There was a time when talking about gift buying before Halloween made me roll my eyes. But, in the age of COVID, you can’t make your gift-buying plans too early. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Yule, Kwanzaa, or Solstice, you probably have a few home cooks in your life. These gift ideas are all inexpensive, thoughtful things that any home cook will love.
Coffee & Clove Soap from Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve – $9.50
This is my go-to gift for home cooks, farmers, and anyone who works with their hands. This soap is gentle on your hands and intense at erasing odors. The coffee and spice aromas wash off garlic, onion, smoked meat, and even fish oil smells from your hands and fingernails. The company that makes it, Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve, is a family-owned and operated business in Ohio. They package their soaps sustainably in paper packages.
You might think that $9.50 is expensive for a bar of soap. To me, that’s what makes this soap a great gift. It is something that a friend might not spend the money on themselves, but that they will use and will love. Gifting a few bars really shows that you know what they’re up against in their kitchens.
Available through: Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve
Cotton Dish Towels $14 – $20
Cotton dish towels (often called “Floursack” towels) are amazing for drying hands and dishes alike. They also tuck nicely into an apron waistband for quick use while cooking. A home cook can never have too many good dish towels. The best ones are 100% cotton (or linen) and at least 20 inches square. Floursack towels can be plain white or covered in a decorative design. These towels are a fun gift because you can really show that you understand the cook’s personality. They are also great to use as a green alternative to wrapping paper.
High-Quality Spices $6 – $100
A fresh, potent spice in the right place is worth its weight in gold. but you don’t need to pay gold-level prices to get the good stuff. If your recipient cooks a lot of food from a specific region (or has expressed an interest in learning more about one), then you have all the information you need. Go to a shop that specializes in spices, and anything you choose will be a winner.
One of my all-time favorite spice shops is the World Spice Merchants behind the Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. This shop sells teas and select cooking tools as well. Best of all, they have a well organized online store where you can order herbs and spices of various weights. I live on their Chai spice blend for tea and baking, and their Crab Boil Seasoning is as good on roast squash as it is shellfish. Their prices start at around $5 for 2 ounces of most things, but you can really run up a bill if you want.
For innovative blends a little Midwestern flair, Chicago’s Spice House is also excellent. Their Lake Shore drive blend is heavenly on eggs, chicken, and potatoes. Their powdered blue cheese is an excellent secret ingredient in sauces and salads.
A Good Bread Knife: $40 – $200
Cooks, whether home cooks or professional cooks, love knives. Knives, however, can get very expensive. And chef’s knives come down to personal taste. Some folks will only use hand-honed carbon steel, then there are the variables like blade length, balance, and weight. That’s all before you get into the design of the thing (German? Japanese? Hybrid?).
With their personal budget blown on a favorite hand-forged Santoku knife, many home cooks won’t have spent the money on a good bread knife. But you can find excellent bread knives for around $30. Like this one from King Arthur Baking company, which also happens to be Made in the USA. Though if you are aiming for the higher end of the price range, this double serrated Wusthof knife ( $179.95) is a classic.
A CSA Membership $200 – $500
CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. A CSA membership is, essentially, buying shares of a small, nearby farm’s upcoming season of produce. There are CSA’s for vegetables, fruits, dairy products, meats, and eggs. Members buying these shares in advance offset the farmer’s costs and helps small farms operate with less risk. The bonus for us non-farm people is we get excellent, super-fresh ingredients.
Most CSA’s operate by providing members with a box of items from the farm once per week. Though some use a market model and allow members to choose what items they want. Most of the ingredients I have gotten through CSA’s are the same quality as the ingredients I’ve seen in the kitchens of high-end restaurant where I worked. CSA’s also function on a shorter supply chain than grocery stores. So if there is a round of supply shortages due to COVID-19, CSA members will still have their farm share boxes to rely on.
For a foodie who wants to really get their hands dirty, you could alternately get them a community garden plot. Community gardens allow members to plant and grow their own food in an assigned plot in a shared field. Community garden memberships tend to cost less than CSA memberships, too; many only request a contribution of $20 to $100 per year.
Full disclosure, I do not have affiliate relationships with any of these brands or products. But I have used and loved all of them. I am a proud member of a local CSA, have a kitchen stocked with Raw Materials Designs and Taproot Goods towels and order seasonally from both Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve and the World Spice Merchants. Beyond creating and supplying great products, these are all small businesses that I feel great supporting and I hope you do, too.