Orange Spice Rub and DIY Holiday Gift Ideas

by Katherine Sacks


One year it was the Santa socks; the next, an inspirational quote calendar. While I love getting gifts, I hate wastefulness and “stuff.” Sure, it’s the thought that counts, but how many gifts have you received that you didn’t want? We say we’ll regift or donate, but more often than not (at least in my case #badcitizen), that extra “stuff” gets tossed in the trash. During the holiday season, the United States produces an extra one million tons of garbage each week.

While making homemade gifts doesn’t guarantee they will be loved, preserving food is not only a great way to cook with less waste, it’s also great for DIYing your gift list. Preserving in December? It might not be the season for peach jam and roasted heirloom tomatoes, but even if you weren’t canning all summer, there are still tons of options for making edible gifts.

There are many great books about canning, jarring and pickling, but that doesn’t keep me from getting excited when I discover a new one. Lately, I’ve been flipping through Sarah Marshall’s “Preservation Pantry,” an encyclopedia of preserving ideas, from using up beet stems in chilly December to turning tomato skins into a spice mixture during the boon of summer produce. Her recipe for an orange spice rub, which uses orange peels in a waste-free cooking move — and which I can totally imagine wrapped in cute little jars — got me thinking about my holiday gift-giving plans. Below are some of my favorite ideas gleaned from her book, which would also happen to make great gifts.

(And FYI, if you are gifting for me, I’d appreciate a jar of pickles over those Santa socks any day. I have a feeling that your food-loving friends will appreciate the personal touch as well.)

Real Food Encyclopedia

The Gift of Vitamin C

During the chill of winter, oranges, lemons and other citrus are your best friend when it comes to preserving, plus they’re in season (in sunny climates like Florida and California at least). “The beautiful citrus fruits brighten up our dreary winters right when we need it most,” writes Marshall. “Both the flesh and peel provide us with the Vitamin C we need to fight off those nasty cold and flu symptoms.” Gifting your friends a bag of oranges isn’t the worst idea, but instead, try drying out the peels (see recipe below). Marshall combines dried orange peels with freshly toasted spices for her go-to pickling spice. Dried lemon zest is mixed with paprika, celery seeds, ground turmeric and other spices for a spice substitute that’s perfect for roast chicken. Packed in cute jars, either (or both!) makes a lovely gift.

Pickled Pink

Jamming and canning aren’t only for summer. Along with summery recipes for strawberry rhubarb hot sauce and spiced plum chutney, Marshall has a variety of root-to-leaf ideas for putting up late-fall and winter produce, including pears, fennel, onions and Brussels sprouts. She caramelizes her onions with coffee for an onion jam, then dries and grinds the onion peels into a powder which is perfect for adding into homemade spice mixes and rubs. For fennel, Marshall roasts and pickles the bulbs, adds the stalk to a curry mixture and uses the fronds for chimichurri. Gifting a set of all three would not only be delicious, but it would also highlight the versatility of cooking waste-free. (Want more fennel ideas? We’ve got lots of tips for using it up.)

Cheers to That!

Have a favorite cocktail? Try making an element of the drink and gift it with a handwritten recipe card for the drink. In a pro-waste-free move, Marshall uses peach stones and citrus peels to create a homemade tonic syrup, perfect for the gin and tonic lover. Swap her tarragon-pickled grapes for cocktail onions or olives for a sweet addition to a Martini. And, her bourbon-brined cherries would be the perfect pairing for a Manhattan.

Orange Peel Pickling Spice
Photograph by Caleb Plowman. Food styling by Ashley Marti.

Recipe: Orange Peel Pickling Spice

1 tablespoon dried orange peels (from 1 orange)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1⁄2 teaspoon dill seeds
1 cinnamon stick
3 dried bay leaves
1 1⁄2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
6 whole cloves
5 allspice berries

Makes 1 (2-ounce) jar

Preheat the oven to 200°F. Wash the orange under cold running water and cut off the peel. Arrange the orange peels skin-side up on a baking sheet fitted with a silicone baking mat. Place the baking sheet in the center rack of the oven. If you’re using a gas oven, leave the door closed. If you’re using an electric oven, leave the door propped open to let moisture escape. Flip the orange peels over every 30 minutes, for about 1 to 2 hours. Orange peels should be hard to the touch and dry, while still orange in color. Remove from the oven and let cool.

While the orange peels are cooling, toast the mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and dill seeds over medium heat. Shake the pan every 2 minutes to keep them from burning. After 6 minutes, and when the seeds begin to make popping sounds, remove from the heat and place in a dry bowl.

Crush the cinnamon stick, using a pestle on a wooden cutting board, into 1⁄4-inch (or smaller) pieces. Use kitchen shears to cut the orange peels into 1⁄4-inch pieces. Crumble the bay leaves by hand into the bowl with the seeds. Mix in the remaining spices and orange peels, and place the mixture in a clean bottle. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.

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