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Homemade Holiday Gifts You Can Create Now

Some of the nicest gifts you can give are handmade ones – even better if it is something to eat and better still if it is something that relays the tastes of summer. Memories of living and learning to cook in Italy revolve around learning to can, preserve, and infuse. Late Spring and Summer were full of lessons on how to preserve the flavors of the season to be enjoyed throughout the year or gifted at holiday time. There were artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes under oil, pickled vegetables, tomato sauce, nocino and limoncello, peach and wild blackberry jams and certainly some of my favorites were preserving fresh and dried fruit under alcohol. You could use straight alcohol or grappa, vodka or brandy (Cognac, if you really wanted to splurge).

Ciliege al Brandy or Brandied Cherries were very popular at Trattoria i Ricchi and very easy to make. Because of the alcohol content, you didn’t have to sterilize the jars – merely wash well and rinse with very hot water and let dry. Wipe the sour cherries with a damp cloth (do not submerge in water), and cut the stems to about 1/4 of an inch. Layer in the jars, sprinkle with sugar, insert a cinnamon stick and a few cloves (adding a vanilla bean is optional), and then cover with the brandy until they are totally submerged. Close the jars, shake to dissolve the sugar and – now comes the hard part – store in a dark room or pantry for about two months WITHOUT opening, shaking on occasion to infuse the flavors. These are exquisite eaten alone or served over gelato. You can use the boozy liquid to flavor sponge cake and pastries as well. Add a hand-written label to your jar and you have an exquisite handmade gift for the holidays. Measurements are not exact – most of our cooking was done by eye or as they would say in Italian: q.b. – “quanto basta.”

500 grs sour cherries (=/- 1 dry pint)
150 grs sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 gloves
1 vanilla bean (option)
brandy (or Cognac) as much as is need to cover.

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