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Tinky’s Kitchen: Edible gifts for the holidays

  • Tinky cooks up some curried cashews in her Hawley kitchen. Make your own at home using the recipe in today’s column. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky cooks up some curried cashews in her Hawley kitchen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky’s curried cashews shown in her Hawley kitchen. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky slices up some penuche (see recipe in today’s column) in her Hawley home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Tinky slices up some penuche in her Hawley home. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • WEISBLAT


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

I love December. My family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, and my birthday happens to fall in this month as well. Throw in Kwanzaa and we have one full month of celebration. We also have one full month of gift giving.

I enjoy being a writer, but mine is not the most remunerative of careers. I therefore have to become creative in my gift giving. This is particularly true with the men in my life.

Those males are loveable, but they are not easy to shop for. They tend to go out on the spur of the moment and purchase whatever they want or need. Items they don’t buy right away themselves tend to be a bit expensive for them. (“A bit” expensive for them translates into very expensive for me.)

Luckily, most of the men to whom I give holiday presents — and the women and children as well — happily accept edible gifts. Food makes the perfect offering, as far as I’m concerned. If the recipient likes a treat I purchase or prepare (and he or she usually does), I can repeat it year after year after year.

A food gift is not always inexpensive, but it’s less costly than the fancy electronics, for which many people long for at this time of year. And it tastes of the love one puts into it.

I buy some of my edible gifts. Franklin County is a food mecca. Maple syrup from a local sugarhouse, apples and pears from a local orchard, hard cider or craft beer from a local purveyor: these all make terrific gifts.

Throw in pickles from Real Pickles, a horseradish product or two from Saw Mill Site Farm, Pioneer Valley popcorn from Hager’s Farm Market, milk or yogurt from Sidehill Farm, cheese from Upinngil or Chase Hill Farm, or any of our other wonderful regional edibles — and you’ve got yourself a local-food basket.

As a proud home cook, I enjoy making my own gifts as well. I regularly present friends and loved ones with homemade mustards and vinegars, tiny loaves of pound cake or pumpkin bread, hot-fudge sauce in a festive jar, and my own jams and jellies.

I even make fruitcake every year. I know fruitcake is the target of many jokes. People laughingly say that it works best as a doorstop. Or that the world contains only one lone, sad fruitcake, which is doomed to be gifted and re-gifted by people seeking to avoid it.

I love baking fruitcake each fall — and I know many people who welcome its dense sweetness into their homes.

The two recipes I feature below are holiday standbys for me. As far as my brother is concerned, curried cashews are a necessity each Christmas. He doesn’t have a strong sweet tooth, but he does enjoy a savory snack. The cashews aren’t hot, they are flavorful.

The penuche fudge recipe comes from my neighbors the Parkers at Singing Brook Farm in Hawley.

When the late Harrison Parker was young, he named his rowboat the S.S. Sour Cream Penuche. He liked to glide around in the water with a couple of pieces of fudge perched on the boat’s bow in case he needed a quick infusion of sugar.

This brown-sugar fudge is very, very sweet. Adding the optional nuts cuts the sweetness, but it also puts you in danger of eating too much penuche!

Please contact me (Tinky@TinkyCooks.com) to tell me about your own favorite food gifts. I’d love to feature some of them here next December. Meanwhile, happy holidays to all!

Curried cashews

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 tablespoon cumin seeds (if you have a mortar and pestle, use them to crush the cashews a little and release their oils)

1 teaspoon curry powder or garam masala

2 tablespoons sweet butter

1 pound raw cashews

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a bowl, combine the salt, cumin seeds, and curry powder. Mix well.

In a large frying pan, melt the butter. (A cast-iron skillet works best as it can go straight into the oven.) Add the cashews and stir to coat them. Sprinkle on the spices and toss well.

If your frying pan is oven proof, place it in the oven, making sure that the cashews are spread out in an even layer. If not, transfer the cashews and their flavorings to a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Remove the cashews from the oven and transfer them to paper towels to drain and cool completely. When they are cool, place them in an airtight container. (A festive tin works well at this time of year.) Makes about 1 pound.

Penuche

Ingredients:

1 cup sour cream

1 pound light brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

a generous splash of vanilla

Instructions:

Combine the sour cream and the sugars in a heavy, medium-size saucepan, and place the pan over low to medium heat.

Stir the mixture constantly until it comes to a boil; then cover it for a minute or two to wash down the sides of the pan. Uncover the mixture, and cook it, without stirring much, until it reaches the soft-ball stage (234 degrees). Remove from heat.

Add the nuts (if you want them) and vanilla, and let the mixture cool for a few minutes without stirring it. Don’t let it get cooler than lukewarm; optimally, it should be a bit warmer than that.

Beat the warm fudge until it becomes creamy and thickens slightly — in other words, until it begins to seem “fudgy.” Quickly pour it into a buttered 8-by-8-inch pan, and let it cool before cutting it into squares. Store the fudge in an airtight container. Makes about 36 squares, more or less, depending on your cutting.

Penuche is best when eaten within 24 hours. Happily, it rarely lasts that long.

Tinky Weisblat is the author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and the forthcoming “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website, www.TinkyCooks.com.