Making Holiday Spice Blends

Handcrafted spice blends make delicious gifts.

I make all of my own culinary seasoning blends and so it made sense to make some as gifts for friends and family. They’re useful and appreciated by most of my friends and family (turns out my mom was not a fan of herbal teas and fire cider).

In this post, I offer two spice blends to make and give as presents. Since most of us cannot grow spices, a bit of shopping is required for quality ingredients and packaging but these unique gifts can be made in a couple of hours.

In my Spices 101 primer, I offer tips on how to buy and store quality spices.

Whole spices: cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, cardamon
Photo by Timothy Newman on Unsplash

Why Bother? It seems like a lot of work.

Every couple of months, I spend an afternoon making large batches of my culinary blends, which I store in 8 oz Mason jars, refilling my smaller jars in my kitchen. I use a lot of herbal and spice seasoning, almost always doubling the amount listed in a recipe. And the quality difference is more than noticeable plus I can tweak some blends to my personal tastes. Recently, I ran out of my version of Montreal Steak Seasoning (which I use on almost everything I cook since we seldom have steak) and since I was out of town, my partner bought a grocery store blend that was ok.

Herbs and Spices as Gifts

Handcrafted culinary blends as gifts are unique and inexpensive gifts. These two recipes are perfect for the winter holidays. Group them together in a small gift basket, add a tea blend, a set of metal measuring spoons, a bottle of wine, or a bag of oatmeal. A pretty bow or ribbon and you have a delightful homemade present. Don’t forget a small recipe card with tips on how to use the blend.

Don’t limit your gifts to these blends; a curry blend offers a lot of room for creativity and will be appreciated by anyone who cooks curry at home. An Italian seasoning blend, a savory blend for cooking beans, a BBQ seasoning for the weekend grill artist.

Winter Spice Blend

This recipe is based on a traditional pumpkin spice blend but I added a few more spices to make it even more aromatic and tasty. I use whole spices that I grind and screen through a metal mesh strainer.  

  • ⅛ cup of each: ground ginger, ground cloves, ground allspice, ground fennel seeds, ground dried orange peel, ground coriander
  • ¼ cup ground star anise
  • ½ cup ground cinnamon

Makes about 1. 5 cups of the blend. Mix thoroughly and pour into spice bottles and label. Uses: baking, topping cereals & yogurt; add to coffee, hot chocolate, and smoothies.

Winter Mulling Spices

Mulled cider is wonderful on those cold days when I have been outside for a bit. And mulled wine is one of my seasonal favorites. Commercial mulling spices are disappointing so I experimented with creating my own delicious blend. This recipe is flexible and you can adjust the amount of spices to your preference.

⅛ cup black peppercorns, lightly smashed

¼ cup whole lightly smashed cloves, star anise, cardamom (green pods), nutmeg

¼ cup dried ginger (not ground)

½ cup cinnamon chips and dried orange peel pieces

I use a mortar and pestle to smash the spices into smaller pieces. Don’t grind mulling spices!  Mix ingredients until blended. Spoon 2 tablespoons into small cotton or muslin bags or into T-Sacs. (These can be purchased online in 4 different sizes and are used to package individual tea bags.) You can also add the spices directly to the cider or wine and later, strain them out.

MULLED CIDER: Use fresh-pressed apple cider if you can find it.

  1. Add one quart apple cider to cooking pot.
  2. Add ¼ cup pure maple syrup.
  3. Add 1-2 cups whole cranberries or raisins (optional)
  4. Add mulling spice bag.
  5. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  6. Turn off heat (if using a slow cooker, turn to warm).
Pot of spiced wine
Pot of spiced wine
Photo by Hannah Pemberton on Unsplash

MULLED WINE: Use a light red wine like Pinot Noir, Gamay, Grenache, or a medium-bodied one like Merlot. Many recipes call for Cabernet but I have found that to be too rich and heavy. (Besides it is loaded with tannins which gives me a severe headache.) Adding brandy and cider increases the cost of this beverage but they really do make a difference.

  1. Add one bottle of wine to a slow cooker. 
  2. Add a ½-¾  cup of brandy to the cooker.
  3. Add one cup of apple cider or apple juice.
  4. Add ¼ honey and stir to dissolve.
  5. Add the juice and zest of one orange.
  6. Add mulling spice bag and slices of oranges.
  7. Cover and cook on low for several hours.

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