I love homemade food gifts. The best ones are interesting pantry staples that I haven’t gotten round to making myself. My friend Emma once gave me a jar of preserved lemons, and I loved them.
My favourite easy homemade gift are flavoured syrups. Starting with a simple syrup made from sugar and water, you then add ingredients to steep and then strain them out. If you have fruit flies, like I do, I’d suggest putting a plate on top of the cooling syrup – nothing like sugar to attract flies!
All that’s left is to package them in pretty bottles and you look like a genius! They’re especially easy to do in big batches, so you could make two or three and put them in small bottles. I like to make pretty labels with suggestions on how to use them – especially if you go for the more adventurous flavours.
Makes approximately 220ml, increase as desired
- 1 cup granulated sugar (use half and half brown sugar for a golden colour)
- 1 cup water
- Put sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar, and once dissolved turn heat to high and bring to a boil.
- Boil for 5-10 minutes uncovered, until the liquid has reduced by about one third. Take off the heat and add any flavourings to steep. Leave until completely cool.
- Decant into a clean container.
Here are some flavour combination ideas to get you started. Adjust quantities if you’ve doubled or tripled the recipe above, though smell as you go – ingredients like cloves are strong enough not to need doubling or tripling.
For the coffee lover
- Double vanilla Use both vanilla extract and a split vanilla bean, and for a triple vanilla use vanilla sugar (sugar stored with a split vanilla pod you’ve used for something else)
- Mint Great for mochas! Add a bunch of clean mint leaves, then strain before decanting.
For the tea lover
- Double vanilla Lovely for making chai tea lattes and London Fogs, details above
- Earl Grey Not for use in tea, but over ice cream or to drizzle over sponge cake. Add three good quality Earl Grey tea bags.
- Chai Use two chai tea bags, or place loose tea in a muslin bag.
For Christmas time
- Cinnamon, nutmeg and clove Use a whole cinnamon stick broken into large pieces, two passes over a microplane from a whole nutmeg (don’t use the powdered stuff – this is miles better if you can find it), and a couple whole cloves. Strain before decanting.
- Ginger Slice an inch of whole ginger root into 3mm thick rounds and add to syrup. Strain before decanting. Excellent for sponge cakes, as well as hot chocolate, and cocktails.
- Orange and cloves Zest a clean orange with a vegetable peeler so you get wide sections of peel, taking care to only get the peel and none of the pith (white stuff). Add to syrup with a few whole cloves.
For the food obsessed
- Thyme Add a large bunch of thyme, removing the woodiest stalks. Thin flexible ones are fine. This tastes amazing with tonic water over ice, and even better with good gin.
- Basil Add a bunch of fresh, clean basil. Lovely mixed as a drink with tonic water, or over ice cream.
- Lemongrass and cardamom Peel back tough outer layers of lemongrass stalk, break off a few pieces and bash with the blunt side of a knife to bruise it. Bash a few cardamom pods, also with the blunt side of a knife, add to syrup.
A note on the labels and bottles
I bought these little bottles from my neighbourhood dollar store, though many I checked didn’t stock anything like this. They are cute and made of glass, but the lids do not close well at all. IKEA has a load of small bottles in their Marketplace area, and a party store I visited had some as well, though they were massively overpriced! I made the labels with a tiny letterpress kit on Japanese washi tape.