Three quick, easy homemade gifts

quick easy homemade gifts

This weekend we had three Christmas events and put up the Christmas tree yet I managed to achieve my goal of making gifts for the kids’ teachers. My hubby was all “you know you can just buy chocolates” but I really wanted to make something that went partway to matching the effort and enthusiasm of our kindy teachers, wasn’t going to end up in landfill and was free from chemicals, sugar and all the other things our immune systems don’t need at this time of year.

In the interests of keeping it real, I will be upfront and say that my house looks like we had Tas the cyclonic Tassie devil visiting for the weekend (see the picture below). But I managed to sterilise jars and make three different things to put in them while Alfie watched Ratatouille and Edith slept. So if you’re in need of last-minute gifts for teachers, carers, neighbours or anyone else who loves good food, check out the three super simple recipes below.

Before you start: get your jars ready


sterlising jars for homemade gifts

If, like me, you have an epic collection of jars in a box that you can’t bear to throw out, pull out the prettiest ones. I find anything between 200ml and 375ml is a good size for gifts.

To get the labels and glue off, soak the jars in hot soapy water for a few hours or overnight then scratch off the paper with a butter knife. Next, mix a tablespoon each of  cooking oil and baking soda into a paste and rub it all over the jars that still have glue on them. Stand for however long you’ve got. Ten minutes will work, but a few hours will work better. I used steel wool to then scour the jars and remove the last of the glue. It took maybe ten minutes.

Shortcut: Don’t have any jars handy? Hit up an op shop where you will most definitely find some!

There are a few ways to sterilise the jars, but I find the easiest is to wash the jars in hot soapy water, then stand them up on a baking tray in a cold oven, doesn’t matter if they are still a bit wet. Turn the oven on to very low (100C works for me) and leave them in there for half an hour.

relish recipe, pesto recipe, nectarine jam recipe


Recipe 1: Date & tamarind relish

This sweet-sour relish requires only ten minutes cooking time and was made from ingredients I had in my pantry. I found the recipe in an old Women’s Weekly mini cookbook: Pickles and Chutneys.


  • 75g dried tamarind
  • 2 cups/500ml boiling water
  • 2 tsp oil (I used coconut)
  • 2 tsp black mustard seeds (I didn’t have these so used coriander seeds instead)
  • 2tps: cumin seeds
  • 500g fresh dates (I used dried and soaked them for 20 minutes, then drained them)
  • 1/4 cup malt vinegar


  1. Soak tamarind in the boiling water for 30 minutes then strain through a sieve, retaining the liquid and discarding the fruit. Press down on the pulp with a spoon to get all the goodness out.
  2. Heat oil in heavy-based saucepan and cook the seeds until they start to smell yummy.
  3. Add the dates, the tamarind liquid and malt vinegar. Bring to a boil then simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  4. Using a blender or stab mixer, process relish until almost smooth.
  5. Spoon immediately into hot jars and seal while hot.

This recipe makes around 600ml and will keep for two weeks.

Recipe 2: Walnut pesto

I bought two enormous bunches of basil from a farmers’ market and have two kilos of Aussie grown walnuts in the fridge: hey pesto! You can use pine nuts or any other kind of nuts you fancy. My kids helped pick the basil leaves off the stalks with varying degrees of efficacy…

Shortcut: Just this once, buy the pre-grated parmesan (check the label to choose one with no funky numbers).


  • Two cups firmly packed basil leaves
  • 125g grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 gloves garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste


  • Chuck everything into a blender and blitz for about 30 seconds, using a spatula or spoon to scrape down the sides a couple of times.
  • Taste and add salt if needed.
  • Spoon pesto almost to the top of room-temperature sterilised jars.
  • Top with olive oil to protect the green goodness.
  • Seal and refrigerate immediately.

This recipe makes around 700ml and will keep for a week so long as the oil is topped up.

Recipe 3: Nectarine chia jam

For this  recipe, I have to hand you over to the gorgeous Colette from Cut out the Crap. I was so excited to find this two-minute, sugar-free jam recipe that made use of the big bowl of organic nectarines in my fridge. I used Pure Harvest rice-malt syrup, and the seeds from half a vanilla bean because that’s what I had in stock, and it turned out great.

See the COTC Nectarine Jam recipe.

Making it all happen in limited time

Just to give you an idea of how you can blitz this: I prepared my jars during the week then, on Saturday, in between swimming lessons and our local Christmas festival, popped my jars in the oven and soaked the dates and tamarind. It took me twenty minutes to pick all the leaves off the basil and grate the parmesan. Then I made the relish first, using the hot jars straight from the oven and leaving the others on the bench to cool. I washed the blender and then made the nectarine jam, then washed the blender again to make the pesto (I did it this way so the jam didn’t taste of garlic!). Oh and then I washed the blender again.

On Monday morning, I set Alfie to work scribbling all over Christmas cards while I cut up some green serviettes and red ribbon from the Christmas box. We have heaps of pretty bags saved so all we had to do was pop the jars in the bags, find Edie’s shoes, lose Alfie’s hat for twenty minutes, almost forget his lunch, discover Edie had no knickers on and get in the car.

At kindy, one of the mums commented on our lovely handmade gifts for the teachers and wondered how on earth we managed it. While it was definitely worth it, I just want to remind you all: I came home to this:

seriously messy house


Banish the stress and embrace the mess: Merry Christmas my lovelies!


  1. Romi says

    Jo, love it! It’s just not that hard is it- just takes a little planning and prep. Well done and thanks for inspiring us all with each post.

    I agree, let’s embrace the mess!


  2. Susan Taylor says

    Awesome! I have a tip on getting the glue off for you – the key is to soak the jars in really hot water for a while but not too long, so if you start removing the labels when the water is still warm the glue comes right off instantly because of the heat! I learned this the hard way after experiencing the difference after leaving them soaking overnight in cold water where the glue had reset again. Try it!
    Susan Taylor recently posted..Goodbye my dragon…My Profile

  3. Laura Trotta says

    Love all three of them and especially your “embrace the mess” mantra Jo! I also use eucalytpus oil to remove stubborn sticky labels off old jars – works super quick each time. :-)

    • (dt)em says

      yes, of course! We used to use eucalyptus oil to clean chewing gum off the underside of tables at the bar I worked at during uni. People are gross…

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