As homemakers, we don’t always appreciate the skills we’ve cultivated and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. For example, I bake nearly all of our bread for several reasons, none of which have to do with being a gourmand. I like being able to control the ingredients. Since I always keep the ingredients on hand, I never have to run to the store just for some bread. Finally, it’s way cheaper than a loaf of squishy, airy store-bought bread. For me, it’s an easy job because I’ve known how since I was in middle school and I hardly consider it special, but to others, it’s a rare skill and a treat to be savored.
Last Christmas I spent with a schoolmate who lives in the country. I had gone to her home in the early autumn to board because I had much writing to do and needed quiet. At the same time I needed the sweet, pure country air.
When we first began talking of Christmas, fully six or eight weeks before that date, Ruth, my friend, began the old-time plaint: “I know I shall get a lot of pretty things from my city friends and relatives, and what on earth can I get in this old ark that is fit to send them?”
“This old ark,” was the village general store, where we were when we brought up the subject of Christmas giving.
“Ruth Preston,” I answered her, “with all the opportunities you have for making the most delightful, unusual and really worthwhile gifts, you should worry about Storekeeper Wiggin’s limited stock of cheese and chewing tobacco.”
“What do you mean?” gasped Ruth.
“Well, you never lived in the city, cooped up in an apartment, or in a house in a big town where the nearest woods and nearest garden were miles and miles away? Did you now?”
She admitted that she never had.
“Imagine that you did live in such a place. What would you say if you were to receive a beautiful little baby fir tree eighteen inches high, a luscious deep green, growing in a pretty little wooden tub painted deep red? Suppose it came to you carefully wrapped in wet burlap so that the express people could see what it was the keep it right side up?
“It would be pretty,” admitted Ruth.
“And suppose you lived in a big elevator apartment with a tiny kitchenette and a new maid every week or so and all the goodies you had you made yourself or got at a cafe or dug out of cans with a can opener. How would you like to get a great big fat mince pie, packed in a box so carefully that it couldn’t crush or break?”
I had set her to thinking. Soon after that we brought up the subject once more. I sent back to the city for two dollars’ worth of narrow, red ribbon, holly ribbon, Christmas labels, tags and stickers.
“What are you going to send him?” I asked Ruth one day as she mentioned her very wealthy brother who had lived in a distant city for twenty years.
“Oh dear, Tom has so much money that anything I could afford would look cheap!” she complained.
“Neckties are silly and I don’t know the latest styles. I’d love to surprise him once—”
“Make fifty of those old-fashioned big sugar cookies, such as your mother used to make for you and Tom when you were youngsters. I know how they taste—want one right now! Wrap each one in white tissue, stick a tiny fancy label on, to fasten the tissue together, pack them firmly in a box and send them along to him.” Watch his mouth water! Ruth did it and the letter she got from her brother brought the quick tears to her eyes.
To my brother’s wife I sent a small crate of mixed vegetables. She was delighted. I sent them early enough for her to use them for the Christmas dinner. There was a small Hubbard squash, some choice potatoes, onion, beets, carrots, turnips, a cabbage, some apples, a dozen hard winter pears and a little jar of delicious crabapple jelly tucked in.
To our old school-teacher, Ruth and I joined in making a big, rich fruit cake.
To a friend who had a number of small children, Ruth sent half a dozen jars of pure honey and many little jars of jellies, chili sauce, baby pickles, jams and other preserves.
To a doctor friend—the one who sent me to inhale the country air for six months—I sent two dozen big, rich duck eggs, quite fresh. On each egg I pasted a tiny sticker, a little Santa or Christmas tree or stocking or something of that sort. I placed these in a wire case which holds each egg firmly, marked them plainly and they reached the good doctor without a break or a crack.
Every year Ruth’s great-aunt send her something of value. This great-aunt owns a string of business blocks in a big city and keeps a lawyer busy attending solely to her estate. At my suggestion, Ruth prepared a goose for the oven, stuffed it, sewed it up in a white cloth and packed it in a box, the corners of which she filled with apples and onions for roasting. This she sent to Great-aunt, not without fear and trembling.
“The very idea of sending her something to eat,” she gasped, “she’ll think it an insult.” She invited a select few in to dinner, she wrote, and boasted of the “home-grown goose straight from my dear niece who lives on a farm,” and all her guests raved.
To friends who had children, we sent baskets of native nuts: walnuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, chinquapins and the like. We also made some delicious molasses kisses, wrapped them in waxed paper, packed them with sprigs of evergreen and sent them along.
If you live in the maple belt, you surely have some maple sugar left. If it is black, melt it over and re-cast the cakes. They will be delicious. Or melt them and stir them into the soft maple sugar and let your friends use them for genuine maple fudge.
If you have popcorn, tie up four bunches, six ears in a bunch, with red ribbon and send it as a present. Country pop corn “tastes different,” you know! It does. I’ve tasted it.