December 10, 2012

Plan ahead for home-grown holidays

LAURIE DAVIS, Cornell Co-op Extension

---- — During the holidays, families, friends and neighbors enjoy many ways of getting together. 

These celebrations usually include presents, often gifts of food. While wine and candy treats may be traditional, in our region there are many varieties of locally grown products that also make wonderful — if somewhat unusual — presents. 

These days, with the increasing cost of food, families are looking for ways to extend their food budgets. When you’re invited to join a meal, consider bringing a small gift or hostess present for the family to enjoy later. Think about colorful winter squash, sweet-scented apples, rich maple syrup and locally produced honey. Stalks of Brussels sprout and heads of cauliflower are fun and also a great way to introduce new foods to kids.

Here are a few ideas that may inspire you:

▶ Fill a basket, tote bag or bowl with different types of local apples, polished and arranged with a few sprigs of evergreen.

▶ Arrange interesting types of winter squash together with apples and kale to form an edible centerpiece.

▶ A stalk of Brussels sprout looks amusing. For a whimsical addition, tie a few ribbons to the stalk.

▶ Set a large cauliflower with the leaves still attached in a flat bowl to make a beautiful centerpiece.

▶ Children are intrigued by fruits and vegetables in their raw, just-picked shapes and love to be given the chance to “dismantle” the produce. With appropriate adult supervision, help them remove the Brussels sprout from the stalk, peel the leaves from cauliflower, and scrape the seeds out of pumpkins and squash. These experiences are also opportunities for you to help them understand that their food comes from the earth and is harvested by farmers (it does not always appear from the freezer in cardboard boxes or plastic bags).

▶ Locally grown cider, fruit juices, honey and honey products, and maple and maple-syrup products can introduce new flavors and alternatives to commercial products.

▶ It’s amazing how many colors and shapes of local potatoes there are. Bring a bag of mixed varieties to help your host explore the tastes and textures of North Country potatoes.

▶ Don’t forget decorations. Local farmers markets and tree farms offer wonderful varieties of fresh decorations that bring the unmatched scent of real evergreens into homes. How about a gift certificate to a tree farm? Your family members or friends can enjoy choosing, and perhaps cutting, their own special tree or selecting a decorated wreath or garland.

▶ Encourage your local farmers and farm stands to sell gift certificates. They are perfect presents to connect friends and families with on-farm experiences, help stretch food budgets and perhaps introduce a whole new world of flavors.

▶ Give a community-supported agriculture share. CSAs provide months and months of locally grown foods and help local farm families remain in business.

▶ Assemble a gift basket of locally grown and dried herbs and herbal teas, and tuck in a mug from one of our talented Adirondack potters.

The holidays are the perfect time for us to appreciate the wonderful local bounty that we, here in the North Country, have available every day. Let’s be thankful for the farm families who work so hard to proudly offer what they grow. And, if you can, be generous in sharing the abundant, healthy and beautiful products our local farms provide. Make an effort to deliver some locally grown goodness to your town’s food shelf.  Visit Adirondack Harvest ( and Cornell Cooperative Extension ( for preparation and storage techniques and recipes.

Laurie Davis is an educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Essex County and is the coordinator for Adirondack Harvest. Reach her at 962-4810, Ext. 404, or by email: