13 Gifts in Jars

homemade granola

I’m like those department stores you hate that begin selling Christmas decorations well before you’ve even chosen a Halloween costume. But hear me out. You may not have started thinking about the holidays but for some of these gifts, you need to start now, hence the early post. Others on this list you can start a few days before exchanging presents. I’ve listed these gift ideas chronologically to help you plan.

Most of these gifts cost little to make and require only a bit of effort. But they look impressive. Jars are the little black dress of food—everything looks good in them.

I’m-so-organized-I’m-starting-these-now gifts

Prepare these gifts in October or early November.

1. Vanilla extract

homemade vanilla extract
Homemade vanilla extract in the making

Start this as soon as possible. Here’s all you do: Split three vanilla beans, not quite to the top. Place in a jar. Pour in a cup of vodka, bourbon, brandy, rum or single-malt whiskey. Close the jar. Shake the jar every week or so. Your delicious and inexpensive vanilla extract is ready in about two months. If you start this a bit late, don’t worry. Your recipient might not use it right away. Tell them when they can use it. For more info, read this blog post.

2. Mead

mead
New mead on the left, fermented on the right

To make this delicious honey wine, dilute 1 cup of raw honey with 4 cups of water in a jar and wait. Stir it daily. That’s about all there is to it. Depending on your kitchen environment, this ferments in a couple of weeks. I usually let mine go for much longer, about six weeks, for a more alcoholic brew. If you want to transfer the mead to flip-top bottles for your recipient, fill them a week or so before you give this away, and depending on how bubbly it is (i.e., how much carbon dioxide it contains), burp the bottle every few days to avoid geysers and explosions. Here are detailed instructions for making mead.

3. Mouthwash

homemade mouthwash
New batch of mouthwash on the left; finished on right

Start this one a month or more out—but only if you know your recipient well! It might not make the best teacher gift for example. But if someone close to you regularly gargles with Listerine or Scope mouthwash, they may like this alternative. To make this mouthwash, steep a bunch of spices in vodka—I use cinnamon sticks, cloves and star anise—shake occasionally, wait and after a month or so, strain and dilute to use. For more instructions, go here.

4. Preserved lemons

preserved lemons
Prepping preserved lemons

These cost a bundle in the store—if you can find them. I have a lemon tree so mine cost basically nothing. This past winter, I prepped six jars and still managed to run out. These add intense flavor to Indian dishes, hummus, bean dishes, soup… Traditionally, they go into a Moroccan chicken tagine. Cut organic lemons (you don’t want pesticides or wax on skins you’ll eat) in quarters but leave attached at the end, stuff with salt, stuff into a jar, pour lemon juice over and wait for a month before eating. Here are the full directions. Other ferments to start about a month out include hot peppers and sauerkraut.

I-still-have-plenty-of-time-to-plan gifts

Work on these a few weeks or a month before Christmas. For some, you’ll need starters, which, if you don’t have, will require at least a week to bubble to life.

5. Ginger beer

Very carbonated and spicy ginger beer

You can start this a few weeks out. The longer it ferments, the boozier it gets. But it’s highly carbonated so burp (i.e., open) your bottles every two days, or even every day, depending. To make ginger beer, you first need to make a ginger bug. That can take about a week so plan accordingly. Here is my ginger beer recipe.

6. Sourdough crackers

The way to a man’s heart

When Chandra and I first started dating, I baked these for him often. I texted pictures of them. I texted pictures of my sourdough starter. Resistance was futile. Mwahahaha! These cheesy-tasting-cheese-free crackers freeze really well so you can make them a few weeks in advance if you prefer. If you don’t want to freeze them, make them the day before you give them away, or the morning of. You’ll need a sourdough starter for these, which can take a couple of weeks to get going. As with the ginger beer above, plan accordingly. Here is the cracker recipe.

7. Looseleaf chai tea blend

Store-bought on the left, home-blend on the right

You can make this one any time but you’ll need to first buy and eat oranges and dry the peels. Mix chopped dry peels with black tea and spices such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, coriander seeds, black peppercorns and ginger. I used to buy a looseleaf chai until I realized I had been paying a lot of money for all those orange peels in there. Find the full instructions for looseleaf chai here.

8. Kombucha

homemade kombucha
Cherry kombucha (left bottle and small jar) and hibiscus (right bottles)

My kombucha brews in one week, after which I bottle it, store at room temperature for two days and then refrigerate. It tastes best young, so make it no earlier than a couple of weeks before you give it away. Even in the refrigerator it will continue to ferment slowly and become more vinegary. The only trick to making kombucha is finding a SCOBY, the culture that ferments your tea. You can often find them on Craigslist. They grow like crazy and people need to unload them before they take over their kitchens. Find instructions here for brewing kombucha.

9. Candied citrus peels

candied citrus peels
Candied mandarin peels drying out

This makes a small amount of candy but it tastes fantastic! I really like to use mandarins for this. My daughter has also made these with lemon peels. So good. These taste like gumdrops with an intense citrus flavor, made with actual citrus rather than nasty chemicals formulated in a lab to taste like citrus. I find removing the pith rather time consuming so you may want to make these ahead. They keep in sugar for a long time. Here is the recipe.

Someone-get-me-a-drink-Christmas-is-a-week-away-I’ll-never-get-everything-done gifts

Work on these the week you’ll give them away for optimum freshness.

10. Cookie mix

Chocolate chip cookie mix

As I get near the end of this post, I have just realized that I have basically written my wish list this year… For the chocolate chip cookie mix pictured above, you can fill your jar in a few minutes after you’ve bought all the ingredients. If you do lots of baking at the holidays, you probably already have all of the ingredients on hand. Include the directions and voila, check off another person on your list. Go here for the post with full instructions.

11. Staples in jars

jars of food
Jars filled with pantry staples

For the crazy jar lady on your list, how about several jars filled with pantry staples? Above, I have flour, chickpeas, sugar, brown rice, white rice and popcorn. My daughter worked this summer at a restaurant that tossed these giant jars! I have about 30 of them and I gave at least 20 away. You could start looking for jars now (I’ve scored really nice bail-top jars at thrift shops) and—to ensure fresh ingredients—fill them the week you’ll give them away.

Before you fill the jars at the store, first have them weighed (i.e., tared)! The cashier will deduct the weight of the jar from the overall weight. You don’t want to pay for the weight of the heavy jar!

12. Kimchi

Simple (and addictive) kimchi

Unlike sauerkraut, which ferments for a couple of months or longer, kimchi is ready in a few days. I don’t put fish sauce in mine but you certainly can. For a fishy flavor, I add dry kelp powder. The spice in kimchi—gochugaru—makes it highly addictive. When I have kimchi on hand, I eat it every single day until I run out. I adore it with avocado slices. Find my simple kimchi recipe here.

13. Granola

homemade granola
Homemade granola

I would love to receive a jar of granola (or any of these gifts!). Unlike the fermented foods I’ve included in this post, granola needs little planning ahead. Make it a couple of days before you give it away and it will stay fresh and delicious until your recipient gobbles it all up. You need oats to make this but in addition, all sorts of things can go in, a handful of this nut, a cup of that seed. It’s really good with almond meal mixed in or wheat germ. Add some oil and sweetener, bake, cool and transfer to jars. Read my granola post here.

Bonus gift idea!

My workshops. Okay, they don’t come in a jar but attendees do take home jars filled with food they prep in class, plus a jar with any starters they need to make more. Click here to check out my classes. I’m located in Mountain View, California.

If you would rather give experiences as gifts, I wrote a post about that last year. You can read “Make Memories, Not Waste” here.

28 Comment

  1. This is a great post! Yes, I loathe seeing any Christa-Chanu-Kwanz-ukah advertisements this early on, but this is a great way to still keep zero-waste over holidays with a little bit of prep in advance. Thanks!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Julie! I took my mom to the hardware store at the beginning of this month and the artificial Christmas trees were already out :O I couldn’t believe it. I think prep is the key to zero waste (and good bulk bins, a few other things). Planning really helps. ~ Anne Marie

  2. Wow I’m amazed with all these homemade gifts, I love your posts, but this one is awesome

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you Anna. I’m glad you liked the post 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  3. Great post, love these unique gift ideas!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you!

  4. LOVE LOVE LOVE! Great ideas, thank you ! xo

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you for checking them out 🙂

  5. Love these ideas. Great blog 😊

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks so much, Julia 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

  6. Those jars the restaurant discarded! Wow! Gorgeous 👌🏼 some great ideas here!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks 🙂 Isn’t it crazy about the jars! My daughter has been working in restaurants for a few years now and always brings home great jars but she hit the mother load this summer.

      1. Definitely 👍🏼

  7. This is great!! I just found your blog and I am a full in her addict myself! Everything looks delicious in Them, they last forever and no plastic or waste. My dogs are all rolling their eyes at me as I am inspired by this post and they do not share my passion for jars. Unless said jars are filled with food they like.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Sandy. Nice to meet a fellow jar addict. I love my jars. I didn’t know when I decided to cut my waste I would turn into a crazy jar lady. My cat feels the same way about jars as your dogs do. But they keep his mama happy, which makes for a happier cat 😉 ~ Anne Marie

  8. Very insightful. I will try to use these for the holidays this year!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Great! I hope your recipients like them 🙂

  9. Great gift ideas and certainly timely. I love how you recycled those jars. But I really loved the mead recipe. I read a different, much more complicated recipe in a food blog I follow, but decided it was too much work. I used to homebrew ales and porters, so when the instructions included a carboy I stopped reading.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks, Ellie. I’ve read about racking and bottling mead but it sounds like so much work. I just drink it young. I enjoy making things myself but stick with simple (and tasty). Enjoy your mead! ~ Anne Marie

  10. Fantastic ideas, all. I am one of those crazy jar people. And proud of it! So many resources all compiled in one post. I love the cookie ingredient idea and may use it and others.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! I’m glad you found the ideas useful. Enjoy!

  11. I’m feeling so late right now!! Loved each suggestion!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks so much!

  12. I’m thinking of doing the cookie mix jars for each of my kids so that when I’m exhausted after Christmas day they can whip up some yummy cookies for me (I mean the whole family)!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      :O That’s a great idea! It gets so hectic and having a few jars of cookie mix will get those cookies in the oven much faster. I think I’ll do that too. Thanks for the idea 🙂

  13. Great, great, great post!! My brother and his girlfriend will love the staples in jars!! Thanks for the tips!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Awesome, Ada. I would love that one myself. Glad you liked the post 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

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