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, 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’ 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 or wear or use what I make. I divided the gifts into groups — edible, wearable, decorative and practical — and the list of recipients into human and animal.
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 grow masses of catmint (Nepeta cataria), and this year, instead of making cat toys, I made soft, fluffy pillows that tie right on top of the cats’ regular beds.
For the first time, the horses contributed their coarse black hair for braided bracelets and large tassels, perfect for drawer pulls, shade pulls and key chains. And the two black Welsh sheep offered their gorgeous wool, which — after shearing, washing, carding and spinning — was knitted into simple vests for my grandchildren, Jude and Truman.
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.