I love giving gifts of food for Christmas. I make mini loaves of nut bread or little bags of homemade candies for the ladies in my Sunday School class every year as well as give the same to friends. Food gifts say the giver spent time and effort to make something, and it can be eaten and out of the way instead of being put on a shelf somewhere or tucked in a drawer.
Dollar stores and craft stores have decorative plastic bags in which to put such goodies as well as tags to tie onto them. After wrapping mini-loaves in plastic wrap, they slip right into these bags and are ready to go.
Another good thing about food gifts is that you can make so many at one time. One good shopping trip for supplies will net you gifts for those you want to honor with a gift from your kitchen.
The recipes I’ve included here are traditional recipes people expect from me. Some are from my grandmother and others from friends through the years. I begin the first week of December and usually have it all done in one week. The breads and candies keep well when wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated or stored in airtight plastic containers.
Easy Pralines (It wouldn’t be Christmas without these)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 brown sugar
Dash of salt
2/3 cup evaporated milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups pecan halves
Combine sugars, salt and milk in saucepan. Cook over medium heat until thermometer reaches softball temp. on candy thermometer. Test by dripping a small drop from a spoon into ice water. When the mixture forms a soft ball when rolled between the fingers, it is ready. Stir in vanilla and pecans and stir briskly until mixture thickens and sugar crystals form on the edges of the saucepan. Drop quickly by spoonfuls onto waxed paper covered cookie sheet. Refrigerate immediately. If mixture becomes too thick, add a tablespoon of hot water and stir then continue make patties on the wax paper. The number of candies will depend on how large you want to make them. If the mixture doesn’t begin to set within a few minutes or by the time you drop all the mixture onto wax paper, it can be scraped off, returned to the pan and reheated for a few minutes then begin again with stirring and dropping.
Microwave Peanut Brittle (Our three sons demand this in their Christmas stockings)
1 cup sugar
½ cup White Karo syrup
2 cups raw peanuts
Place all ingredients into a microwave safe bowl with a handle. (I use an 8 cup Pyrex measuring bowl) Cook on high for 3 ½ minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon then cook for another 3 ½ minutes.
Stir again and add:
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp. butter
Stir again and cook 1 minute 20 seconds on high.
Quickly stir in 1 tsp. baking soda then pour onto a buttered cookie sheet. As brittle cools, stretch it with your fingers coated in butter. When thoroughly cool, break into pieces and store. Does not need to be refrigerated.
Chocolate Pecan Clusters
1 12 oz. pkg. Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups pecans lightly chopped
Melt chips over hot water or in a microwave bowl just until they can be stirred smooth. Immediately add milk and nuts. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls into mini-muffin liners. Refrigerate for several hours until firm.
Banana Nut Bread (My grandmother’s recipe)
½ cup shortening 1 tsp. soda
1 cup sugar 3 bananas, mashed
3 eggs ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 cups sifted flour 1 tsp. vanilla
Add soda to flour and set aside. Cream sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Beat well after each egg. Add flour 1/3 at a time and mix well after each addition. Stir in bananas, nuts, and vanilla until well mixed. Pour into mini-loaf pans sprayed with Bakers Joy or pour into one large loaf pan sprayed with Bakers Joy. Bake large pan at 325 degrees for 40 minutes, mini-loaves for 30 minutes or until pick inserted into center comes out clean.
Cranberry Nut Bread
4 cups sifted flour 2/3 cup orange juice
2 cups + 4 Tbsp. sugar ½ cup water
2 ½ tsps. baking powder 4 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. salt 1 ½ cups chopped nuts
2 eggs 1 bag fresh cranberries
1 tsp. soda
Grease bottom and sides of 4 large or 12 small mini-loaf pans with oil or Baker’s Joy. Sift flour and add baking powder, soda, sugar, salt. In another bowl beat eggs and orange juice, water and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add egg mixture. Stir with wooden spoon until blended then fold in cranberries and nuts. Do not over mix. Pour into prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes for large loaves, 45 minutes for small ones or until a pick inserted into middle comes out clean.