’Tis the giving season for all of us—which means it’s also the receiving season. And it’s always such a pleasure to receive a food-related gift. It won’t make you feel bad by being the wrong size. It has immediate, tangible rewards. It can be shared. If it’s a cooking implement, it can be used and cherished for years and years. If it’s an item of food, it’ll be gone before you have a chance to get tired of it.
Here are some of our favorite food and cooking gifts.
My sister got married when she was in her mid-20s. My younger sister. Yes, Taming of the Shrew jokes were made. She got matching dishes and stainless steel cookware and drawers full of silverware and sturdy spatulas. And, of course, a KitchenAid mixer. Her kitchen, even though the marriage has since ended, is a thing of beauty.
I vowed when I was about seven that I would never get married, and I have stuck to that. My own batterie de cuisine has been assembled piecemeal over the years via hand-me-downs, trips to IKEA, and desperation purchases at the grocery store. I’m not complaining. It’s totally worth not having to plan a wedding. And no one ever sees my kitchen anyway because I have people over maybe twice a year.
My parents were aware that I had no interest in getting married, but they thought I would change my mind. When I turned 34, though, they must have realized that I meant it. My partner and I lived in different cities and had no plans to change that anytime soon. (Throughout most of our relationship, either he or I has been in grad school. Grad students are notoriously horrible to live with.) That summer, they came to visit and saw that I was still using the handheld mixer I’d been using since the summer I graduated college. At the end of it, my father announced rather grandly (he liked giving presents) that they were giving me a KitchenAid mixer for my birthday.
They didn’t explicitly say it was an acknowledgement that I was never going to get married and that they were okay with it. But I appreciated it all the same. —Aimee Levitt
I despise when people buy me kitchen items for Christmas. They never consider the fact that I have a tiny kitchen, most of the “gift” items marketed around the holidays are useless, and, as I’m a pro, I’m pretty finicky about what I use; I’m not interested in things that are “the best,” but rather what “works best” for me.
An edible gift, though? That’s the holy grail of gift giving that fills the recipient’s heart with so many emotions: the anticipation of eating something special, the excitement of experiencing something new and delicious, the feeling of relief when you realize that the gift will never need to be dusted or displayed for company. For the giver, there’s less stress selecting a gift for someone impossible to shop for. Everyone eats food, and you can replace a consumable gift in a year’s time. It’s a perpetual gifting loop!
I moved to Baltimore three years ago, the Crab Cake Capital of America. While nearly every restaurant here serves crab cakes, they’re a luxury item that I—a working mom with two adolescent sons that take all my money—can never justify buying for myself, even though they’re one of my favorite foods. A few months ago I was sent a Styrofoam cooler full of crab cakes from The Crab Place, and they were damn good, as authentic as you can get. A good crab cake isn’t full of seasoning or filler, which covers up the taste of the meat. Maryland blue crabs have a distinct, ethereal sweetness that should never be obscured by diced bell peppers or, really, anything.
I was very sad when I ate the last crab cake in the cooler. If I hadn’t been gifted these crab cakes I never would have bought them, even though they were a superlative version of one of my favorite dishes in the deep blue sea. Isn’t that really what a good holiday gift is supposed to be? —Allison Robicelli
My aunt makes everyone homemade hot fudge sauce at the holidays, presented in a quilted crystal jelly jar. It’s always rich and delicious, and I don’t know if it’s ever made it past the spoon and onto my ice cream or whatever else; I double-dip immediately to avoid having to share my fudge sauce with anyone at all. But it wasn’t until I saw my aunt cooking it over the stove one year that I gained a true appreciation for this annual gift, because the process of making hot fudge for a few dozen people is a far more arduous process than I ever imagined.
The stirring isn’t just constant, it’s all day long. My feet and lower back hurt just from standing by the stove to keep her company; meanwhile, she didn’t take her eyes off that fudge for a second, lest it scorch or go grainy, and only years of practice kept her progress at a clip that got it all done in a single day. That she’d handed off this treasure every year without mentioning the labor involved is the type of charitable gesture that the holidays always seem to bring out in people. Just one more reason that homemade gifts are the very best. —Marnie Shure