EVERYBODY likes holiday food presents, particularly if they are homemade. On the receiving end they stimulate both tastebuds and seasonal emotions. For the giver there are the pleasures of creation and also the satisfaction of saving money.
Even with the best of materials, a homemade fruitcake is a good deal cheaper than almost anything in a boutique. And, many food concoctions suitable for giving cost far less than a fruitcake.
This was Sharon Farrington's message to a group of Senate wives recently. Farrington, representing Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine, showed how to prepare and package kitchen treasures ranging from simple spice blends to equally manageable conserves and chutneys.
Some of the easiest to produce are the most appealing. Who wouldn't enjoy a bottle of pepper sherry for jazzing up a bland consomme'? Nothing to it but red peppers and sherry. Or a jar of madeira mustard? The simplicity of preparation is in inverse proportion to the subtlety of effect.
The more novel Farrington presents call for assembling the components of a soup, a pilaf or a salad and arranging them attractively in a container worth keeping for other purposes. Nothing very time-consuming or expensive -- at least if you don't count accessories like the antique lunch pail chosen to carry one of the demonstration mixes.
A few Farrington coups:
GREEN PEPPERCORN MUSTARD (Makes about 1 1/2 cups) 1/3 cup imported dry mustard 1/4 cup mustard seeds 1/2 cup hot water 1/2 cup dry white wine vinegar 1/2 cup dry sherry 2 teaspoons kosher salt Pinch each clove, nutmeg and cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, crumbled 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger root 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1-ounce tin green peppercorns, drained
Combine dry mustard, mustard seeds, hot water and white wine vinegar and leave 3 hours or overnight. In a non-reactive pan (enamel or stainless steel), bring to a boil the sherry, salt, herbs and spices. Strain while hot into the soaked mixture and add the sugar and green peppercorns. Pure'e in a blender and if not thick enough, heat in a double boiler over moderate heat a few minutes. This mustard is particularly suited to grilled salmon or fish steaks or smoked fish.
HERB VINEGAR Several sprigs of fresh or dried herbs as desired: thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil White wine vinegar
Scald attractive bottles and caps. Wash herbs, if fresh, and pat dry. Poke sprigs into scalded jar. Bring vinegar just to the boiling point. Pour hot vinegar into bottles and allow to cool to room temperature. Cap and store 2 weeks before using. This vinegar does well in vinaigrette and other sauces; also sauerbraten.
PICKLED MUSHROOMS (4 servings) 1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed 1/4 cup virgin olive oil 1 1/2 quarts white wine vinegar 6 black peppercorns 3 cloves Pinch sage 3 cloves garlic 3 bay leaves Salt to taste
Drop mushrooms into boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and spread on towel. Heat oil, vinegar and spices in a non-reactive pan and boil 1 minute. Taste for saltiness. Add mushrooms and stir gently 1 minute. Reduce heat and cook mushrooms over very low heat 1/2 hour. Drain and cool mushrooms and spoon into scalded jars. Bring liquid to a boil and pour over mushrooms and seal.
PEAR AND ORANGE MINCEMEAT (Makes 2 pints) 5 large pears, peeled, cored and chopped 1 lemon, unpeeled, seeded and finely chopped 1 orange, unpeeled, seeded and finely chopped 1 cup seedless raisins 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon ground allspice 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 1 1/2 cup brown sugar
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring slowly to a boil, stirring often to prevent sticking. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until thick and dark. Taste for seasoning. Allow to age 2 weeks or more before using. Pear mincemeat is excellent with brown rice in a stuffing for crown roast of pork.