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Preserving summer's harvest to give away in winter Gifts from the Garden

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Everybody knows one of those super-organized people who do all their Christmas shopping by Labor Day, address their holiday greeting cards by Halloween and mail their holiday thank-you cards on the way to the post-Christmas sales -- where they buy wrapping paper, greeting cards and a few gifts for the following year.

These folks don't need to be reminded that the lazy days of summer are the perfect time to gather the season's fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and turn them into jams, jellies, conserves, vinegars and liqueurs.

But anyone can take advantage of summer's bounty and be ready for the holidays with a larder full of gifts. Gifts from the garden are among the most personable, pleasurable and practical. In such a materialistic age, these gifts represent an appreciation of a back-to-basics lifestyle.

But the recipes don't have to be basic. We've collected a cornucopia of gourmet gift ideas, all of which can be made with produce from the garden or farmers market.

Homemade gifts allow for creative combinations: Add extracts, spices or citrus zest to jams; combine an assortment of herbs in flavored vinegars; tinker with the alcohol base and flavorings for homemade liqueurs. Making food gifts also saves money -- similar store-bought gourmet foods are expensive.

Decorate your gift with a jaunty ribbon or bow and attach the recipe. Package them appropriately; for instance, provide a set of cordial glasses with the homemade liqueur, a collection of breads and biscuits with an assortment of jams and jellies or a pretty ceramic plate with the giardiniera.

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Vary the herbs in these vinegars according to your taste. Tarragon, dill and raspberry vinegar are especially popular. Use vinegars as a flavorful pick-me-up for salads, soups, vegetables or meats.

Herb Vinegar

2 to 4 rosemary sprigs, each about 5 inches long

2 thyme sprigs, optional

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

white wine vinegar

Poke rosemary and, if desired, thyme sprigs into a 3 1/2 -cup bottle. Add peppercorns, then fill bottle with vinegar. Cork bottle and let stand (at least 3 weeks) in a cool, dark place to develop flavor.

Spicy Chili Vinegar

4 dry bay leaves

6 small dried hot red chilies

4 large cloves peeled garlic (impale on a thin bamboo skewer, if desired)

red or white wine vinegar

Poke the bay leaves, chilies and garlic carefully into a bottle. Fill the bottle with vinegar. Cork bottle and let stand (at least 3 weeks) in a cool, dark place to develop flavor.

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Great for an appetizer tray, these brightly colored mixed vegetable pickles are much like those in supermarkets. If you like spicy, include jalapenos -- you can increase the amount up to about half a pound.

Giardiniera

Makes 6 pints

1 pound baby carrots (or regular carrots)

1 pound celery

1 pound cauliflower flowerets

1 pound white boiling onions (small onions, about 1/2 - to 1-inch in diameter)

1 pound each: red and green bell peppers

1/4 pound fresh jalapeno chilies, optional

6 cloves garlic

5 cups distilled white vinegar

1 1/2 cups soft tap water or bottled distilled water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1/4 cup mustard seeds

1 tablespoon canning salt or noniodized table salt

If using baby carrots, peel and cut in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1 1/2 -inch long pieces. Is using regular carrots, peel and cut into 1 1/2 -inch long julienne strips. Remove strings from celery; cut stalks in half lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1 1/2 -inch long pieces. Break cauliflower flowerets into 1 1/2 -inch pieces. Peel onions. Stem and seed bell peppers; then cut into 1/2 -by-2-inch strips. If using chilies, leave whole, making two small slits in each one. Peel garlic and cut each clove in half.

In a heavy-bottomed 8- to 10-quart stainless steel or unchipped enamel pan, mix vinegar, water, sugar, mustard seeds and salt. Bring to a boil, then boil for 3 minutes. Add all vegetables except the garlic. Bring to a boil (this may take about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, pushing vegetables down into liquid occasionally, until vegetables are almost tender when pierced (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat.

Place two pieces of garlic in each prepared, hot wide-mouth pint jar. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from hot vinegar solution and distribute among jars, leaving 1/2 -inch head space. Pour remaining vinegar solution over vegetables in jars, leaving 1/2 -inch head space. Gently run a narrow nonmetallic spatula between vegetables and jar sides to release air bubbles. Wipe rims and threads clean; top with hot lids, then firmly screw on bands. Process in boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adding 1 minute for each 1,000 feet above sea level. Can be stored up to a year.

Note: If not being stored, the processing can be omitted. Let stand for 12-24 hours at room temperature, then refrigerate. Lasts up to 1 month in the refrigerator.

French cucumber pickles are called cornichons; obtaining cukes that are tiny enough to make this French delicacy can be difficult. The best solution is to grow your own. Look for seeds of gherkins, a small, prickly cucumber (seed catalogs carry them) or any of the other varieties recommended for pickling. Gather the young cucumbers when they're an inch or two long, and pickle as soon as possible after they have been picked -- preferably the same day. When gift-giving time comes, a jar of cornichons will be welcomed by anyone who has ever tasted this traditional French accompaniment for pates and other

charcuterie.

Cold Pickled Cornichons

0$ 6 pounds tiny cucumbers (about 1

inch long)

1 1/2 cups coarse (kosher) salt, or 1 1/4 cups pickling salt

1/4 cup white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar

18-24 sprigs fresh tarragon, each about 4-6 inches long

6 large (or 10 medium) shallots, peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon mustard seed

1 tablespoon peppercorns

1 teaspoon whole allspice, optional

1/4 teaspoon whole cloves, optional

2 quarts white wine vinegar (more if needed)

Cover cucumbers with cold water and wash each with a soft cloth, being careful to remove remnants of blossoms. (Do not scrub.) Rinse and drain, then mix gently with salt in a nonaluminum bowl. Cover with cloth and let stand 24 hours, turning cucumbers occasionally in the brine that forms.

Drain the cucumbers, then swish them through 3 quarts of cold water mixed with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar. Drain, then wipe each cucumber dry with a soft cloth.

Scald and drain two 1/2 -gallon or 2-liter jars or crocks. Divide ingredients equally, and layer the cucumbers and seasonings in the containers, starting with a few tarragon sprigs on the bottom. Pour in enough white wine vinegar to cover the cucumbers and seasonings by at least an inch (2 inches is better). Cover the containers with airtight lids or two layers of heavy plastic wrap, held in place with rubber bands.

Leave the pickles in a cool, dark spot for a month. After that they will be ready to use. Once pickling is complete, pack cornichons in smaller jars, being sure to cover them well with vinegar. Cover the jars snugly; sealing and processing isn't necessary. These will keep up to a year in capped jars in a cool pantry.

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Newcomers may find a jelly made from jalapeno peppers strange, but one bite and they're hooked. Serve jalapeno jelly with cream cheese and crackers for a quick appetizer.

Jalapeno Jelly

Makes about 7 half-pints

1/4 cup chopped green jalapeno chilies (4-6 medium-size chilies; remove half the seeds before chopping)

3/4 cup chopped green bell pepper

6 cups sugar

2 1/2 cups cider vinegar

2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid pectin

In a blender or food processor, whirl chilies and bell pepper until finely ground. Place ground vegetables and any juice in a heavy-bottomed 8- to 10-quart pan. Stir in sugar and vinegar until well-blended.

Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin all at once. Return to a full rolling boil and continue boiling, stirring, for 1 minutes. Remove from heat and skim off any foam.

Ladle hot jelly into hot, sterilized half-pint jars, leaving 1/4 -inch head space. Wipe rims and thread clean; top with hot lids, then firmly screw on bands. Process in boiling water canner for 5 minutes.

adding 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level.

A jar of this red pepper jelly makes a nice gift, especially when given with the green jalapeno jelly. Serve it with meats and on crackers spread with cream cheese.

Red Pepper Jelly

Makes 6 cups, about six half-pints

2 cups lightly packed chopped red bell peppers (about 3 medium-size peppers)

2 1/2 cups white wine vinegar

6 cups sugar

2 pouches (3 ounces each) liquid pectin

Place cut-up bell peppers in a blender or food processor and whirl until finely chopped (you should have about 1 3/4 cup puree). Pour into a 5- to 6-quart pan and stir in vinegar and sugar until well-blended. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Pour in pectin all at once, bring to a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

Fill hot, clean half-pint jars with jelly to within 1/8 -inch of rims. Wipe rims clean and top with hot lids, screwing on firmly. Process jars for 10 minutes. adding one minute of processing time for each 1,000 feet above sea level. Cool on towel, away from drafts. Store in a dark, cool place up to 2 years.

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These apple rings make great gifts for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Spiced Apple Rings

6 cups sugar

1 2/3 cups cider vinegar

1 teaspoon red food color, optional

4 cinnamon sticks, each about 3 inches long

2 teaspoons whole cloves

About 4 pounds (about 12 medium-size) firm Golden Delicious apples, peeled and cored

Place sugar in a 5-quart pan along with vinegar, food color (if used), cinnamon sticks and cloves. Bring mixture to a boil, uncovered; reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

Slice apples crosswise into 1/3 -inch thick rings. Add to simmering syrup and cook, turning occasionally, until apples are barely tender when pierced and just becoming translucent around the edges (6 to 8 minutes).

With a fork, lift apples from syrup; place in four hot jars. Leaving spices in pan, ladle enough hot syrup into jars to come within 1/2 -inch of rims. Wipe rims clean; top with hot lids, then firmly screw on rings. Let cool on a towel, away from drafts. Store in a cool place for at least 1 week and up to 1 year.

From Sunset's "Gifts from the Kitchen." *

Cherry and orange flavors account for more than half of the fruit liqueurs sold. In the following recipe, and any recipe that calls for whole cherries, pierce the skins with a darning needle, skewer or fork down to the stone. The alcohol should permeate to the stone, which imparts additional flavor. You can vary the alcohol base by using all vodka, all brandy, or 2/3 brandy and 1/3 vodka, as in this recipe.

Whole Cherry Liqueur

Makes 4 cups

2 pounds (about 2 1/2 cups) ripe Bing cherries

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

sliced and scraped peel of 1/2 lemon

2 cups brandy

1 cup vodka

1/2 cup sugar syrup (recipe follows)

Pull stems from half the cherries. Cut the stems from the other half of the cherries just at the top so the inner fruit is exposed. Pierce all cherries down to the stones with 4-5 holes. Place cherries in a quart jar. Sprinkle powdered sugar and let dissolve. Add lemon peel; shake gently. Add brandy and vodka to cover.

Close jar and store, undisturbed, in a warm place (about 75 degrees) for 6 to 8 weeks. Strain and filter. Squeeze all the juice from the cherries. Add sugar syrup; shake well. Mature for at least 2 weeks.

Sugar syrup: Boil together 2 parts sugar and 1 part water for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Let cool before adding to the recipe.

Optional flavors: 5 cloves, 1/2 piece cinnamon stick or 1 pinch mace.

From "Homemade Liqueurs." *

Rumtopf is a German concoction that requires a variety of fruits. Add fruits to the dish as they come in season and they'll ferment in rum until Christmastime. The Germans then use the fruit as a topping over ice cream or cake, and drink the fermented liqueur. In Germany, this is made in a rumtopf (rumpot), a large ceramic container, but any large glass or china container with a nonmetallic lid can be used. Be careful not to reduce the amount of sugar, as it's necessary to preserve the fruit.

Rumtopf

Strawberries, apricots, peaches, currants, blackberries, raspberries, plums, cherries, melon or pineapple (don't use apples or citrus)

sugar in equal amounts as fruits

light or dark rum (but not a mixture of both)

In an 11-pound capacity rumtopf (or other large nonmetallic container), start the process with 2 pounds strawberries and 2 pounds granulated sugar. Rinse, stem and halve the strawberries, then put in a bowl with the sugar and let stand overnight so the sugar dissolves. Transfer to the rumtopf and cover with rum. Seal with plastic, then container lid.

Continue adding equal parts sugar and fruit as the fruit comes into season (ideally 1 pound at a time); stir well after each addition. Peaches, apricots and plums must be rinsed, pitted and halved before being added. Always cover fruit completely with rum. If adding fresh pineapple and melon near the end of the process, cube fruit and use only half the previous amount of sugar.

Stir mixture occasionally with wooden spoon and store at the same temperature the entire period -- in the cellar or kitchen, for example. Leave some headroom in the container for the fermentation process.

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