The best gift

Hi Everyone, each year at Christmas, no matter how organized and prepared we are, there is one area that always has us flummoxed – what presents should we buy for friends and loved ones! It becomes even more difficult when we are faced with giving a gift to those seem to have everything. If you find yourself in this predicament, I am here to offer a suggestion, give the gift of food!

20091219cynthiaIf you want a gift that is memorable, satisfying, comforting, appreciated and steeped in tradition, a food gift will hit all those marks. If your desire is to bring cheer to someone who cannot make it home this year to be with their friends and family, give them a taste of home. The gift of food is priceless just by the sheer thought and effort.

Christmas is a season that is imbued with tradition. It is a holiday all about the familiar, a return to our roots so to speak, it is for this reason that so many of us go to the lengths we do. There is the hustle and bustle of shopping and decorating the house; the overspending; we have to put up with the large crowds; and, for those of us who are travelling at this time of the year, we must negotiate the check-in counter with suitcases we know exceed the baggage allowance. We do this all in an effort to reconnect, to find comfort in the arms of those we love, and oh yes, for a taste of home that is like no other.

Here are some of my suggestions for food gifts.

Flavoured Salts
Herbs and spices make for excellent flavour aids. Flavoured salts can be sprinkled on food and fruits or they can be added to your dishes as you cook. They are particularly handy when you want to fix a meal with great flavour and they save time in the kitchen. Herbs such as thyme, rosemary and marjoram make for excellent flavoured salts because of their robust flavour. For flavoured spices, I’d suggest you use cumin, coriander, fennel, and whole black peppercorns among others.

Flavoured Sugars
These add depth of flavour to anything to which they are added. Use them to make drinks, stir into your coffee or tea, they can be used to bake with or just sprinkle on top of fruit or hot baked goods. Flavour suggestions are: vanilla, cinnamon, aniseeds, allspice berries and cardamom.
The possibilities are endless with the use of flavoured syrups, drizzle onto pancakes or baked goods, and sweeten your tea, coffee or homemade fruit drink. You will recall in my column on Simple Syrup that you can you spices and herbs to flavour the syrups. For spice-flavoured syrups, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon and, allspice berries are good choices. Thyme, rosemary and basil are superb choices for herb-flavoured syrups.

Dailies for me refer to things like green seasoning, pepper sauces, cooked chutneys, achars, pickles, jams and jellies that some of us use daily. Can you see the love and smile on the faces of your loved ones from overseas as you give them packages loaded with these goodies that they can have to last them until their next trip home? Oh, things like cassareep, mauby bark, dried sorrel, whole spices – nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, star anise, salt fish, smoked fish, dried shrimp are all taste of home food gifts not to be missed.

Cooked Food
Cakes; pastries; cookies; sweet breads like coconut, banana, date and walnut; buns and pones (cassava or pumpkin), are going to be treasured and eaten in small amounts as memories are savoured. Ginger beer, mauby, sorrel, and punch de crème would be the talk of the town. Be warned, you will have to make these in large quantities, you want to give at least two 750ml bottles of these beverages per gift.

Spice mixes like garam masala, five-spice powder and tea (chai) masalas are signature collections when you make them with your own family recipes. High quality tealeaves and gourmet coffees such as the famous Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee will make you one of the best gift givers!

Orange Marmalade (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Orange Marmalade (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Flavoured Syrups
And here’s a gift that will always be remembered and treasured – prepare a sumptuous three or four course meal and take it to your friends’ or relatives’ house just as they return home from a long day of work and shopping, tired and exhausted. They will never stop talking about it or thanking you for the meal. There is only one catch here, this may be the present they want for every birthday, anniversary and Christmas!
Have a safe, blessed and joyful Christmas everybody!


Pumpkin Pone (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Pumpkin Pone (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)

Pumpkin Pone

2 cups grated pumpkin
2 cups grated coconut
1 cup cornmeal
¼ cup cold, unsalted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla essence

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2.  Add pumpkin and coconut to large bowl and mix
3.  In a separate bowl, rub butter into cornmeal, you will notice that the cornmeal
4.  Add the cornmeal-butter mixture to the pumpkin and coconut mixture and mix
5.  Add sugar, spices, salt and vanilla along with just enough water to make a dropping consistency. The mixture should not be watery; it should be like a very thick batter. The amount of water to add will vary depending on the liquid yielded from the grated pumpkin
6.  Pour batter into a greased loaf pan 8” x 4” or 9” x 5”
7.  Bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean
8.  Remove pan from oven and let cool completely on rack. When cool, remove pone and slice

Flavoured salts: Rosemary, red pepper and cumin (jeera) (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)
Flavoured salts: Rosemary, red pepper and cumin (jeera) (Photo by Cynthia Nelson)


N.B. Fresh-dried means that the herbs should be bought fresh and dried for 4 hours in the sun before being used to make the flavoured salt.

1/3 cup coarse sea salt and any of the following ingredients
2 tablespoons fresh-dried rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh-dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh-dried marjoram
2 tablespoons toasted cumin

2 tablespoons black, red or green peppercorns
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons toasted fennel seeds
2 tablespoons toasted coriander


1.  Combine the salt and herb or spice and grind with a mortar or pestle to your consistency. Or, use whatever you use to grind spices. The fineness of the flavoured salt should be to your desired consistency.

2.  Store in air-tight glass jars



½ cup brown or white sugar and any of the following ingredients
1tablespoon freshly ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly ground allspice
1 tablespoon freshly ground cardamom
tablespoon freshly ground anise seeds


1.  Mix the sugar and spice together in a bowl. Stir to ensure that it is properly mixed
2. Store in an air-tight container


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