For many years gift baskets have been my holiday ritual for close friends and family. Whether they lived next door or across the country, I would spend the entire month of December in preparation: I’d have lists and time-lines for planning, baking, cooking, packaging and wrapping each specialty basket.
I can’t speak for the recipients, but I know it was the highlight of my holiday season. I loved every phase, especially the packaging and wrapping. Each item was individually wrapped and strategically positioned in its basket―filled to brimming and interspersed with surprise gadgets and novelty gifts tucked in amongst the excelsior and raffia.
The chutneys, pickled treats, baked sweet breads, the bars and cookies were a joy to make. There were those gifts that didn’t go so well, too. One year I included fresh jars of the family’s favorite homemade salsa. Even with a note on the package Open on Arrival for Refrigeration, my daughter left hers under the Christmas tree where it nearly exploded.
It slowly got to the point that shipping became a major consideration, and the baskets became smaller and lighter. Now, postal rates nearly equal the cost of the entire project.
This year I resorted to a hybrid approach: gift trays for the locals and Harry and David for the out-of-towners. Harry and David is a southern Oregon success story and one of the early gift basket mail order firms to make it big. Their farm stand and subsequent gourmet store launched in Medford, Oregon set a level of excellence that is still maintained today.
So, ok, I’m supporting the home team; but, I do feel as if I have sold out. The good news is that all the gifts arrived on time (early actually), in good condition, and everyone seems content. One daughter, on a juicing and raw foods regime, was thrilled with her gorgeous fancy pears. Another daughter was plowing her way through the Tower of Treats enjoying their famous Moose Munch….
For my lucky neighbors, this year’s gift items included an old standby, Raspberry Bars. These are colorful, quick to make and tasty. The raspberry jam can be replaced by any type of jam, jelly or preserve. Since they have been included in past baskets, they are known to hold up extremely well―and even improve with time.
- 1½ cups oatmeal (not quick)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ½ cup butter, melted
- ½ tsp. vanilla
- 5 oz. raspberry jam, seedless
- ½ cup almonds, chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13” pan with foil and spray it with oil.
- In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Pour the melted butter and vanilla over the dry ingredients and mix to moisten thoroughly.
- Spread about half of the oat mixture evenly over bottom of the pan and pat it down firmly. Carefully spread the jam thinly over the oat layer.
- Combine the almonds with the remaining oats and sprinkle it over the top and pat down firmly.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes until lightly browned. Cool on a rack and cut into 4 rows of 7 fingers. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired. Yield: 24-28 bars.