BARS-IN-JARS TIPS: Assemble all ingredients before beginning. For economy, figure out quantities needed and buy pricey items such as nuts, dried fruits and gourmet chocolate in bulk.
* Be sure your jars are the right size: either 1-quart jars (32 ounce) or 1-liter jars (33.5 ounces) will work for standard bars-in-jars recipes. To check the size of recycled jars, add 4 cups of water; it should fill, or almost fill, the jar.
* Wash your jars and lids (in the dishwasher, if desired) and let them dry thoroughly in advance. They need to be completely dry before being filled.
* Attach recipe cards, tags or labels providing baking instructions.
* Use a recipe you know and trust (or make and bake a test batch).
* If your gifts will be shipped, be sure to pack the ingredient layers tightly by carefully rapping the jars on the counter after each addition. For finished jars that aren't completely full, stuff the extra space with rounds of bubble wrap or crumpled wax paper to prevent ingredients from shifting in transit.
* Like the idea, but don't want to make your own mix? Finished jars, usually in the $6 to $11 range, are available at Le Gourmet Chef in Leesburg and Columbia and the Pennsylvania Dutch Market in Annapolis, and from many online sources, including www.sistersgourmet.com, www.heavenlysweets.com and www.littlebarnoodles.com.
-- Nancy Baggett