Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

Time, not money, is the best thing to invest when making holiday gifts and food. Anyone can go out and buy beautiful foods all packaged, lots of glamour, elegance and price tags. That's all right if you've got more money than time; sometimes that's just how it is. There is something about a hand-made gift that came from a friend who grew, minced, chopped, cooked, baked and lovingly put it together just for you. It means they were thinking about you for more than a nano-second. They care and that's what gifting is all about.

Maybe you have something in abundance on your property that other people don't, like sage, for example. You can make culinary herb mixtures and put them in inexpensive glass jars or make little muslin bags for them. Make smudge wands with a shell or pottery tray. Herbal vinegars are perfect for people who love to cook. Flavored oils are nice along with the vinegar. One year we seemed to have more pine cones than a forest. I picked a couple of large bags full, and then hand-dipped them in hot wax. Then I put them in a basket with a bow and a hand-printed card to explain that they were "Fire-starters". Pinecones are also great in a spiced potpourri as a variation. During the next month or so, save your orange and lemon skins and let them air-dry for use in other gifts.

In September, when sumac is ripe and ready, I pick lots of it and boil it down, strain it and freeze it into small blocks. I add it to other fruit when making jelly for holiday gifts. It adds a lovely color to enhance other fruits, especially nice with crabapples.

Crabapple-Sumac Jelly

Read through before starting recipe.

Remove stem and core crabapples, cut in half. Put desired amount in a flat-bottomed saucepan and add a small amount of water, enough to keep it from burning Cook slowly, Mash it down a bit, add sumac (just a block or two for color*). Cook for 5 to 15 minutes until the juice is soft and flowing. Strain through a sieve or damp cheesecloth over a large bowl. You can add 1/2 cup of water for every 4 pounds of juice and 3/4 cup of sugar for each cup of juice. Boil the fruit juice and sugar until it jells (220 degrees on a candy thermometer). Skim the froth from the top of the jelly. When it starts to hold onto a spoon thickly it is done. Pour into prepared jelly glasses.

Some fruits do not have enough acid or pectin if used by themselves so you may want to add commercial pectin. If you do, follow their directions.

Quick breads are a popular gift food. They keep well overnight. In fact, when the bread is very fresh it crumbles too easily. Quick breads also freeze beautifully. I like to make two or three varieties in batches, then just wrap with foil or colored plastic, label and freeze.

Cranberry Nut Bread

1 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the egg and sugar together and add the orange juice and butter to this mixture. Add cranberries and nuts to this. In a separate bowl put the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix well. Add to the first mixture. Stir well and put into a greased loaf pan. Bake for one hour.

Honey Candy

1/2 cup honey
1 pound of walnut (or other), chopped
1/2 pound almonds, slivered or chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1-1/2 tablespoon lemon zest, very fine

Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook 3 or 4 minutes, mixing constantly. Grease a large cookie sheet. Spread candy mixture over it and let cool for 2 minutes or longer. Break into small pieces. Nice gift in a jar or small tin.

Pinecone Potpourri

1/2 pound (8ozs.) pinecones (heat oven to 150 degrees and put cones on a cookie sheet in oven for 1 hour to dry cones and kill any bugs.)
90 drops of essential and spice oils, all or some of the following: cinnamon oil, allspice oil, orange oil, clove oil, nutmeg oil
2 ounces dried orange peel, large pieces
2 ounces orrisroot chunks or pieces
1/2 ounce bay leaves or eucalyptus leaves

Combine the oils and brush onto the pinecones. Put all the ingredients into a large jar with a lid and let this set for 3 weeks, shake often. To give away, put some in cellophane bags and tie with a pretty ribbon.

Notes & Tips

*There has been a trend in Indian country over the past years to decorate a tree, a small tree, with assorted Dreamcatchers. I know a lady who has been doing this for years and people send them to her from all over. It's a beautiful sight.

*Sometimes you need a gift to take somewhere on short notice. Roast some nuts with honey and spices. Flavored popcorn is always a welcome nibble, especially if there are children. Remember, a small gift is better than a big promise.

*Remember, you may be only one person in this world, but you may just be the world to one person.

*Birthdays are good for you, the more you have, the longer you live.

*How old would you be, if you didn't know how old you are?

*Life's treasures are people, not things. But, you knew that.