When I was a little girl, my mother taught me that homemade gifts were extra special. We would design, plan and make gifts for family members at birthdays and Christmas, and I was always so proud that I was able to give something that I had made all by myself. I guess I never outgrew that feeling.
We drove from Washington to California for Christmas this year, and we were going to see friends and family we haven’t seen for quite some time. I was so excited to share some of the things I’ve learned to do on the farm. Other than the cookies, I have learned to make everything in my Christmas goody bags in the past year.
I needed six goody bags. I baked cookies, made jam, canned pickles, processed soap, made felted trivets, and sewed feed bag tote bags. We also added some kettle corn from our friend Johnny Kettle Corn, because who doesn’t love kettle corn!?
I started in October, making a list of what I was going to make and how long each item would take. I had to make the soap first, because it would have to cure for three weeks. Then the pickles, because they take two weeks to process. Everything else I could make while the soap and pickles were doing their thing. The cookies would have to wait until the last day before we left because I wanted them to be as fresh as possible.
I haven’t worked up the courage yet to make soap with lye. I found a process using Ivory soap, or other vegetable or olive oil soap, to make other soaps. By simply grating the soap, melting it, and adding ingredients such as honey, ground almonds, scented oils, and moisturizing oils, a whole new soap can be made. For Christmas gifts, I made Honey Almond and Cinnamon Orange soaps.
I made several types of pickles this summer, using different recipes and different cucumbers. I learned that I don’t like two-day pickles nearly as much as I like two-week pickles. After a week of soaking cucumbers in salt water, the pickle juice needs to be reboiled every day of the second week. At first, I thought this sounded like an awful lot of work, but it really only takes a few minutes each day. The pickle recipe I like best is vinegar, sugar and pickling spices. It makes a zingy sweet pickle that everyone seems to enjoy.
The next project was felted trivets. This was my favorite project. I wanted them to reflect life on the farm, but be something special for each person. I used wool from the farms of friends to make the felt. Making felt from wool takes some time and muscle, and it can get a bit messy, but it’s fun. After I made the felt, I chose a special design and needle felted it. I then layered my felt, cotton batting, and store-bought felt and used a blanket stitch to sew it all together. There’s a longstanding family quail story, so Dad got a quail.
On to the jam! Blackberries border the whole farm. I love being able to go out in the morning to pick blackberries, and have jam by the end of the day. I used to think there must be something magical about making jam. I mean, all that jammy deliciousness has to be difficult, right? Once you have canning equipment, jam is fairly easy. Even though I’m the one making it, and I’m adding all the ingredients, it still seems magical to me. Berries, sugar and pectin go into a pot, and sparkly, jiggly jam comes out of the jar!
After the “big” projects were done, I got to work on the tote bags. With alpacas, chickens, ducks, dogs and cats on the farm, there’s no shortage of feed bags. Today, most feed bags are made of a material that looks like woven plastic. By simply shortening a 40- to 50-pound bag, and adding straps, I made a tote for everyone. In California, many cities are passing no plastic shopping bag laws, so these are not only good gift bags, they can be used for groceries or the farmers’ market.
Time for cookies! I’ve always wanted a cookie press, so I got one this year. I had a lot of fun, making lots of different cookies. I baked butter cookies, chocolate, chocolate peppermint and ginger cookies. The ginger cookies didn’t work at all in the cookie press, but all the others did. The only mistake I made was sorting them out for everybody’s gift bags, and not keeping any out for me! Fortunately, I got to taste test as I baked.
Everything was canned, wrapped, labeled, boxed and bagged, and I was done! As I put everything in the totes, I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to share! I told Charlie that I hoped everybody liked their gifts. More than that, I hoped they understood that every single thing put into that bag was made with love. (I have to believe everybody was happy because I’m already getting requests for more.)
I’m new to the Capper’s Farmer community, so there wasn’t time to share all these projects prior to Christmas. Over the next several weeks I’ll be sharing how each project was made.