Last week, I told you I am a proponent the Gift of Food for basically any occasion. I simply have never met the arrival of an assortment of brownies, biscotti, or fruit with anything other than delight. Gifts of food or beverage, if thoughtfully chosen for the specific recipient, will always be welcomed, because not only do people need to eat, people often also do not need (or want) more stuff.
I asked Lifehacker readers for input as to which consumable gifts are good consumable gifts (and which aren’t), and you came to the comments with thoughts, opinions, suggestions, and some caveats that are important to note:
1. A gift of alcohol should only be given, EdnasEdibles points out, “if you know that the person drinks, that they’re OK with their level of drinking and that they will actually drink what you’ve given them.” Otherwise you may be inadvertently sabotaging someone who is trying to reduce their alcohol consumption.
2. You must take any dietary issues into consideration, because as jjdebenedictis says, “I have a load of dietary issues, and if someone gives me cookies, that’s a big ol’ sad for me, because I would like to eat them, but can’t.” (Don’t make jjdebenedictis sad!)
With that, let’s discuss the best — and worst — consumable gifts you can give this holiday season.
Best: Homemade jams and jellies
This is an undisputed winner of a gift. There are few things in life better than the moment when someone you love (or even just tolerate) hands you a jar of homemade jam. It’s magical; it warms you from the inside-out; it makes you love (or tolerate) them even more.
“I gift home made jams and jellies. You would think that I was giving some kind of nectar of the gods. People always ask for more, especially the plum & strawberry varieties.” (PhoebeCaulfieldTheThird)
It is the nectar of the gods, PhoebeCaulfieldTheThird; we know how much time and effort goes into it. Enough to threaten 8×10’s marriage, in fact:
“In the past, I have made apple butter and blackberry jelly (I have thornless blackberry bushes, that are a bit tart for raw eating, but fabulous for pies and jelly) to give away at holidays. But it takes so much time, my wife gets irritated that I am spending so much time in the kitchen. Apple butter from raw apples is pretty much an all day project.” (8×10)
Best: Condiment variety packs
Last year, the Lifehacker staff did a little Secret Santa gift exchange and my Santa, Senior Health Editor Beth Skwarecki, gifted me a variety pack of Stonewall Kitchen mustards, because she is a good person and wants me to be happy. Wendy Rhodes concurs:
“I love, love, love me condiment variety packs since I cook so much.”
Best: Something local
Giving someone a consumable gift and giving your business to locally owned shops is basically the gift-giving sweet spot for me. Jams from local farms, olive oils from the little shop on Main Street, chocolates from the place up the road that makes the best damn nonpareils…I could practically check every person off my list just by roaming through my city. And you probably can, too.
“Let’s hear it for small businesses in your area! I know for a fact that there are jam-makers, honey-bottlers, fermentation gurus, and baking fiends in your backyard. Do some tasting now, and get your favourites for your friends.” (OracleAnne)
“If possible: something local, or more generally something special you have access to. Options include something you bring back from one of your trip, something made by a local farm, a specialty of your home town, something from a particularly good local shop, something you made yourself. It doesn’t have to be much, for example my grocery store stocks a particular brand of jam, that is not particularly fancy, but that my mother really likes, so she gets a bunch of these every year.” (GuB)
Worst: Perishable sweets at the end of the holiday season
The first bite of homemade fudge or peppermint bark is an absolute delight during the holiday season. But by the time the end of the year is in sight, we’ve all had just about enough of that. So gift perishable treats early (and not often).
“My mum is a minister, so growing up we’d always get a ton of edible gifts to the family. The least appreciated were the various perishable sweets. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the first plate of cookies of the season, but by the six or seventh it was a choice between being guilty about letting them go stale or guilt for eating terribly.” (Kevin Baker)
“When I get cookies, cakes, etc, I freeze them immediately if I can, but those kinds of things I’m generally sick of by some point in the holiday season. I think gifts that are somewhat shelf stable are best so there’s no pressure to use or give away something for those of us who can’t tolerate the idea of food waste.” (Welp.)
Best: Homemade alcoholic drinks
Again, you should always give alcohol responsibly, but if you are going to give it, homemade concoctions are a thoughtful, festive way to go:
“I’ve followed in my mother’s footsteps and started making & bottling homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream to give out to friends for the holidays. Those bottles always make it back to be refilled next year.” (Pace)
“I usually make limoncello for the Holiday season, and I give it out to people who will enjoy it.” (QADude)
I’ll also chime in that a friend once gave out bottles of cherry-infused vodka around the holidays, and it charmed me.
Best: A box of Trader Joe’s stuff
As someone who used to live near a Trader Joe’s and now doesn’t live near a Trader Joe’s, this is a heartwarming, thoughtful suggestion from AdmNaismith: “For distant friends I fill a USPS Flat Rate box with Trader Joe’s. Just stuff in what I can.”
If Lifehacker Senior Food Writer Claire Lower ever wanted to send me a gift, she knows this is what she should send me, as atonement for constantly writing about all the delicious Trader Joe’s products I do not have access to.
Best: Fancy caramel apples
If you’ve never had one of those giant apples dipped in caramel and/or chocolate — and then rolled in other ridiculous (wonderful) toppings, such as nuts, marshmallows, toffee, or candy — have you even lived? I am thankful to PhoebeCaulfieldTheThird for reminding me of this option:
“For purchased treats, Mrs Prindables caramel apples are always well received. Their variety & value isn’t as good now as it was in years past but it’s still reasonable for a fancy holiday splurge. One of those is big enough for 3 or 4 people to have a share.”
I’ve never personally had Mrs Prindables, but I have had the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory equivalent many times and can concur that they are both 1. delicious and 2. big enough for a few people to share. (The Apple Pie Caramel Apple is my favourite, if you’re not sure where to start.)
Worst: A Harry & David gift basket
Well, maybe — it depends on who you ask. PhoebeCaulfieldTheThird sang the praises of the oft-given (and expensive) gift baskets most notable for their pears: “Once I received a Harry and David basket and I still pine over those pears. The chocolate covered dried fruits were pretty good too. I would be happy to receive another anytime.”
But others found the baskets overpriced, with the pears not living up to the hype, and the non-pear “filler” items being a bit blah.
“Forget it! We were sent a box last year. It was all horrible. To us, the pears were not good. Had to be peeled, as the skin was very bitter. And even at that, just barely tolerable to eat. And all the other stuff… Walmart has better stuff in there store brands. Save your money!!!!” (8×10)
“The pears are excellent, but I’m not so sure of their condiments. I was a bit disappointed.” (persiaa)
Best: Other types of fruit (and nuts)
It’s not a “no” for all fruit, though. If you want to give a gift to JRHaggs, for example, they think “grapefruit, figs, dates, and pomegranates are particularly nice.”
“As for as receiving gifts, I get a lot of Edible Arrangements, and it’s hard to eat that much fruit before it goes bad; cut up pieces are highly perishable. I much prefer dried fruits and nuts, or a case of the fancy citrus fruits from Florida. Actually, nuts are the best, unless you’re allergic, everyone loves them.” (Jerseygirltoo)
If you’re buying for a meat-eater, you probably cannot go wrong with a classic gift of sausage. ThomastheBrain explains:
“I am a huge summer sausage fan. I love getting a nice basket with all the trimmings. Not the Hillshire Farm crap. I’m sorry, but it’s become damn near laughable how skimpy their boxes are. Lots of fluff for a sausage that’s lacking in every way tied to a box of broken crackers and bland chalky cheeses. My family and friends know that if they don’t have time or money, they can opt for the sausage (even by itself) and I will be content and happy.”
Heather (on Facebook) further elaborates: “Best: sausages and cheeses and crackers with wine.”
Best: Chocolate (obviously)
A gift of chocolate is not a cliché. It is an act of kindness. Anyone who loves chocolate is happy to receive chocolate as a gift. It is an indulgence we might not bestow upon ourselves, it is an excuse to enjoy an extra sweet treat, it is a pick-me-up in the middle of the cold dark winter.
“A box of really good chocolates.” (Mehphisto)
And finally, I will leave you with ThomastheBrain’s excellent advice for a successful gift-giving season: “Don’t sleep on classic fudge either.”