and serve
Recipe Notes: You can add more sugar after straining if you wish. If you like a boozy wine, age it for 3 more weeks to get a rich colour and strong punch. The hardest part in winemaking is the waiting period, 3 weeks.
Using a clean Rum Bottle without label, pour in liquid and seal. Then decorate with a silk Christmas ribbon and a card attached or type and print a large, personalized label and paste all around the bottle. This is an inexpensive gift to be given to many friends and family.
Programmes and Production Supervisor of KOOL 97 FM.
She enjoys cooking, gardening, interior decorating and planning events.