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  • Baskets of mirth

    Themed gift baskets with a personal touch
  • Central Point mother of two Rebecca Manning has been giving gift baskets to friends and family for more than 10 years.
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  • Central Point mother of two Rebecca Manning has been giving gift baskets to friends and family for more than 10 years.
    "They're great when you don't know what to get someone," she says. "I choose a theme based on what I know about someone and then buy items based on the theme."
    Filling your baskets with locally grown or made items is one way to make the gift more personal.
    Cathy Pennington, of Pennington Farms in Grants Pass, has been creating gift baskets featuring her products since the 1980s. "One really good combination for the holidays is a jar of pear butter, a jar of apple butter and some molasses cookies," she says. All of their jams, jellies and bakery goods are made on their 90-acre farm.
    Another combination she suggests is a bottle of wine, a jar of fig conserve and a wheel of soft cheese, such as Brie. Add some gourmet crackers from Deux Chats, or a gift certificate for fresh bread from a local bakery, and your basket makes a wonderful hostess gift.
    The Jacksonville Mercantile offers an astonishing variety of unusual foods and condiments. "Chocolate is always great for gift baskets," says owner Constance Jesser. For the sweet tooth on your list, the mercantile carries a variety of imported chocolate bars, chocolate-covered cherries and offerings from local candy makers such as Lillie Belle Farms. They also carry hot-cocoa mix and sauces to drizzle on ice cream or fruit.
    One idea Jesser likes is a baking basket. Muscovado sugar, a deep, rich, brown sugar with high molasses content, is great in gingerbread and coffee. Le Pere Pelletiere sugar beads are excellent for sprinkling on pies, cookies and quick breads. The irregular pieces create a crunchy, satisfying texture. The store also carries several unusual, all-natural extracts — blueberry, coconut and lime, to name a few.
    Pile a variety of these specialty items in a nest of mixing bowls, add a set of measuring cups or spoons and finish with a few fun extras, such as brightly colored baking cups. A good addition to a baking basket is a gourmet baking mix. Two sources are Butte Creek Mill in Eagle Point, which offers organic mixes, and Crabtree and Company, a family-owned company in Eugene known for their hazelnut baking mixes.
    For an Italian-themed basket, start with a package of imported pasta. The ones Jesser carries in her store are unusually shaped and brightly colored. "The colors in these don't fade," she says, "unlike some domestic pastas."
    Add some cloth napkins, bottles of oil and balsamic vinegar and a package of minestrone mix. Finish with a pepper grinder, a wooden spoon and a block of aged Parmesan.
    "Package it in a nice soup pot," Pennington suggests.
    "It's also a good idea to include a recipe or two, especially if you're including an unusual food," Jesser says.
    For packaging, Pennington favors vintage containers with a base of craft fill. "The brown paper is more natural-looking and biodegrades," she explains. She suggests finding old hatboxes, egg baskets and other containers at flea markets.
    Manning likes using recycled baskets. "Use the ones you get flower arrangements in," she recommends. "I like getting packaging materials, like tissue paper filler and cellophane wrap, at the dollar store."
    Jesser favors fanciful bows and special touches such as butterflies, birds or sprigs of greenery, depending on the recipient.
    If all this seems like too much work, take heart. Pennington has a variety of prepackaged gift sets available on her Web site, PenningtonFarms.net. And Jesser is always happy to create a custom gift basket from scratch.
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