Recipe Spotlight: Making the perfect holiday gift basket with Florida produce

IT’S ALMOST CHRISTMAS, BUT THAT’S NOT NEWS. The problem is what to get for the person who has everything and you have nothing for. Food is always a good answer, and luckily, we’re in Florida where fresh produce is a year-round treat. You need just enough freshness to say Merry Christmas … just enough to get your giftee started on something tasty.

Head to a craft store for a container. Look for something different … maybe a small pail or an unfinished stool that becomes a container when you turn it upside down and line it with a perky patterned cloth. When your imagination fails, there are always baskets.


A tangerine was a stocking treat in the Great White North when I was a lad. You can put the kids to work on citrus gifts for relatives. All you need is a bag of oranges with tight skins (tangerines won’t work) and a bottle of cloves. Let’s assume you have ribbon. You need it to tie the oranges so they will hang.

Get your cloves in the ethnic sections of supermarkets or make a trip to a Latin store. The little bottles on supermarket spice shelves cost far too much for crafts.

All you have to do is stud an orange with cloves. Use quite a few cloves because you want the aroma of citrus and cloves to mingle and perfume a room. Mom or dad can draw lines on the orange and the kids can follow the lines. Or make a happy face on both sides of the fruit.

Young children will find it easier to stick the cloves in the skin if an adult has used a small nail to make holes to follow. When the studding is done, use a couple of turns of ribbon to make a hanger. These can go on the tree or hang them with the stockings. The orange will dry and shrivel and last for years when used to perfume m’lady’s lingerie drawer.

If anyone asks, this is a more modern version of an old medicine amulet called a pomander. It used to be made of all sorts of healthy things few people even know about these days, including storax, calamite, labdanum, benzoin resin, spikenard, and civet musk, thought to ward off sickness. These are also said ward off moths. You can also use lemons, limes, and grapefruit to make pomanders.

The stool or basket you bought a few paragraphs ago becomes a container for a variety of oranges. Head to a grove for great variety and prices. Ridge Island groves on Old Polk City Road is a great place to get a lot of different flavors of citrus. Do get some Page oranges if you can.

Add a bottle of vodka for an adult who is handy and knows his way around a screwdriver.


Now, get canning jars, preferably small ones — perfect for pickles. It doesn’t take long for these easy pickles. But they have to be refrigerated so they’re as much hostess gift as Christmas gift. Or use them for both when you are visiting two friends. The recipe is adapted from


5-7 cups sliced cucumbers, unpeeled
1 cup sliced onions
1 cup chopped bell peppers
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup white vinegar
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon celery seeds

Mix sliced cucumbers, sliced onions, chopped peppers, and salt in a glass container. Let rest one hour. Do not drain. Add vinegar, sugar, and seeds. Mix together very well. Place in jars. Refrigerate. Eat when cold.


If you have friends who are into Mexican food, a jar or two of no-cook salsa would be nice … and quick to fix.


1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
Small can chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon chopped hot peppers,
or to taste
Large can chopped tomatoes
1/2 bunch green onions, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Dash dried oregano
Dash cumin

Mash garlic and salt together. Add rest of ingredients. Mix well. Transfer to jars. Chill well. Recipe can be doubled or tripled. Add a cute ribbon around the top of the jars.

Merry, and healthy, Christmas to you and yours from me and mine.


article by TRENT ROWE

Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Ag News magazine.

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