Humble Keepsakes and Customs

December 17, 2012

“It comes every year and will go on forever.  And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs.  Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart.”
— Marjorie Holmes

Handmade paper ornament

Handmade paper ornament

“To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”
— E. B. White

“Maybe Christmas, the Grinch thought, doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more.”
— Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The largest part of my Christmas doesn’t come from a store.  My keepsakes are handmade, for the most part.  And yes, they are humble, like this paper cut Scandinavian horse ornament I made this year from instructions I found in Mollie Makes Christmas:  Living and Loving a Handmade Holiday.

Or my traditional holiday wreath, made from rosemary sprigs from my garden.  For me, simple is best.

Homemade rosemary wreath

Homemade rosemary wreath

First taste of homemade blackberry jam on toast

I picked enough blackberries from the bushes in our yard to make my annual batch of blackberry jam.  I use a recipe given to me by my friend and colleague, Shirley, who has perfected her jam-making talents over the many years I’ve worked with her.  Everyone at work looks forward to Christmas when Shirley gives each of us a jar of her homemade blackberry jam — a welcome taste of summer!

I put my jam in the freezer, so I don’t worry about sealing the finished product.

Here’s Shirley’s recipe.

Mix in a large kettle:

  • 5 c mashed blackberries (okay to leave seeds in)
  • 1 box Sure-Jell
  • a little dab of butter or margarine

Cook on high until boiling, then add 5-1/2 c sugar all at once.  Cook on high until the jam comes to a full rolling boil, and then continue cooking for 1 minute more.  Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized jars.

Makes about 7 cups.

Lots of ripening Himalayan blackberries

Some of the vines had a single ripe berry at their tip!

Picked berries and stained fingers

Jars of jam

Pyramid of jam jars

Tasty bite








DIY Gift: Homemade Caramels

December 20, 2011

Homemade caramels

My daughter usually makes at least one batch of these caramels for her holiday gift-giving.  We still use the hand-written recipe that my oldest sister shared with me many years ago.

Card with hand-written recipe for caramels

You do need a candy thermometer for this recipe.  I’ve made a note that 245 degrees F is gives the perfect firmness.

Candy thermometer

I always forget how long it takes for the candy to reach this temperature.  It seems to stay at 225 degrees F for so long that you wonder if your thermometer is broken.

Bubbling ingredients

But persevere!  Eventually the temperature will rise to 245 degrees. F.  It’s worth the wait.

Cutting the slab of caramel into bite-sized pieces

I wrap the individual pieces in waxed paper.




DIY Gift: Homemade Granola

December 17, 2011

Gift jar of homemade granola

In keeping with my “Simple Christmas” theme, this year I made homemade granola for holiday gift giving.  Lately I’ve been enjoying fresh apples, cut into chunks, topped with Greek yogurt and a generous spread of granola.  The crunchiness is quite satisfying.

 I found my granola recipe in Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights by Sophie Dahl.  Here’s the recipe:
Tawny Granola
2 c rolled oats
1/2 c pumpkin seeds
1/2 c sliced almonds
1/2 c unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c agave syrup or honey
2 Tbsp apple juice
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/2 chopped, dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, cherries, etc.)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and oil a rimmed cookie sheet.
Combine the oats, pumpkin seeds, almonds and coconut.  In a separate large bowl, mix all of the wet ingredients and the spices.  Combine the dry ingredients with the wet.  Spread mixture out evenly on the cookie sheet.  Bake for around 40 minutes, keeping an eye on the granola.  When it starts to brown, turn the mixture over with a spatula to make sure it toasts evenly.
When it is nicely brown, remove from the oven and cool.  Then add the dried fruit.  Store in an airtight container.

Oatmeal, coconut, almonds and pumpkin seeds

Mix up the granola ingredients in a large bowl

Spread the granola on the baking sheet

The granola makes a crunchy topping on yogurt and apples