From the first year that I started making jams and chutneys I made hampers for friends and family for Christmas. Back then my preserves were bottled in a variety of reused jars and the labels were handwritten but they were still warmly received. This year I have made up 5 hampers for various purposes and I have to admit I think they look great!
I was leafing through a Freecycled copy of Olive magazine from December 2007 the other day and there was a small section on food gifts not to buy for Christmas. This included a wicker hamper of food. What?! But on further reading I understood what they meant. They said that by the time you take the basket etc. into account the food inside it is worth very little. So, all the more reason for making your own hamper. It's probably a bit late to sort out a hamper now if you haven't already been planning one but here is some of my advice should you like to try it next year.
Start first with the contents of the hamper. If this is going to be homemade jams and chutneys then you'll probably be busy making these in the summer and the autumn. If you are stuck for recipes then try getting yourself a copy of my preserves book. You may want to start saving jars from the beginning of the year so that you have plenty to hand. Alternatively, you can buy jars from ironmongers, John Lewis, supermarkets (seasonal), www.lakeland.co.uk or from small holders suppliers such as Ascott or bee keepers supplies such as Thornes. Once you have bottled your preserves, you will need to label them. You can buy blank labels with decorative borders from the same suppliers as the bottles. For a more professional look, I design and print bespoke labels for jams, chutneys or honey.
The next thing you need to source are the baskets for putting the preserves into. A useful alternative are jute gift bags which you can buy online from companies such as the natural bag company or islepac.co.uk. These are handy because you just need to pop the jars inside and the job is done.
You can source baskets from many different places. I often buy mine from ebay and my last lot my mum bought for me whilst she was in a French hypermarket. The only thing I would say is think about buying baskets in the summer and autumn because the closer you get to Christmas the higher the demand for them so the more expensive and harder to get they are. If you are thinking of posting your hamper then consider forgoing the basket altogether as it increases the weight of the parcel quite considerably without really adding value to the gift.
For the presentation of the hamper you will also need some sort of packing material which can be straw (bedding for small pets from pet supply shops/garden centres), or shredded paper. I have bought shredded paper from ebay before and you can get it from craft supply shops too. This year I have been using gold shred from Lakeland. You will also need to buy some cellophane - extra wide is useful if your hampers are large. This I buy from ebay or Hobbycraft.
To put it all together, put some shred into the bottom and sides of the basket. Place the food items inside, tilting them so that the labels can be read and so that they look attractive. Fill the basket so that it looks full but not crammed, adding more shred around the items as necessary to hold them in place. Next wrap the whole thing in cellophane. Wrap the cellophane completely around the basket, ensuring that the ends meet at the back of the basket rather than underneath it. Tape it in place then make cuts in the cellophane on either side of the handles. Push the flap of cellophane through the handle and gather the cellophane together as if wrapping a present and stick it in place.
Hampers can look so attractive at this point that you may not wish to wrap it further in wrapping paper. If you do decide to wrap it so that the contents are hidden then consider wrapping it in a new t-towel. This can look fantastic as well as adding the t-towel as an additional gift. Use a few pins to keep the ends tucked in neatly then hold in place with ribbon.
Job done - a fantastic looking gift that will be well received and for which you can feel proud!