What should I put in the Christmas hamper?
November 12, 2016 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to make a Christmas hamper as a gift to my parents' household. Do you have products you would suggest?

The household consists of my parents, who are about 60.

My brother, 30, lives there for work, weekend commuting to another state where his wife lives. During the week, he is cooking, eating and relaxing with my parents as a family, not off doing his own thing.

I'd like to fill a hamper with stuff they will like and use, but not necessarily stuff they can grab at the supermarket. I am willing to order online, make things, track things down in shops, etc.

All three like cooking and generally being homey and cozy. They all sort of lean crunchy, like natural, herbal HBA, natural fabrics, folk tradition like Foxfire books, traditional foods (from anywhere), things made with beeswax?, cast iron, flannel anything, marijuana.

Out are candy and cookies, meat and cheese (they aren't veg; I just can't transport it), teas.

Here are some ideas I have. I'd LOVE specific product recommendations for the items listed and suggestions for additional items I might add:

Infused oils for cooking
Discs of cacao for traditional hot chocolate
Snacky things: I am getting them some fried fava beans, so items like that.
Coffee - good coffee, cool accessories?

Goat milk soap - I was going to make some crocheted spa washcloths out of organic cotton.
Natural lotions/salves
Hair treatments

Wool socks/gloves/hats/blanket
A book about "hygge"

posted by tippy to Shopping (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Price point: $300-$500 for the whole thing.
posted by tippy at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2016

This Sunbeam heated throw (the keyword you want is "Sherpa" which in this case means it's as fluffy as a lamb made of clouds) is indescribably soft and warm. It's about $80 at MallMart and worth every penny.

These Glerups wool slippers are exceptionally high quality- very warm and comfortable and will last a decade.

Maybe visit a local farmers' market and get locally made hot Dijon mustard, honey, vanilla extract, herbal tea.

Pottery Barn / Williams Sonoma peppermint chocolate Christmas bark is incredibly tasty.

Anthropologie has lots of luxuriously fancy scented candles.

IKEA sells inexpensive lingonberry or elderflower cordial that makes good punch.

Maybe make them some cute kid style ornaments like a clay hand print of your large hand, or a toilet paper roll santa, macaroni star, or a pine cone angel or something funny and cute like that?
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:23 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Rancho Gordo Beans -- get a big sampler pack. Your description of your family reminds me of my husband and I got him (lol!) a big thing of beans for last Christmas and we both loved the heirloom beans and trying different kinds.

Penzey's spices are great -- there have been some great recommendations for which spices to pick up here on the green.
posted by ellerhodes at 7:34 PM on November 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I just got their holiday catalogue; what you want is Zingerman's. You can have meats and cheeses and other perishable stuff shipped directly to them (very reasonably, I might add) or focus on their non perishable stuff and pack it your own way.

Oils and Vinegars
Tapas and Snacks
Fancy cacao discs
Interesting Coffees
Awesome Breads (to freeze and bake later, they're all par-baked)

They also have a bunch of gift baskets and boxes ready to go to help you make choices and stuff that can be used to cook more complex meals. You're more likely to know what your family would like making.

If they don't have one already, maybe a dedicated spice grinder? Whole spices last much longer than pre-ground but they're pretty inconvenient if you have to bash them in a mortar and pestle before use. Penzey's has some great little gift sets but once I spent like $60 there and they gave me a free jar of Pasta Sprinkle. I scoffed at it but oh man I've sprinkled the heck out of everything with it and it's really good (and versatile and salt-free.)

For homewares, maybe some of the things from Gudrun Sjoden?
posted by Mizu at 7:59 PM on November 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

The mention of discs of cacao brought back a many-years-old memory of excellent hot chocolate made with discs my neighbor purchased at a grocery store in a predominately Mexican neighborhood. Looking at the pictures returned by google, I believe the brand was Ibarra.
posted by she's not there at 8:08 PM on November 12, 2016

Also, maybe thesockmonster for socks? (I learned about that site on meta and will be doing some shopping there this year.)

The Whole Earth Catalog, assuming they don't already have a copy of this old standard.

Do they play games? (I don't have specific recommendations, but I'm sure others will—if appropriate.)

What an excellent idea for a gift! (Xmas wears on me; shopping so often seems like a chore. But this is something I could get really excited about.)
posted by she's not there at 8:27 PM on November 12, 2016

Wrapping paper for various occasions and scotch tape I always need it and never have the right stuff.
posted by Sassyfras at 8:35 PM on November 12, 2016

Seconding Rancho Gordo beans, and all their products.

Assuming no one is avoiding sodium, Maldon salt is appreciated by everyone I give it to, even those who are skeptics about fancy salt.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 PM on November 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do they play games? (I don't have specific recommendations, but I'm sure others will—if appropriate.)

Not at all. :)

My parents' hobbies are music-related, listening and playing. My brother is into woodworking and carving soapstone. They are all pretty advanced/years into their things and so tools or accessories are more sophisticated than I could figure out.

I was thinking about a nice candle or soap making kit, or something along those lines. I think my mom and/or brother would enjoy that, but only if it were really well done with quality ingredients/tools/learning materials and truly taught a technique. They would not enjoy a mix and pour deal from a big box craft store. Open to suggestions for that, too!
posted by tippy at 9:08 PM on November 12, 2016

Hard cheese encased in wax will keep out of the fridge for a few days.
posted by brujita at 10:22 PM on November 12, 2016

High quality, sulfite-free dried fruits. I get amazing dried peaches at a nearby co-op, but if you don't have a local source, try Frog Hollow online.

Pick up a Bee's Wrap for wrapping up crusty bread or anything else that needs a seal and isn't too messy.

Burt's Bees for lotion and salves - my favorite is the Sensitive Skin / Aloe lotion.

Popcorn from Rancho Gordo - it really is better than the "normal" stuff.

Other ideas: nicer-than-grocery-store olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar, San Marzano canned tomatoes, Raincoast Crisp nut/seed crackers, pinhead oatmeal from Bob's Red Mill, pickles, shrub (fruit vinegar)
posted by asphericalcow at 12:00 AM on November 13, 2016

Here in the UK I would add jars of really good chutney (we had a lovely beetroot one last year), really good high fruit content jam (locally, I would buy gooseberry and probably damson - slightly more unusual), unusual marmalade (pink grapefruit is my favourite), chilli jam. Not for me, but my partner would enjoy some high quality pickled onions or gherkins.

I've delighted people in the past with small baking kits, like kits to make savoury poppyseed crackers. It's a bit unusual, it's easy and it's satisfying.

Maybe some high quality cured sausage that can be stored at room temperature?

Panforte is sweet but based on fruits and nuts so may be acceptable to your family. It's reasonably easy to find in the UK around Christmas and it's a great addition.

Dried dates are traditionally a Christmas food in the UK and can be delicious.

As a cook I love to receive single-recipe-size spice mixes for specific curries or recipes. It encourages me to increase variety without leaving me with yet another jar of spice if I don't like it.

Here in Shropshire in the UK there are also some specific things I'd buy because I know they are good and local - some amazing local granola, hand carved salad tongs, flavoured gin. If I were able to leave the present-buying to the last minute I would also give local cheese, bread and biscuits.

What a wonderful present!
posted by kadia_a at 12:50 AM on November 13, 2016

Apologies for the lack of specific suggestions; I don't know that what I can find here can be found where you are -- but I did this one year, and had a terrific time going to every interesting or "gourmet" food store I could go to, and buying the things I had not seen anywhere else. That was the primary criteria: it had to be unique. I didn't want it to just be spendy and fun; I was hoping for some big "OMG, please tell us where you got the tangelo marmelade. It was so good we ate it with a spoon" wins, and to give a good sample-lots-of-interesting-stuff experience. I found a lot of stuff in out-of-the-way "ethnic" food shops that I'd never seen before -- pickled pattypan squash? hell yes! -- and just kept loading up the basket (I was told the basket, which I got at a thrift store for $5, "would have been a great present empty!") with unseen what-not.

(I tried to suggest a few brands/specific items, but for better or worse Amazon carries way too much now. I was shooting for products too obscure to be mail-ordered...)

If you buy a fruitcake -- yes, I know what people think of fruitcake -- buy a small dark one, unwrap it, saturate it with a brown liquor, re-wrap, keep in a cool spot, and unwrap regularly to re-up the booze. This makes fruitcake edible and delicious if you supersaturate it by Xmas.

Can you get plum pudding and hard sauce, and Christmas crackers? Traditional/common in the Commonwealth, but hard to find in the US. I'll eat hard sauce with a spoon, and I can't picture Xmas dinner without the crackers -- you and somebody else pull on each end of this cylindrical wrapped thing, it makes a big bang, and you get a silly paper hat, a joke, and, depending on how much you've spent, a totally disposable plastic "toy" or something actually useful like a mini pen, decent keyring, little flashlight, etc. You wear the paper hats for pictures, you tell all the bad jokes, you barter your toy...
posted by kmennie at 12:58 AM on November 13, 2016

If they are musical, some copies of Rise Up Singing!

Rose petal and jasmine jams. I can't recall specific brands but I've found them at specialty food stores.
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:37 AM on November 13, 2016

An upgrade to kitchen towels is something people often like. The ones at places like Williams and Sonoma or Whole Foods are often nice but shamelessly expensive; see if you have a good small housewares store near you. Also, Mrs. Meyer's cleaning products or some of the scents of Dr. Bronner's like hemp and rose petals.
posted by BibiRose at 7:15 AM on November 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ooh, seconding the farmers' market shopping idea for artisan/small batch/craft stuff -- often a bonus is local-source, socially responsible stuff. My husband once picked me up this John & Kira's mint chocolate at a local Philadelphia farmers' market. He knows I love chocolate, but didn't know that I'm no great fan of mint-flavored things. But this chocolate bar, oh my -- the mint in it tasted just like the mint my mother made tea from out of her garden when I was a child. Wow. And, bonus, the mint for the chocolate bars come from urban gardens run by Philadelphia high school students. [Ooops, just re-read your question and saw that you nixed "candy" - does chocolate count? ;)]

Harry and David's has some good relishes, chutneys, and salsas (sweet pepper and onion is one of my favorites), but this may be old hat for you.

Also, this is a simple and cheap one, but I didn't know it existed until a couple of years ago: Trader Joe's 21-seasoning Salute spice mix. It's a great no-salt spice mix that has been a great addition to my pantry. I live abroad and every trip back to the US I stock up on about 5 bottles at a time.
posted by leticia at 8:20 AM on November 13, 2016

If you're that way inclined it is not all that difficult to make chutneys. You can make several jars and use the spare jars as gifts as well or just eat.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:34 AM on November 13, 2016

If you are going to crochet washcloths, you might also like sewing tea towels. Buy a couple of yards of nice linen, cut and hem it. Attach a loop for hanging if you think they'd use it. Bonus: the tea towels can be used as wrapping "paper" for the other items in the basket.
posted by mcduff at 9:01 AM on November 13, 2016

A few additional suggestions: Unicorn Pepper Grinder (no fuss, lifetime guarantee, super fast variable grind), garlic peeler (i.e., a silicon rolling thing that you think is stupid, but then you use it and it's the best thing since garlic), garlic press from IKEA (that has a swinging door so it's SUPER easy to clean), and clever measuring spoons (like this one or this one).

We have a tiny kitchen, and all of the above kitchen items have survived to prove out their usefulness.
posted by ellerhodes at 10:14 AM on November 13, 2016

I love coffee and Flying Goat Coffee is hands down the best coffee I've ever had, anywhere, ever. Not available in grocery stores.

If you need supplies or sources for much of the above, you can probably find anything you need at Lehman's Non-Electric. Soap, beeswax candles, cooking, gardening, DIY supplies, nice food items, etc.

Do they garden? A collection of next years' seed catalogs to pour over, if they don't already have them. Baker Creek is a fun one.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:02 PM on November 13, 2016

Where are you located? Vermont Country Store was made for this.
posted by Toddles at 11:31 PM on November 14, 2016

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