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SARAH RANKIN: My top 3 Christmas gifts that have more meaning and less cost

By Contributor

By Sarah Rankin

Wrapped colorful gifts for Christmas, birthday or other celebration in jute bag and spruce branches on old wooden white table
Wrapped colorful gifts for Christmas, birthday or other celebration in jute bag and spruce branches on old wooden white table

Unless you are immune to marketing, you must be at least beginning to think about Christmas and the huge list of things you need to do, buy and plan.

Although rampant consumerism is an option. There are ways to give gifts with more meaning and less cost. Homemade presents have a special place for me. Creating something I know that person will truly enjoy, gives me much more pleasure than scrolling and clicking on something that fits my budget and isn’t expensive to send.

Here are my top 3 ‘Made with love’ gifts:

1. Fruit gin

You will need to get onto this in mid-November so a tiny bit of planning is required. Take 600g of fruit, this year I used apples and plums – only because I was gifted them by a neighbour who had a glut from the trees in her garden – but you can use whatever you like. Peel the apples and prick the skin of the plums a few times. Add to a large, clean jar or bottle and add 200g caster sugar. Pour over 1 litre of unflavoured gin or vodka and shake. Leave in a cool, dark place for a month, shaking every week. Then sieve through muslin and decant back into the bottle. You can keep the steeped fruit for serving as a dessert with whipped cream or ice cream, if you like a boozy pud.

2. Ginger syrup

This works beautifully as a cocktail syrup or as a cordial with sparkling water. Better still you can add pretty much any flavours you like to the base recipe. Slice 250g fresh ginger and add to 250ml cold water and 250g golden caster sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Leave to cool completely before straining into bottles. You can even add cocktail recipes to a label around the neck of the bottle to give the recipient some ideas of what they can make for you as a thank you; this syrup in particular is delicious in a whisky cocktail with one measure whisky, one measure ginger syrup and a squeeze of lemon, shaken and served over ice.

3. Christmas coal

This is a super easy and pretty way to make a really festive sweet treat. Make cinder toffee by mixing 200g of caster sugar with 100g of golden syrup over a very low heat, stirring to melt. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, add in 2tsp of bicarbonate of soda and immediately remove the pan from the heat and start beating well with a wooden spoon. The mixture will bubble and spit so make sure you started in a large pan to allow the mixture room to expand. Once incorporated and when still bubbling, pour into a deep tin lined with parchment paper. Leave to set for around two hours. Once set, melt 300g of 70 per cent chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmer water. Break up the cinder toffee into chunks and spear each piece with a cocktail stick. Dip into the chocolate, using a spoon to cover completely. Leave to dry on another sheet of parchment. Bag up into brown paper bags tied with festive striped string.

Sarah Rankin.
Sarah Rankin.

If you want to go big, how about creating your own hamper? These need not be expensive wicker affairs filled with high-end chocolates and pricey booze, they can be created with homemade treats, mixed with their favourites.

Just buy a sturdy jute bag from your favourite supermarket, farm shop or retailer – everyone seems to flog these now – and fill it with things you know they love. If they’re the green-fingered type: gardening gloves, hand lotion and seed packets are a great idea. For foodies: a cookbook or kitchen tool you know they’d appreciate. Once you’ve chosen their base gift, add a few of your own homemade treats like those I’ve listed, or biscuits and truffles, or jams and chutneys. You are limited only by your imagination and how big the bag is!

Sarah Rankin is a MasterChef finalist, food writer, cookbook author, private dining chef, food event host and demonstrator and lover of all things local. Check out her content @sarahrankincooks

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