Chefs, cooking instructors and insiders give their best ideas for holiday gifts
Rogue Valley foods have been achieving gift-worthy status since 1936, when brothers Harry and David Holmes first sold boxes of pears for Christmas.
More recently, the Medford company built on "gift fruit" has been complemented by other holiday heavy-hitters: Rogue Creamery, Lillie Belle Farms and Gary West Smoked Meats, not to mention a slew of local wineries. All produce festive foods for giving, but small entrepreneurs are making their mark, too.
We asked the valley's chefs, cooking instructors and industry insiders which locally made food products they'd like to see under the tree. Most are stocking-stuffer size and easy on the holiday budget. Or assemble all 12 in a gift basket.
- Pennington Farms preserves — Several contributors mentioned this Grants Pass family's mainstay. Kristen Lyon, personal chef and manager of the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods, says Pennington berry jams "feel like summer all year long." The Penningtons frequent local farmers markets in season and sell online at www.penningtonfarms.net and at various locally owned retailers. Rogue Valley Local foods, www.roguevalleylocalfoods.org, sells 8-ounce jars for $4.50.
- Butte Creek Mill bran muffin mix — Eagle Point resident Denise Marshall, owner of The Last Bite cooking school, arranges the packaged mix with a muffin tin in gift baskets. Containing wheat bran, whole-wheat pastry flour, wheat germ, dry buttermilk, baking soda, spices and salt, the mix costs $4.65 for a 26-ounce package online (www.buttecreekmill.com) or at the mill, 402 N. Royal Ave., Eagle Point. The mill's numerous stone-ground products are available at retailers around the valley.
- Wild Bee honey — Mary Ellen DeLuca, manager of Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market, has her pick of local foods but can't do without this honey. In summer, bees at the Curtis family's Eagle Point farm pollinate strawberry patches, which yield organic berries from late spring through early fall, sold with the honey at local growers markets. A half-dozen local retailers stock the honey or buy online at www.wildbeehoney.com. A bear-shaped jar containing just over 1 cup of honey costs $6.75.
- Green's Gourmet Goodies flavored popcorn — It's basically the same stuff moose like to munch, only produced on a small scale by Rogue River resident Cheryl Green. Since she started making caramel corn and toffee 25 years ago for friends, Green expanded her repertoire to 15 products. Fellow sweets maven Rebecca Hill stocks the 4-ounce bags of popcorn in caramel-apple, jalapeno, chocolate, cinnamon and rocky-road flavors for $3.75 at her Sweet Stuff boutique on Medford's East Main Street.
- Noble Coffee "daydream" dark roast — This Ashland company is a finalist in the inaugural "Good Food Awards," planned for January in San Francisco. Like its coffees, Noble's business practices are good, too, says Rhianna Simes, coordinator of the Jackson County Master Recycler Program. In its mission to reduce waste, the program advocates edible gifts, among other kinds, at the holidays. Noble also uses certified-organic and Fair Trade beans, both strategies for sustainability. A 12-ounce bag costs $11 at the Ashland cafe or online at www.noblecoffeeroasting.com.
- Gary West Silver Fork Natural jerky — Also a Good Food finalist, Gary West is extending its commitment to local by procuring meat from small Northwest ranchers. That beef, buffalo and elk is used in the company's nitrate-, hormone-, steroid- and antibiotic-free jerky, a favorite of Wendy Siporen, executive director of food-advocacy group THRIVE. A 1-ounce snack package costs $3 in the Jacksonville store or online, www.garywest.com.
- Sweet sea-salt caramels — The Rogue Valley became known for this confection through Lillie Belle's efforts to woo none other than Martha Stewart. But former elementary-school teacher Laurie Reid put her own stamp on this trend last year and opened a downtown Talent storefront in February. Her hand-dipped candies are made daily and also are available at Jacksonville Mercantile, where co-owner David Jesser recommends them for Reid's beautiful packaging. A box of eight costs $15.
- Shibui — Also singled out for its packaging, Shibui drew the eye of cooking instructor Caterina Moore.
"The little bottle is really sweet," says Moore.
Resembling a vial of vampy nail polish, Shibui is a balsamic-vinegar reduction that chef Jay Krebsbach cooks up in Talent. Moore says the sauce can be drizzled over anything sweet or savory. A 1-ounce bottle costs $6.95 at Paddington Station in Ashland. It's also available at Ashland Food Co-op, Tark's Market, Weisinger's Winery and by special order.
- Mushrooms All Year dried fungi — Local forager Louis Jeandin frequents farmers markets in season and dries surplus mushrooms for sale all year. He also teaches a popular fall cooking class at The Willows Cooking School in Central Point. Chef and owner Sandy Dowling says she would pair gifts of dried mushrooms with recipes from Jeandin's website, www.mushroomsallyear.com. A 1/5-pound bag of chanterelle, lobster or porcini mushrooms cost $14.95 online. They also can be purchased at Rogue Creamery or The Jacksonville Inn wine shop.
- Hi-Hoe Produce whole grains and flour — Locally grown grains have been harder to come by than produce and meat. Because Williams farmer Chi Scherer values the health of customers and the planet, he produces certified-organic amaranth and quinoa, both high in amino acids, along with heirloom corn and black beans. They're packaged in 1-pound bags and sell for $3.29 at Ashland Food Co-op. Grind them in a coffee grinder to make flour, says Co-op culinary educator Mary Shaw. Or buy the flours for $3.89.
- Sunbean Co. Bag 'o Beans soup mix — Phoenix High School students have been counting beans for about 15 years as part of a school-run business. Their flagship product contains 17 legumes, from baby limas to yellow lentils, perfect for "soup season," says Nora LaBrocca, owner of Downtown Market Co. in Medford.
"You can make it be veggie; you can throw a ham bone in there," she says.
The 1-pound bag costs $3.50 at Downtown Market.
Rogue Valley Local Foods gift certificate — As the name implies, this online growers market is all about local and deserving of the newspaper food editor's vote. Unprocessed products must originate within a 100-mile radius of Medford while prepared foods must contain a majority of ingredients grown or raised within the same boundary. In addition to produce, the market sells local meat, eggs, cheese, grains and a number of the products listed here, even soap. Customers place an order then pick it up later that week at locations in Medford, Central Point, Jacksonville and Grants Pass.
Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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