Go farm to friend (or family) for homemade holiday gifts

Honey almond granola, as made by Kate Washington, is dressed up for giving in glass containers.
Honey almond granola, as made by Kate Washington, is dressed up for giving in glass containers.

We all know Sacramento has gone big on farm to fork lately, but what about farm to friend? This holiday season, add a locavore flair to your homemade gifts to friends and family. Area farmers and specialty markets are overflowing with produce, from tangy citrus to honeyed ripe persimmons to crunchy nuts. All this bounty lends itself well to sweet treats to give away – or, if you’re so inclined, to keep.

With festive packaging (check the baking aisle of any craft store for a multitude of options) and our approachable recipes, a local holiday is easily within reach. Persimmon-cranberry bread is packed with the tangy burst of bright-red berries as well as the sweetness of a favorite backyard fruit (be sure to use soft, sweet Hachiya persimmons, which have pointed tips, rather than the squat, crunchy Fuyu persimmons). It’s equally good baked in large loaves as it is in giftable paper molds to serve on Christmas morning or with a cup of tea when friends drop by.

Regional cookbooks make a wonderful gift that will inspire recipients to keep cooking locally, or that can be paired with a treat from the book itself. We share a recipe below for candied orange peel from “The Davis Farmers Market Cookbook” (Elderflower Press, $26.95), by Ann M. Evans. (The book is available at Avid Reader Books, Soil Born Farm, the Davis Food Co-op and online.) Evans, a longtime supporter of local foods who is a co-founder of both the Davis Farmers Market and the Davis Food Co-op, also offers suggestions for giving gifts straight from the local food source – no cooking required.

“There are beautiful different preserves that some of the farm women have made – fruit chutneys and jams,” Evans says. “The fruit chutneys would be very nice to pick up with some artisanal cheese and beautiful fresh bread, for a hostess gift or to serve to friends. Fresh honeys also make a beautiful gift to pair with cheese.”

Seek out such items at farmers markets near you, or for last-minute giving you can find a good selection of local products at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op (2820 R St.), Taylor’s Market (2900 Freeport Blvd.) and Preservation & Co (1717B 19th St.).

If you have a backyard tree heavy with citrus, as many people in our region do, dressing it up is optional, Evans notes.

“A citrus basket is so darling,” Evans says. “Some of my favorite gifts are so simple. A neighbor just brought me a big basket of limes from her tree, and then I have them out in my kitchen. If you have something in your yard, it might be excess to you but for a neighbor gift, those simple gifts are wonderful. Who doesn’t want a basket of fresh navels?”

If you can’t resist gilding the lily, pair the citrus with a prettily packaged bag of candied peel or a jar of homemade lemon curd.

There’s no need to confine yourself to fresh fruits, however.

“Dried fruit is really a staple of the California winter pantry,” Evans notes. “We’ve grown them in the summer and we love using them, but they can be used so differently in the winter. They can go in stews, like beef or lamb, or chicken with figs. Package up dried figs, prunes, or apricots with a recipe, and it’s a great gift item. And the beautiful dried fruit at the markets pairs well with cheese or on a winter fruit plate after dinner.”

Our recipe for crunchy honey-almond granola uses local dried fruits of your choice – brighten it up with golden dried apricots, or consider the dusky crunch of dried figs. It also relies on local nuts, which are freshly harvested and delicious at this time of year. Consider slow-roasting them with olive oil (olio nuovo, or the freshly pressed crop of oil, has been available for a few weeks, Evans points out) and tossing with chopped fresh herbs like rosemary.

If you have rosemary or other herbs getting leggy in your garden, snip sprigs to tie on to any edible gift, as a bonus gift.

“Just give big branches, wrapped in raffia — the recipient can let it sit there and dry until they use it,” says Evans. “It’s a beautiful item in the kitchen, and people love seeing the rosemary branches and then use it more.”

Like these herb branches or a bright citrus basket, homemade gifts with a local flavor can be simple, but they’re always meaningful.

“I try to make very sure the person will appreciate it, because these handmade items are worth so much,” Evans says. “Your time and your love go into them, so they’re very special.”

Honey-almond granola

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Makes About 8 cups

Notes: This granola is a flexible formula; feel free to vary the nuts or other ingredients, such as by adding wheat germ, flax seeds, or protein powder. Similarly, the dried fruits – added at the end so they retain their chewy softness –are easy to vary according to your preference. Seek out local honey and try different varietals to vary the flavor; Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies (2110 X St.) has a particularly good selection.

4 cups rolled oats

2 cups almonds

1/2 cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)

1/2 cup shredded dried coconut

1/3 cup powdered milk

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

2-3 cups dried fruit (coarsely chopped if large), such as apricots, figs or cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix oats, almonds, pepitas, coconut, powdered milk, sesame seeds and salt.

In a small bowl, mix honey, butter, oil, and vanilla until smooth. Pour over oat mixture and stir until coated. Spread on 2 rimmed baking sheets lined with baking parchment.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir well. Reduce oven temperature to 225 degrees and bake until well browned, 45 minutes to 1 hour longer. Let cool completely, stirring occasionally (granola will crisp as it cools). Mix in dried fruit. Store airtight up to 1 month.