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Holiday gifts you can eat

By Katherine Dorsett, CNN
  • Some people will receive homegrown food gifts this holiday season
  • Kenneth Wingard gives away peach jam and preserves from his California ranch
  • Liz Porter makes gift baskets filled with homemade jams, jellies, pickles, relishes

(CNN) -- Some Americans are giving homegrown food and specialty items as presents this holiday season and spending a fraction of what they'd pay in a store.

Who doesn't like a tasty bargain?

According to the National Gardening Association, about 41 million households participate in food gardening; 58 percent do it to grow better tasting food and 54 percent do it to save money on food bills.

But Kenneth Wingard, a home furnishings designer, is among the 23 percent of growers who share their tasty treats with others. This year, he's giving away organic peach jam and preserves from his California ranch for the holidays.

"It's definitely a cost savings," Wingard said. "It probably ends up costing us about $2 a jar and we are handing out 60 this year."

But he doesn't just do it for the cost, he enjoys the warm, fuzzy feeling it brings him.

"They are the kind of fuzzy peaches I remember growing up with in Georgia -- where you buy them off the side of the road and they make the whole car smell like summery goodness," Wingard said. "The jam is the same way -- the color of the peaches stays vibrant and when it hits warm bread it smells like I'm back on the side of the road with peach juice dripping down my chin."

The 46-year-old peach grower and his partner, Mike Gotham, planted about 30 trees on their ranch in Boonville, California, three years ago and are just starting to get some fruit from them. So far, they make their jams and preserves from an older tree.

Kenneth Wingard picking a peach from his ranch.
Kenneth Wingard picking a peach from his ranch.

"Luckily, we have a mature peach tree that was planted by a forward-thinking former owner, which makes me more than a little nervous about what we're going to do with fruit from 30 trees one day," Wingard said, chuckling.

Wingard said he makes his peach jam and preserves his grandmother's way.

"For canning, we parboil, peel and pit the peaches, then cook them down with some sugar and pectin and put them in jars in an enamel canner to sterilize," he said.

The jam has a velvety smooth sweetness without a hint of tartness.

"We leave some big chunks of peaches in it, so you'll get those real bursts of peach flavor and not too much sugar," Wingard said.

His father is his No. 1 recipient.

"He starts dropping hints around harvest time," Wingard said.

The couple stopped giving store-bought holiday gifts a few years ago and enjoy giving "noncommercial" gifts.

"At this point in our lives, no one needs more 'stuff,' so we like giving consumables and creating something from scratch, with special meaning," said Wingard.

Liz Porter of Hickory Flat, Georgia, had a similar inspiration to grow holiday gifts from her garden.

"I wanted to find ways to do something for our grown children without buying them gifts they may not really need," Porter said. She also grows food for friends and business associates.

She's been making holiday gift baskets filled with homemade jams, jellies, pickles, relishes and breads for about 10 years. She also adds items like bay leaves, garlic and rosemary.

Liz Porter enjoys making gift baskets for the holidays.
Liz Porter enjoys making gift baskets for the holidays.

Porter makes breakfast baskets, too. She grows her own field corn to grind for cornmeal and grits and will add fresh eggs from her chickens.

She likes to add a bit of pizzazz to her gifts, so she'll use cheese boxes, copper pots or iron skillets as containers for her food.

"I think people always appreciate something that comes from the heart," Porter said. "I can recall some experimental recipes that may not have tasted that good, like my whole-wheat fruit breads, but my gifts always bring a smile to my recipients."

Porter said she has always made homemade gifts to save money.

"In these times, saving dollars means a great deal," she said. "And the one benefit that cannot be priced is the time one can spend with family, friends and community while gardening and harvesting."

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