Giving gifts in a sluggish economy is tricky, but you can save money with presents of homemade goodies.
A tin of fudge, a bag of freshly baked cookies or a jar of jelly from your summer canning marathon will be appreciated by friends and co-workers.
Instead of shopping for inexpensive gift bags and boxes, look around the house to find creative packages for your homemade gifts.
Closets, attics, thrift stores, flea markets and antique stores offer a treasure trove of candy dishes, sugar bowls and creamers, one-of-a-kind dinner plates, unusual coffee mugs, decorative trays and silver-plated butter knives.
If you're not into antique glassware but have a china cabinet full of gifts from relatives, give them to a friend who admires Depression glass or vintage stoneware. Fill a glass bowl with homemade candy and tie a ribbon around it. Give a homemade cake on a plate you inherited from your mother.
Homemade jams and jellies are the quintessential gift from the kitchen. An old silver-plated butter spreader attached to the jar with a colorful ribbon adds a nice touch.
Even non-frugal people save ribbon. Pull out all those birthday-package satin and grosgrain ribbons and use them. Just iron out the wrinkles and tie them onto a jar or around the neck of a recycled bottle of homemade vanilla extract or flavored vinegar.
Candy bark is one of the easiest recipes you can make for gift giving. Melt white chocolate chips, then add crushed peppermint canes. Pour into a mini aluminum loaf pan and chill. When hardened, turn it onto a piece of foil. Wrap tightly and then cut a piece of scrapbook paper smaller than the bar, and wrap it like a candy bar. Tie with twine, leftover ribbon or raffia.
Here are some other ideas for quick gifts.
■ To make vanilla extract: Wash and thoroughly dry an empty vinegar or wine bottle, and depending on the size, drop in one or two vanilla beans, which have been split almost to the top of the bean. Fill the bottle with Kentucky bourbon, then let stand for six to eight weeks. It's ready to use in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. You can attach one of your best recipes that calls for vanilla.
■ Almost anything dipped in chocolate is usually a welcome gift. Use pretzel rods or old-fashioned peppermint sticks, dried apricots or giant marshmallows.
■ Flavored vinegars: Save pretty bottles and fill with apple cider vinegar. Flavor with cinnamon, pear syrup, fresh herbs or garlic. Make these now, so they can steep for a couple of weeks.
■ Spiced nuts: Heat the oven to 350 degrees, place about 1 pound of unsalted pecan halves on a cookie sheet and toast them, stirring every so often, for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 tablespoon melted butter; add the toasted nuts, and toss to coat. Package the nuts in 1-cup portions.
■ Cookies: The trick here is to make one type of dough and use it several ways. Make a sugar cookie recipe and use it to make five types of cookies, or you can sprinkle a single batch with five types of colored sugar. If you make intricately decorated cookies, give individual ones in cookie envelopes.
To make a cookie envelope: Cut an 8- by 8-inch square of tissue paper. Fold all four corners around the cookie. Seal with a sticker. You can monogram your stickers using initials or phrases.
Here are recipes for gifts that will please all your friends.
Peppermint-white chocolate candy slabs
24 round red and green hard peppermint candies
2 (12-ounce packages) white chocolate morsels
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
Spray mini loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside. Place candies in zip-top plastic freezer bag. Coarsely crush candies using meat mallet or rolling pin. Set aside crushed candies, reserving 3 tablespoons separately for topping.
Microwave white chocolate morsels in large microwave-safe bowl at 70 percent power for 1 minute and 15 seconds. (Morsels will not look melted.) Stir morsels until melted. If necessary, microwave again at 15- second intervals. Add peppermint extract and larger portion of crushed candies to melted chocolate, stirring until evenly distributed.
Quickly spread melted white chocolate evenly in prepared pans; sprinkle with reserved 3 tablespoons candies, pressing gently with fingertips. Let stand 1 hour or until firm.
Peanut brittle candy slabs: Melt white chocolate as directed in recipe above, gently folding in 11/2 cups crushed store-bought peanut brittle and 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter; spread evenly in prepared loaf pans. Dollop 1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter over candy mixture in each loaf pan; swirl with a knife. Sprinkle 1/2 cup crushed peanut brittle evenly over candy in pans, pressing gently with fingertips.
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 teaspoon shortening
2⁄3 cup pecans or your favorite nuts, chopped
16 soft peppermint sticks, 3 to 4 inches long
Combine chocolate and shortening in small saucepan; cook over low heat just until melted. Transfer to bowl. Place pecans on waxed paper. Dip one end of each peppermint stick into melted chocolate, then roll in chopped nuts. Place on waxed paper; let stand until set. Wrap each individually to give as a gift.
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon pear-flavored syrup or maple syrup
In non-reactive saucepan, combine vinegar, cinnamon sticks and the pear syrup, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and let stand at least 1 hour or up to 3. Using a funnel, pour vinegar into tall decorative bottles with corks. Cork bottles tightly.
White chocolate macaroons
1 roll Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookies
21⁄3 cups coconut
1½ cups white chocolate chunks
2 teaspoons vanilla
½ teaspoon coconut extract
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease cookie sheets or spray with cooking spray. In large bowl, break up cookie dough. Stir in or knead in all remaining ingredients until well blended. Drop dough by tablespoons 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Surface of cookies will look under-baked. Cool 2 minutes; remove from cookie sheets to cooling racks.
1½ cups brown sugar
1 cup paprika
¼ cup salt
¼ cup black pepper
¼ cup cumin
¼ cup granulated garlic
¼ cup granulated onion
¼ cup cinnamon
Dash of ground cloves
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in airtight container and sprinkle liberally over ribs, pork butt or pork chops before smoking.