Think local and homemade food for holiday gifts

Now that we are in the season of giving, what do you give the person who has everything? Or how about someone you know little about? Or the host or hostess who has invited you to a celebration?

I’m a person who likes to think about the gifts that I give people. I’m not a big fan of gift cards or those ready-made gift sets or baskets. Sure, they’re nice in a pinch, but I like to put some thought behind the gift and the person I’m giving it to.

Sometimes I make the gifts I give — small boxes filled with baked goods or small jars of my home-canned jams or jellies are common. Sometimes I get a little crafty and give out pieces of origami (one of my winter hobbies). I’m also trying to get back in the swing of doing stained glass (but never have the time).

I would have to say that people love when they receive something homemade, especially something canned from my garden. While you may not have anything left in the garden to prepare, it is never too late to plan ahead for next year. I’ve given out grape jelly, hot pepper jelly and spiced wonderberry jam (a tomato relative developed by Luther Burbank and given to me by a faithful reader).

My pepper jelly seems to have the most fans. Luckily, it is very easy to make, and you can make it with a few simple ingredients from the grocery store if you are wanting to give a homemade gift this season. I’ll include the recipe I use (always be sure to use an official recipe from an Extension source or from one of the canning companies — you don’t want to sicken your recipient with an untested recipe you found online).

But cooking, canning, and crafting aside, what I like to give as a gift is a taste of West Virginia. Our state has a growing value-added food industry. More and more, you can find locally grown and produced foods finding their way onto store shelves — jams, jellies, sauces and more. What better to give to someone than a taste of the Mountain State?

While I know that this is a garden article, I think it is important that we talk about food to support local farmers and producers. Aside from the fact that you are purchasing something grown or made in West Virginia, your dollars go to support a local business, which has a far greater economic impact than money spent at the mega box stores with their Black Friday deals.

All around the state, people have taken their favorite recipes and turned them into food products, several of which have won accolades. I’ll give you a short list of some of my favorite things and where to find them.

The Garden Guru’s West Virginia local foods gift list:

•  Ordinary Evelyn’s canned goods and dip mixes — Made by Evelyn McGlothlin, in Clay County. I always love chatting with Evelyn at local fairs and festivals where she sells her wares. She’s always friendly and down to earth. People Magazine featured her apple butter as the top food gift from West Virginia in 2013.

•  Blue Smoke salsa — A tasty salsa from Ansted, West Virginia. I love their guacamole-flavored tortilla chips, so be sure to include a bag.

•  J.Q. Dickinson Salt — Family members (seventh generation) have revived the 1851 saltworks in Malden to create gourmet salt. You can now find their salt in shops and restaurants across the country, and they’ve been featured in more magazines than you can count.

•  West Virginia maple syrup — We’ve had maple syrup producers for some time, but the industry is booming with the creation of a maple producers group in the state.

•  Local honey — People love honey. Luckily, my dad’s a beekeeper, so I always have a good source. You can find honey at many local shops and stores or directly from a beekeeper.

•  Locally made wines and spirits — these are especially good to take along as a host/hostess gift or as a BYOB to a party. There’s lots of wineries around the state, including Vu Ja De, Daniel Vineyards and Kirkwood. As for spirits, Smooth Ambler from Lewisburg has several good offerings, including vodka, gin and bourbon. You can also be a hit with locally (legally) produced moonshine. Appalachian Distillery in Fairplain has several flavors to offer — my favorite is pawpaw.

There are several places around the area where you can find these locally made products. Here in Charleston, the WV Marketplace/Purple Onion at the Capitol Market carries a great selection and you can find some of the wines the Wine Shop in the market as well. You can also find a few at the gift shop in the WV Culture Center.

I visited Alan Hathaway, the owner of the Purple Onion/WV Marketplace to discuss local food gifts for the holidays.

In Huntington, the Wild Ramp market in Central City carries a wide selection of value-added and locally grown foods. The Tamarack in Beckley carries a wide variety of WV Made food products and wines, so if you are shopping there this holiday season, check out the food section.

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