Mom’s shortbread. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: From gifts to baking: some Christmas ideas

So I’m back to making gifts and planning Christmas dinner.

By Mary Lowther

I thought I’d do the guy thing for Christmas this year, plug in the outside lights still hanging on the eaves and figure I’d gotter done; maybe wander around the shops the day before the Big Day with the other bleary-eyed guys desperately seeking a present for their loved ones. I thought that would be a good idea until David reminded me that I’d have to watch football on TV. Not worth it.

So I’m back to making gifts and planning Christmas dinner. Apart from the canned jams, pickles and shortbread, I’m putting a few other things together.

Salt Spring Seeds is offering a two for one sale on their seeds until Dec. 25. For any packet of seeds in their catalog that we buy, they’ll toss in another of the same variety for free. Given that their robust organic seeds were harvested this year on Salt Spring Island, $4 for two packets plus $10 for shipping costs is a good deal. We can keep one packet and give the other as a gift. They may not be delivered until after Christmas though, so one could write down the names of the seeds on a card and put this in an envelope to put under the tree.

Even better, we can put some of our own saved seeds into a labeled envelope for a gift. Make sure they weren’t inadvertently cross-pollinated and put the packets into a plastic bag along with some desiccant and instructions to store them somewhere cold and dry until sowing season. If you tape the bag onto a box of chocolates or shortbread before wrapping it up, they probably won’t guess there are seeds too. Just remember to write on the outside to store it somewhere cold and dry.

One could also give packets of one’s own dried peas or beans along with recipes for using them and any of the other ingredients one could add, like dried peppers or a can of tomatoes.

Here’s my mom’s recipe for a simple shortbread that never fails, although hers always tasted better than mine:

2 cups flour

1 cup butter

½ cup sugar

Mix altogether and knead until it comes away from the sides of the bowl. If you want to add the amendments listed below, add them now. Pour onto a floured counter and knead and add flour until the dough just begins to crack. Divide into halves or thirds, depending on how large you want the cakes to be and press each piece onto a cookie sheet until each round is about half an inch thick. Prick all over with a fork and bake at 300 Farenheit for 30 to 40 minutes (or longer, if need be) or until it’s just golden. I like this temperature because the shortbread has time to cook through without burning. I cook bread at this temperature too.

Note: for variety one could add:

1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. lemon rind and ½ cup crushed walnuts, 1 tsp. vanilla, or 1 tsp. almond flavouring and ½ cup slivered almonds, (I’ve even had shortbread with lavender flowers in it, but I didn’t like it).

Apparently the early version of shortbread was barley flour and fat from whatever animal they could catch among the bleak, windswept moors. The good old days eh?

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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