Homemade presents are always more thoughtful and personal than shop-bought equivalents. Even if you don’t think you’re particularly creative, artistic or good at cooking, don’t despair – there are lots of options for handmade presents that don’t require you to be Delia Smith or Picasso. Most, once you’ve got the ingredients together, take only a few minutes to put together and cost very little.
Gifts for food lovers
Flavoured chilli oil
Great for adding to salad dressings, drizzling over pizzas and pasta or basting chicken, this chilli oil is simple to make and looks impressive. Collect attractively shaped bottles over the year, and wash them out thoroughly before re-using. Dried chillies are available in packs from Indian food shops or larger supermarkets.
You’ll need: bottles, flavourless oil (groundnut or sunflower work well), 5 – 6 dried red chillies, label, ribbon
- Start by sterilising the bottles. Put the bottles and lids in a large saucepan of water, and bring the pan to the boil. Let it bubble for a couple of minutes, then drain the bottles and stand them on a heat-proof surface.
- Push three or four chillies into the bottle, then break the remaining chillies up and crumble the pieces in as well. Carefully top up the bottle with oil until it’s about an inch below the stopper, then seal it tightly. Add a gift tag and ribbon. Ideally, this oil should be made a few weeks before needed to give the flavours time to infuse.
Variation: Rosemary oil. In place of the chillies, use a long sprig of dried rosemary and a couple of teaspoons of chopped rosemary.
If you’ve bought a bumper bag of dried chillis, you can also try your hand at flavoured salt. This is great for flavouring roast potatoes, crisping chicken skin and adding a bit of zip to vegetables. All you need is an attractive, airtight jar such as a fancy jam jar or Kilner jar, washed and sterilised as above.
You’ll need: jars, seasalt, dried chillis, plastic bag, ribbon, label
Let the jars cool after sterilising them, and dry them thoroughly. Put two or three chillis in a plastic bag, and roll them in between your hands to crush them. Mix them into the seasalt, and pour them into the jar. Add a ribbon and label. You can vary this by using pretty much any kind of dried herb instead of chilli – rosemary, tarragon and oregano all work particularly well.
Variation: flavoured sugar. Instead of using seasalt, fill your jar with light brown sugar and add a vanilla pod, or a couple of cinnamon sticks, pushing them well under the sugar. Leave for a couple of weeks to infuse, so that your recipient will be greeted with a lovely rich aroma when they remove the lid. These flavoured sugars are great for baking and stirring into coffee.
Gifts for home lovers
Draw a heart template on stiff paper, and cut it out. Lay two pieces of fabric right-sides together, and pin the template to them. Cut the heart shapes out, and machine or hand sew them together, leaving an open slit down one long side.
Turn the heart right way out, and iron it into shape. Add some stuffing – you can use soft toy stuffing, cotton wool or old tights, cut up into small pieces – and a few tablespoons of dried lavender seeds. Hand sew up the slit with matching thread.
Sew on a loop of thread or ribbon, and disguise the stitchmarks with a button, bead or small bow.
Cup of flowers
Combining vintage crockery with spring bulbs or tiny plants makes for an individual and quirky gift. Scour charity shops and car boots sales for old jugs, lidless teapots or cups and saucers. Fill them with compost, and plant with small plants such as violas, voilets, forget-me-nots or daisies, and fill in any bare compost with moss. Tie a ribbon and label to the cup handle.
By Sara Walker