A simple soup mix offers homemade comfort to friends and family

The Gift of Good Health

by Anna Herman

There are few things more appreciated than a lovely homemade gift, especially one you can eat or drink.

Hosts and hostesses will welcome a batch of sweet and spiced nuts to put out with drinks, or brandied fruit to accompany dessert. Cooks and non-cooks alike can admire a decorative and practical jar filled with herb vinegar, or a bag of your homegrown dried herbal tea blend. Your office mates or kid’s teachers might appreciate a tin of house-blend cocoa mix. If you are feeling ambitious, you can pack it in a mug along with homemade vanilla marshmallows.

Homemade gifts need not be elaborate, nor time consuming to prepare. In fact, many of the best homemade gifts are more a matter of planning and packaging than actually preparing.

Look for interesting jars, tins, small crates, baskets and bottles throughout the year. Stockpiling containers to repurpose is not just economical, it is environmentally prudent—reusing being even better than recycling. Well-washed used jam jars and tea canisters, as well as freshly purchased tins and canning jars of various sizes, can hold nuts, cocoa, herbed salts or mixes. Most cookware and hardware stores also stock a variety of jars, canisters and tins.

With paper and pen, glue stick and scissors, you can easily personalize your creations. Cloth scraps or decorative paper is an easy way to dress up a jar lid, while tissue paper, wax paper and parchment are helpful for lining tins and boxes for cookies and candies. Store-bought labels and a computer are also great resources for creating gifts that look as good as they taste.

Fewer uses of your credit card this season may not benefit the overall economy, but spending time creatively making and packing your own gifts may turn out to be a gift you give yourself.

Making a Soup-Mix Jar for Gifts

Choose your mix
One of the easiest homemade gifts to make (and use) is your own soup mix blend. Base it around quick-cooking lentils, which come in various shades of orange, red, green, brown and black to make the presentation pop. Alternatively, your soup mix could be light on lentils and instead feature pieces or powder of flavorful dried mushrooms with vegetables and barley. Or, perhaps dried corn and Southwest spices are to your taste. The key is to have grains, beans and veggies that cook relatively quickly and taste good together.

Get your recipe down
For a pint jar, you’ll use approximately 1 cup of lentils, 1/3 cup of barley, 1/3 cup of dried vegetables, 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried herbs (a mixture of parsley, savory and/or thyme) and a heaping teaspoon of salt. I also add 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1/2 teaspoon dried garlic, 1 tablespoon dried onion and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Sometimes I add curry powder or some powdered ginger. Other times an adobo spice blend.

Pack the jar
Find a clear jar with a tight-fitting lid. Layer your mix and be sure to pack the jar full. Bang it on the counter gently to allow ingredients to settle, then top it up so there is no gap between the ingredients and the lid. This ensures the layers don’t shift and a more professional look.

Test a sample jar
I generally suggest one jar of mix to five jars of water. Make sure there is sufficient seasoning and salt, and you’ll jump from pretty good to delicious.

Decorate simply
A hang tag with ingredients and instructions need only say “just add water” but you can also wrap ribbons or decorative string around your jar. Your friends and family will be able to make a big pot of tasty, healthful soup in under an hour.

Anna Herman is a garden educator who raises chickens, ducks, bees, fruits and veggies in her Mount Airy backyard.