By Diane Gilleland
The clock is ticking, and Christmas is very nearly here! Still need a quick, easy, and inexpensive gift idea? Try making some homemade herb and spice mixes. There are lots of ways to make them festive using crafty scraps you already have in your stash. This how-to helps you with the mixing and the packaging.
Dried herbs or spices – see below
Measuring spoons and cups
Wide-mouth funnel or paper scrap – see below
Clean glass or plastic containers – see below
Fabric, ribbon, and paper for packaging
Packing tape optional
Glue stick optional
Sources for herbs and spices
The best way to keep herb and spice mixes affordable is to buy the ingredients in bulk. Many grocery chains have bulk food sections, where you can scoop up plenty of dried basil or cinammon for pennies. If you don’t have access to bulk spices locally, try online outlets like Penzey’s or The Spice House.
What recipe to use?
Spice mix recipes abound on the internet. (Check out this page and this one.) But if you’d rather go DIY, you can use your favorite recipe to extrapolate a spice mix of your own.
Let’s use a favorite spice cookie recipe of mine as an example of how this works. As you can see in the handy table above, to make one batch of these cookies, the recipe calls for:
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
These spices would mix together really nicely. But obviously, you’ll want to make enough spice mix so that the person you’re giving it to can make several batches of cookies. So, you just need to multiply the measurements by the number of batches you want, as you can see above.
If you add up all the amounts we need for one batch of this recipe, it tells you how much spice mix to recommend that people use in their recipes. (You can include a copy of your recipe with the gift, or people can add the spice mix to their own favorite recipes.)
Mixing it up
Once you’ve done the math, making the actual spice mix is as easy as measuring, stirring, and packaging. When I make spice mixes for gifts, I like to mix up one gift’s worth at a time, so I know all the proportions are right.
Just measure all the spices (or herbs) into a bowl together.
I like to use wire wisk to mix everything together thoroughly. Don’t skimp on the stirring – it takes a few minutes to get everything nicely blended.
Packaging your spice mix
When I package spice mixes as gifts, I mainly consider two things: keeping the mix airtight so it stays fresh longer, and making sure the package is something a cook can use easily in the kitchen. Many grocery stores sell jelly jars with rubber seals, and these are excellent for spice packaging. Many kitchen stores also carry rubber-sealed glass jars with a wire lock. You might also look in your local drugstore’s travel-size aisle for small plastic containers.
Some cooks like to give spice mixes in tins, but I’ve found them to be problematic. If the tin has a good airtight seal, then it can be hard to open, and unexpectedly send spice mix flying all over the kitchen! Tins that are easy to open usually don’t have a good air seal.
Above are several kinds of containers I’ve had success with in past years.
Spice mix has a way of getting all over the place when you’re pouring it into containers. A wide-mouth funnel really helps keep things cleaner. If you don’t have one, just bend a scrap of paper into a cone shape with a wide opening at both ends. it works perfectly!
Now let’s look at some easy ways to dress up those containers. If you’re using a jelly jar, this is a very traditional idea: cut a large circle of festive fabric and stretch it over the inner jar lid. (If you need a circle template, try tracing around a saucer or plate.) Then, twist the outer lid on over the fabric.
I made a very simple tag for this jar by taking a blank Christmas card and cutting it down to a smaller size. Then I hand-wrote a spaghetti sauce recipe inside, punched a little hole in the corner, and threaded a ribbon through it. (You could also make a gift tag on your computer.)
It’s also fun to make a sticky label for a jar of spice mix. Most word-processing software can do this, or you can use something like Photoshop or InDesign. Measure your jar ahead of time, so you know what size to make the label. Here, I’ve juxtaposed some photos and text on a long rectangle shape. Print this out on a label sheet, and stick it to the jar.
Over the years, I’ve learned the hard way that home-printed labels can easily be splashed with water in most kitchens, and that makes the ink run. So now, I seal my labels by putting a strip of packing tape over them.
This little plastic container came from the travel-size section of my local drugstore. It has a screw-top lid and is a perfect stocking-stuffer size. To decorate it, I just cut a strip of leftover scrapbook paper, wrote the name of the mix, and taped it around the container. Then I wrapped a sparkly pipe cleaner around the lid and curled up the ends.
For herb mixes in particular, you can always package them in a simple freezer bag, since many cooks like to store their herbs in the freezer to keep them fresh. Then, you can whip up a fabric bag to dress up the freezer bag.
Just cut a rectangle of fabric that fits around the filled freezer bag, with a little extra at the bottom and side, and about 3″ extra at the top. Then, fold the fabric in half with the right sides facing. Hand sew or machine sew the bag along the bottom and side. Turn it right-side out. If you like, cut the top edge of the bag with some pinking shears.
Pop in the spice mix, tie the bag closed with a ribbon, and add a pretty ornament to complete the presentation.
About the Author:
Diane Gilleland produces CraftyPod.com, a blog that geeks out on crafting and also helps crafters use the web more effectively to promote their businesses.