Treats from the kitchen for a homemade holiday

Nothing fancy, these butter cookies are just full of ginger flavor.

What's more personal than homemade treats from your kitchen? Seasonal tins, boxes or jars filled with goodies can make lovely, thoughtful gifts for neighbors or friends during the holidays.

So many cooking traditions are succumbing to "too much time or trouble" that "homemade" gains more cachet with each passing year. Gifts of food truly are a labor of love.

We recently asked readers to share favorite recipes that they make and give as Christmas gifts, and we heard from several people.

The recipes

What is simple to make, looks fantastic in a jar, is "out-of-this-world" good to eat and is able to keep for weeks in the refrigerator?

Cranberry Chutney, says Ernie Berger of Seabrook Island. "Tie a bow around the lid and you have a great gift."

This condiment goes well with a variety of meats and cheeses.

Cranberry Chutney

4 small oranges

2 cups sugar

4 cups cranberries

1 cup chopped unpeeled apple

1/2 cup seedless raisins

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Cut oranges in half and scoop out orange segment with sharp teaspoon or grapefruit spoon. In a 3-quart saucepan, combine sugar and all the ingredients. Heat to boiling and simmer until the cranberries start to pop and are cooked. Do not overcook; remove from heat when about one-quarter have popped.

When cool, spoon chutney into nice jars and refrigerate.

Jean Lamble of James Island makes these miniature cakes only once a year at Christmas. Moist, light and yummy, there's pleasure in every bite.

Pecan Rum Cakes

Makes 40 squares

For cake:

2 1/2 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup butter or shortening, softened

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 egg whites at room temperature

1/4 cup spiced rum

For icing:

1/2 cup butter, softened

3 scant cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

Pinch salt

1/4 cup rum, plus more for soaking

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups finely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13x9-inch cake pan. Line with wax paper and grease paper.

For cake: In bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add milk, butter or shortening and vanilla, Beat at medium speed 2 minutes. Add unbeaten egg whites and rum. Beat 2 minutes longer at medium speed. Pour batter into pan. Bake 35-40 minutes or until surface of cake springs back to touch. Cool on rack.

For icing: In small mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add salt, rum and vanilla extract and keep beating until very fluffy. Cut cake into 1 1/2-inch squares. Pour a generous teaspoon of rum on each cake. Spread icing on all sides and roll in pecans.

These cookies are one of the many recipes Pattie O'Brien of Mount Pleasant turns to for food gifts.

Ginger Butter Crisps

Makes 3 1/2 dozen

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1/3 cup sugar

2 tablespoons honey

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 cup finely chopped nuts, such as almonds, pecans or walnuts

2-3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

Cream the butter, sugar and honey.

Mix together the flour, baking soda, cloves and ground ginger. Stir into butter mixture. Blend in the nuts and crystallized ginger and combine well.

Roll into a 1 1/2-inch cylinder. Wrap in wax paper. Chill at least 1 hour. Slice into 1/4-inch rounds.

Bake on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly brown.

Cool for 2-3 minutes before removing.

Sue Mohle of Charleston treasures this old family recipe passed down from her grandmother. "Every Christmas, we made these delicious, melt-in-your-mouth cookies together. I continue to make them every Christmas with my daughter, making enough to give to friends and neighbors."

Chocolate Snowballs

1 1/4 cups butter

2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups sifted flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cocoa

Confectioners' sugar

Cream butter and sugar; add vanilla. In another bowl, combine flour, salt and cocoa; stir. Combine with creamed mixture. Refrigerate dough 1 hour before baking.

On an ungreased cookie sheet, roll into balls (smaller than a golf ball). Bake at 350 degrees for 14-16 minutes, being careful as they burn easily. Cool slightly and roll in confectioners' sugar.

Constance Dudley of Mount Pleasant gives this cake at Christmas to people who don't like fruit cake. The recipe was her grandmother's.

Black Walnut Cake

2 cups sugar

1 cup soft butter or margarine

4 large eggs, separated

1 cup milk

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup red wine

1 1/2-2 cups black walnuts (see cook's note)

Cook's note: Roll walnuts between two pieces of wax paper to release flavor.

With an electric mixer, cream sugar and butter. Mix in egg yolks and gradually add milk. Stir in 2 cups flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder and the wine. Stir nuts into the remaining 2 cups of flour. (This will keep the nuts from settling to the bottom of the pan.) Stir into the batter. Fold in the unbeaten egg whites. Spray loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and bake at 300 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.

Optional: Wrap the cooled cake with a cloth soaked in rum. Wrap with foil. Will keep refrigerated for a week or two or can be frozen for months.

"This is my favorite ace-in-the-hole recipe when I participate in a cookie exchange or make homemade treats as gifts," says Jean Spencer of West Ashley. "No cooking is necessary, and they keep for days in a tight-fitted container such as a tin."

Substitute apple juice or orange juice for the liquor if no alcohol is preferred.

Adult Rum/Bourbon/Brandy Balls

Makes 36

2 1/2 cups finely crushed packaged vanilla wafers

1 cup confectioners' sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/4 cup rum, bourbon or brandy

Granulated sugar (or cocoa; see variation)

Mix crumbs, confectioners' sugar and nuts. Add corn syrup and rum, bourbon or brandy; mix well. With wet hands, shape into 1-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar. Store in airtight container.

Cocoa variation: To adjust for the cocoa version, add 2 tablespoons cocoa to the dry ingredients and increase the corn syrup to 3 tablespoons. Roll in cocoa or mixture of granulated sugar and cocoa.

Melanie Jeffcoat of Goose Creek turns ordinary mustard into something special for a gift. Beware, this has a fiery kick.

Hot & Spicy Mustard

1 (9-ounce) container prepared yellow mustard

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate in airtight container for at least two days to let flavors blend. Store in small jelly jars. Serve with pretzels.

Cook's note: Ingredients may be increased for larger quantities.

"This recipe came from my son when he was in 4th grade," says Susan A. Beattie, who works at the College of Charleston. "Since I was a working mom, he attended an after-school program. The director organized a holiday cooking activity for all the kids. They made special treats for family and friends and typed up the recipes. This one is one of my favorites, can be made by all ages, and loved by everyone who has received it over the years."

Cracker Toffee

40 saltine crackers

2 sticks of butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place crackers side by side on a foil-lined jelly roll pan. Set aside.

Combine butter and sugar over medium heat to boiling. Stir often for 2 minutes (as it boils).

Pour mixture over crackers and spread evenly. Bake 5-7 minutes or until bubbly. Remove from oven and let stand for 1 minute.

Sprinkle chocolate chips and let set for 5 minutes. Spread melted chocolate evenly over all.

Sprinkle chopped nuts on top. Let stand until cool.

Refrigerate until candies are cold and chocolate is set. Cut into squares.

For years, Harriet Little of Summerville has made multiple batches of cookies or candy for Christmas gift boxes.

Among her favorites, because so few people make them, are meringues. However, she does note that meringues should not be combined with an assortment of goodies, as they will "wilt."


Yield: 6-8 dozen

4 egg whites at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup pecans, ground

Set oven at 250 degrees.

Beat egg whites until stiff and dry, gradually adding 2/3 cup sugar. Continue beating until mixture holds shape, adding vanilla, remaining sugar and pecans.

Using small cookie scoop, drop on foil-lined baking sheets. (4-6 per sheet). Bake 50 minutes. Slide foil off sheet and allow to cool completely before carefully removing. Store in tight container. Freezes well.

Gladys Fulton of Summerville was served this cake by her mother-in-law, Mamie Fulton, at their first meeting almost 65 years ago. She has loved it and made it every holiday since.

Mrs. Fulton's Coconut Raisin Cake

1 pound butter, softened

2 3/4 cups sugar

9 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups flour

2 cups raisins

2 cups flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla and beat well with a mixer for 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the flour, blending in by hand, until completely mixed. Combine raisins and coconut with remaining cup of flour. Add to creamed mixture and blend in.

Grease and flour a large Bundt pan and pour in batter. Bake for 2 hours.

Aileen Long has made this popcorn treat several years to give to her neighbors and friends. She tries to find Christmas tins and jars and ties a bow around the container.

Caramel Popcorn

2 quarts of popped popcorn

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons dark corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place popped corn in a 4- to 6-quart microwave-safe casserole dish.

Combine brown sugar, butter or margarine, dark corn syrup and salt in a 1-quart glass bowl. Cook on high in microwave for 1 1/2 minutes.

Stir, then microwave again for 2-2 1/2 minutes. Remove and add baking soda and vanilla. Pour over popcorn and stir. Microwave for 1 minute, stop and stir again, and cook for 1 minute more.

Turn out onto waxed paper and spread to cool. Store in an airtight container.

Sheila Strack of Manning says bread in a jar makes a great gift. There is no need to refrigerate until after opening, and it will last about a year on the shelf.

"I have made it using carrots, zucchini and apple. All are excellent. I first made this for our daughter whose oldest child was in preschool and needed items for bake sales. I made the Bread in a Jar and she kept them on her shelf and gave them out as needed. Now I use them as 'welcome to the neighborhood' gifts as newcomers settle here."

Bread in a Jar

Makes 8-10 pint-size jars

2 2/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup shortening

4 eggs

2/3 cup juice or water

2 cups fruit or vegetables, grated or chopped

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon each baking powder, salt, cinnamon

2 teaspoons baking soda

Spray inside of pint canning jars with nonstick cooking spray. Don't grease rims.

Preheat oven to 340 degrees.

Mix batter as for a cake: Cream sugar, shortening and eggs. Add juice and fruit or vegetables. Mix flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together and then add to batter. Mix thoroughly.

Pour 1 cup batter in each jar. Place jars on cookie sheet, put in 340-degree oven and bake 45-50 minutes. Make sure batter looks cooked.

Remove jars one at a time. Wipe rim, put on canning lid and ring. If batter has risen too much in the jar (too close to the top to be able to seal), use a clean spoon and press down on bread to create 1/2-1 inch of head room before putting lid on jar.