Edible gifts (+ recipes)
Whenever produce is in peak season and cheap, I like to preserve it for use later in the year. The strawberries that are in full flush right now will never taste better. Soon there will be a plethora of berries to deal with, and then a run of lovely stonefruit and pipfruit. And later still, as autumn rolls around, there will be peppers and chillies and tomatoes.
All these sun-kissed harvests can carry their flavours into jars in the pantry to prop up the muted flavours of winter. Come a cold winter's night, you will open the jar and bring out the tastes of summer.
It might sound like a lot of work to get them there, but trust me, it's easy. It's not like you have to get out giant cauldrons and go into a major production - small batches of just a few jars are really easy to make. There's something incredibly rewarding and very therapeutic about a line-up of jars filled and sealed on the bench ready for the pantry.
Getting into the rhythm of creating a pantry of homemade preserves as cheap fresh harvests come to hand saves time, energy and dollars later on.
But even more than this, homemade preserves provide a signature to your food. You always feel like a bit of a hero when you can pull out a jar of homemade kasundi or some peach chutney at the summer barbecue and have everyone clamouring for the recipe.
I am a real fan of making edible gifts for my friends. And I love receiving them. Last year for Christmas I received treats such as pinot noir cherries, Moroccan tomato chutney, kasundi, Indian peach chutney and some wonderful apricot jam. There's something so personal about these kinds of gifts, they represent the lexicon of a family's larder, often with the tastes and histories of recipes passed down generation to generation.
I aim for one batch production each year, whether it's homemade berry jam, chilli jam, a tasty nut butter, pickled cherries or some other nice pickle or preserve. When you're choosing what to make, think about perishability - you want something that will last at least three weeks. You also need to think about whether it has to be kept chilled - this can be a trial when festive fridges are already overflowing.
It's so satisfying knowing that I've produced something delicious and handmade that the people I care about will enjoy.
In a month or two lemons will be hard to find and ridiculously expensive so it's a good idea to preserve them now, when they are cheap. Preserved lemons look pretty and make a useful gift. When you come to use them you discard the juicy middles and just eat the rinds. They make a great addition to couscous, salads, dressings and tagines. Pureed, they add a special flavour to sauces and dressings. Once opened, they will keep for months in the fridge. Get the recipe
For the uninitiated, "Christmas mince" conjures this weird idea of meat in a sweet tart - which it once was. The origins of Christmas mince pies date back to the Crusaders, who brought back recipes from the Middle East that used meat and fruits and spices. Thankfully we have abandoned the minced meat, and the suet that once gave these pies their unctuous richness has been replaced, with great success (and a lot fewer calories), with grated apple. Get the recipe
At this time of year, roadside stalls are piled high with strawberries. I always ask for jam berries. They're cheaper as they may be a little squishy or imperfect but they're ideal for jam. There's nothing quite like the taste of homemade jams like this and they take just a matter of minutes to make. Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com