Homemade goods deserve a pretty package too
Homemade food makes a wonderful gift this time of year, but so often carefully made delicious treats are piled unceremoniously onto paper plates, wrapped haphazardly in tinfoil or carelessly tossed into plastic bags.
It may be the thought that counts, but packaging matters too.
With so many easy and inexpensive ways to wrap food gifts, there is no excuse not to create an attractive presentation. Discount and craft stores are great sources for inexpensive containers and low-cost embellishments. Many items can be found around the house, such as twine, recycled boxes, even dried pasta.
There’s always the Internet to spark ideas; sites such as Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com) and Craft Gossip (https://www.craftgossip.com) feature numerous packaging ideas. Graphic design books are a good source of inspiration, as is a spin through a gourmet food store to see how commercial items are packaged.
“I know women who can spend weeks baking Christmas cookies and then just put them on a paper plate,” says Dinah Corley, a Virginia-based cooking teacher, food writer and author of “Gourmet Gifts: 100 Delicious Recipes for Every Occasion to Make Yourself and Wrap With Style.” “I think that’s not honoring what you did. And if you don’t honor it, no one else will.”
Corley adds that packaging doesn’t have to be an extravagant, over-the-top production. “I do think it has to reflect the gift itself and the recipient,” she says. Some ideas included in her book are wrapping pistachio sugarplums in pyramid-shaped boxes, dressing up rhubarb tea loaves in decorative paper and a label, and enclosing a jar of sugar pumpkin chutney in a little paper pumpkin.
“You can do nice things with stuff you find at the grocery store,” she says. “Paper cups can make nice containers, and sometimes a paper bag makes a lot more sense than a paper plate.” The simpler, she says, the better. “You can never go wrong with kraft paper and cream-colored twine.”
Chain retailers such as the Container Store stock inexpensive, unadorned tins, plus bags and boxes of various sizes and shapes that can be easily dressed up. Hardware stores are great sources for mason jars and empty paint cans, and thrift stores and flea markets are great places to find one-of-a-kind pieces such as vintage bowls, casserole dishes and platters at reduced prices.
Craft stores such as Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft have aisles filled with containers and embellishments, plus tools such as decorative scissors and paper punches, rubber stamps and ribbons, most for less than $20.
A hot new item in the craft world is washi tape: thin decorative paper tape that comes in a wide variety of widths and patterns and can be adhered to almost anything. Tape can be striped around a paper bag or tin, or used to decorate a tag or plain box.
Charissa Pomrehn showcases innovative gift wrapping on the Gifted Blog (https://www.thegiftedblog.com), which she started in 2009 out of her love of paper and gift wrap. With an eye for turning other people’s castoffs into art and a philosophy that gift wrap can be found everywhere, she’s created clever packages out of mint tins and tea towels and has fashioned a bow out of a burp cloth.
“I grew up receiving gifts that were so beautifully and spontaneously wrapped,” Pomrehn says. “Things don’t have to be perfect or formal — they can incorporate scraps, and you can make something that’s really fun and fun to open.”
Pomrehn’s forte is using recycled items in her wrapping, such as an up-cycled tea box to hold a gift card and cutting pretty bias tape from an old pair of pants to use as a ribbon. “I like found objects because there’s already a history there.”
For food packaging, she recommends making pennants for cupcakes or muffins by wrapping washi tape around a toothpick. Pomrehn also likes recycling food containers: Clean berry boxes and mesh from a produce bag can hold cookies, and a plastic tray that once held mushrooms can be washed and wrapped in parchment paper to contain baked goods.
Although making packages look attractive is the goal, practicality has to be considered too. “You do have to think, will this be appropriate for the gift?” Corley says. Some containers won’t work for foods that are especially gooey or delicate. Pies baked in flimsy foil pie pans, for example, can collapse if not wrapped properly. But shored up with a stiff cardboard cake round underneath and wrapped in cellophane, it’s ready for giving.
“Money is awfully tight right now,” she adds, “but you can give the most luxurious foods in the world and it will cost a tenth of what hard goods cost.” And you don’t have to spend a lot to dress them up, either: “I don’t like gifts that say I’m on a budget,” Corley says. “The more you can hide it, the better.”