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Ask Martha

Handmade, creative gifts for the holidays

Each year, around September, I start to think seriously about my personal Christmas gifts for family members and close friends, and every year it is a challenge to create something new, something different, something meaningful from my own world. I spend most of my free time at my farm in Bedford, N.Y., gardening, cooking, raising small livestock, and conjuring many of the creative ideas that become articles, books, and products for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. As these free moments become scarcer (Alexis’s new babies now take up lots of time), I find that the gifts have become simpler but no less evocative — I hope — of nature and the goodness of the homemade and the handmade.

In the past, I have steamed countless plum puddings in handmade crockery bowls, made pates in French pate dishes I’ve collected, baked hundreds of stollen and cookies, and jarred even more hundreds of jams and jellies from the berries I’ve grown. This year, I decided to make gifts that would show off some of the products from the farm. Mind you, nothing is commercially made at Bedford, but with inventive labels and packaging and a little bit of spin, a small idea can appear more thoughtful. And I’ve learned that so many who receive these gifts actually do eat, wear, or use what I make. I divided the gifts into groups — edible, wearable, decorative, and practical.

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I always find the edible gifts easy to conceive and relatively easy to make. I searched online for pretty jars for honey, lemon curd, and preserved lemons.

Using a woodcut I had made for Cantitoe Corners several years ago by Michael McCurdy, I enlisted Martha Stewart Living’s crafts editor, Marcie McGoldrick, to fabricate beautiful labels, which include the logo, contents, and date for each of the items. We printed them easily on a home-office printer. I found shapely squarish jars for the honey and the curd and larger French canning jars for the preserved lemons. Smaller labels were made as hang tags for the begonia plants, which I potted in Guy Wolff Pottery planters especially sized for begonias: wide and shallow. I purchased quilted-paper boxes, lined their lids with some shredded paper, and wrapped the plants in shrouds of clear cellophane.

I hope you’ll be inspired to handcraft a few gifts this holiday season and share the things you love with your friends and family.

LEMON CURD

Total Time: 20 minutes plus cooling time. Yields about four 4-ounce jars

8 large egg yolks

Zest of 2 lemons

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 3 lemons)

1 cup sugar

teaspoon salt

1¼ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Sterilize four 4-ounce canning jars by boiling them and their rubber seals in water 10 minutes. Remove with tongs, and let cool.

2. Whisk yolks, lemon zest and juice, and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan to combine. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (be sure to scrape sides of pan), until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes, and reaches 160 degrees.

3. Remove saucepan from heat. Add salt and butter, 1 piece at a time, stirring until smooth. Pour through a fine sieve into a bowl. Cover surface of curd with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming). Refrigerate until cold and set, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Fill jars with curd, and seal; refrigerate until ready to give as gifts.

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
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