When you like food as much as I do, there’s no such thing as a bad food gift. But some are more gooderer than others.
With apologies to the Milanese – this dense mountain of food is exorbitantly priced, doesn’t know if it’s cake or bread and is my least favourite of the festive season gifts. I’m aware however that it is a staple for many families at Christmastime and far be it for me to grinch it right off the list. If you have been gifted one and don’t know what do with the 5kg left over after everyone has had a piece, you can always turn it into bread and butter pudding.
14. Classic Christmas cake
I say this with affection – it’s like eating a small block of flats. I love how they look and what they stand for but does anyone, in the year of our lord 2021, actually like marzipan? OK, I know the answer – it’s like fans of Machine Gun Kelly’s music. I know they exist, I’ve just never met one in the wild.
13. Chocolate boxes
There’s a fair range of these to choose from (check out our official ranking here), and how much you like the person you’re gifting them to is very much reflected in the price tag of the box you choose. They all say pretty much exactly the same thing though – I didn’t have time to put much thought into this/I had this on hand for emergencies. Which isn’t to say they aren’t appreciated when you’re zoning out in front of the telly on a Christmas evening. Chocolate is chocolate, after all.
If you want to level up to “I didn’t have time to put much thought into this so I threw heaps of money at it instead”, try fancy locals Devonport Chocolates, Miann (The Spinoff’s lovely neighbours here in Morningside), House of Chocolate or Bennetts of Mangawhai.
12. Festive popcorn
It’s easy and a mostly safe cooking project for the kids (don’t attempt any caramel without an adult though). Making up a batch of popcorn then drizzling with white chocolate and adding red and green M&Ms, mini-pretzels and some similarly themed sprinkles will result in something the Americans call Christmas crunch. I think it looks delicious.
11. Dried fruits, spices and herbs
A very easy and pretty homemade gift is a jar of dried orange slices – the perfect addition to an Aperol spritz or a negroni. Thin slices in the oven for three hours on a very low heat should do, and if you can find blood oranges even better.
For those on a refined sugar-restricted diet, stuffed medjool dates are quite a decadent and visually appealing treat, and can be found at Middle Eastern grocers and bougie supermarkets like Farro and Moore Wilson’s. If you have your own dehydrator, a nice box filled with dried, seasonal fruits, like peaches, nectarines and plums, is sweet.
Similarly, if your herb patch is growing like the clappers, small jars of dried oregano, mint, thyme, basil or chives is an effort anyone would appreciate.
A masala dabba pre-filled with a beautiful rainbow of spices like turmeric, red chilli, cumin, garam masala and black mustard seeds is a thoughtful and affordable gift you can find at your local Indian grocer.
10. Cured meats
This salami bouquet is just funny to me, OK? You can buy the $300 version or you can make one yourself for the devoted carnivore in your life.
Oh I love a festive cookie! The only thing I like more is a cookie box. This does stray into the realm of expert baker, because good cookie making is a science. Mastering a whole bunch of them is straight witchcraft. This video from Susan Spungen for NYT Cooking is the best advertisement I’ve seen for homemade cookie boxes, where she makes each look like a work of art (and achievable ones at that).
Pre-made cookie and cake mixes in a jar are popular homemade gifts but I’m not convinced. They look cute but I suspect they sit around in your cupboard for years, making you feel bad, and getting pushed further and further to the back before becoming a twee, chocolate-y home for a colony of weevils (based on a true story).
8. NYT Cooking subscription
Speaking of, there really is no better resource for recipes and great food writing than the New York Times’ NYT Cooking. For roughly $55-$60 a year (or just over $1 a week) you get unlimited access to recipes, videos, guides and articles that cover every cuisine you care to name, plus you can save recipes to a digital recipe book. It’s one of those luxuries a keen foodie might not splash out on for themselves, but will be used weekly, if not daily.
7. Olive oil
Really good olive oil should always be eaten raw – drizzled over salad and roasted vegetables, to finish off pasta or to simply dip into with fresh bread. The really, really good stuff is pricey though, which is why it makes such a great present – very few of us can afford it on the weekly, but will appreciate every mouthful of a bottle kept just for special occasions. We’re quite good it making it in Aotearoa, specifically in Kāpiti and Wairarapa. Check out a whole heap of award winners here.
Home-made or bought spiced clarified butter is also a delicious gift idea. Whether made with Indian flavours (like this ghee from Dolly Mumma) or an Ethiopian niter kibbeh, it’s a flavour bomb that levels up meals to a gourmet degree.
6. Hamper of homegrown veges
It’s warm and wet in Aotearoa right now, and the beans n greens in the garden are flourishing. A small basket with bundles of herbs and veges fresh out of your garden would look so fetching. I would absolutely die a charmed death if someone gave me this (if you have hens, the addition of fresh eggs would be just loveliness itself).
5. Homemade sweets
I’ll tell you what doesn’t really work in an Aotearoa summer – handmade truffles, the chocolate ganache-based ones that you roll in coconut or bitter cocoa. They look and taste delightful, but will absolutely melt into a chocolatey mess in your car before you can deliver them to their intended recipient (this is the bitter voice of experience speaking).
A sturdier alternative is caramels – I was quite taken by this tutorial by Sohla El-Waylly from Food 52 (and yes, she states that they’re a winter candy, but I still think they’d be yum even when they’re a bit soft).
4. Meal box subscription
There are so many to choose from, and if you have the money, and have a loved one who does not (or is poor in time, like so many parents with young’uns), then you might end up being more popular than Santa. Check out our breakdown of the most popular delivery meal kits here.
3. Hot sauce
While I’d usually advocate that homemade is best, chillies by the kilo are actually pretty expensive. A bottle of your favourite, or even a selection, is how you start barbecue season right. Our most famous is of course Kaitaia Fire, still the local gold standard in my humble opinion (I’ve had friends from Texas sing its praises), but why not try other local brands too – Apostle (perfect for the lapsed Catholic in your life), Fire Dragon Chillies, Al’s (I highly recommend the green pepper with horopito), Baxters (who do more of a barbecue-style chilli sauce) or Orcona.
2. A homemade recipe book
The browning pages of my mum’s own book of recipes, started as a young woman and filled to bursting with loose pieces of paper in both her and my late nana’s handwriting, is an object so special it should be in a museum. Starting one for someone you love, filled with family recipes or a special selection chosen for just for them, with space to add their own, would surely be one of the all-time most touching gifts. Awww.
1. Preserves, pickles and jams
The OG nana artform, each one a love letter. Tart plum jam, crisp pickled radishes, spiced chutneys, marmalade, sauerkraut, kimchi. If you can grow it, you can ferment, pickle or preserve it. That’s not a suggestion, it’s an order.