3 fragrant gift ideas for Christmas

Christmas, the season of giving and good scents

by Silja / 14. Dezember 2023 / Culinary World / Nature
Geschenkideen Weihnachten ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre Blog

Festive aromas to give as gifts - 3 scented gifts for a magical Christmas

For probably all of us, gift-giving and good scents are firmly associated with the Christmas season. When wonderful smells of spices such as cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, allspice or cardamom drift out of the Christmas bakery, the festive season is not far away. The scent of frankincense and myrrh, roasted almonds, baked apples and oranges studded with cloves also make up the typical scent of Christmas for me personally. Many people associate Christmas scents with coziness and comfort. That's why they can brighten our mood, envelop us and calm us down. Just the right thing at this time of year, which for many of us is characterized by a hectic pace and the lack of daylight also makes us tired.

Räuchern Silja Parke

EXCURSE: Why scents influence our well-being

This has to do with the limbic system of our brain. In evolutionary terms, this is a very old part of our brain with a number of important functions. Among other things, the limbic system coordinates all sensory information and evaluates memories. These processes are expressed in an emotional response and trigger feelings in us. For many of us, Christmas scents have been associated with positive memories and emotions since childhood.

Spices are pure luxury

Spices are edible parts of plants, such as fruits, seeds, leaves, barks, roots, but also juices, which are used as a seasoning ingredient in the preparation of food and drinks due to their natural content of flavorings and fragrances (essential oils). But that's not all: they have also been used to preserve food, to ward off pests and as medicinal plants for health.

Many aromatic plants are also processed into fragrances for cosmetics production. Spices were once extremely valuable trade goods and were transported to Europe on long, arduous and sometimes risky routes, initially by land and later by ship from distant countries. They were expensive and therefore reserved exclusively for the upper echelons of society. Our most popular Christmas spices such as vanilla, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and mace are still exotic today and are imported to us from distant countries. Even though they are easier, cheaper and available to many more people nowadays, we should still treat them like a treasure. The fact that we use precious spices as a matter of course and need them in large quantities for industrially processed products such as gingerbread, vanilla ice cream or cinnamon stars also has a downside.

Because our hunger for aromatic spices leads to exploitation, child labor, environmental destruction, poaching and violence elsewhere, because the whole thing is a huge business. Anyone who deals with plants and herbs themselves knows what a great deal of effort is involved for only a small yield, whether you grow the herbs yourself or collect them in nature, where it is only permitted to take small quantities anyway, thank goodness. However, this must not lead to nature being cleared elsewhere because of our demand. Large areas are needed to achieve a large yield. It is not uncommon for wild, original and species-rich habitats to have to make way for this. Some herbs and spices also come from wild collections, and here too there are black sheep who illegally extract large quantities without permission.

Wintertipp ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

Spices are expensive

Sometimes the extraction of spices is also very laborious, such as vanilla in Madagascar, where a large part of the world's vanilla production takes place. Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world and actually originated in Central America. However, it has been cultivated in Madagascar for around 150 years. As there is a lack of natural pollinators that specialize in this orchid, each individual flower has to be pollinated by hand. There are only a few hours to do this, as the flowers of the vanilla plant are only open for a short time each day. The so-called vanilla pod is the fermented capsule fruit of this orchid. The fermentation process is quite complex. At the end, of course, there is still the journey to the store and kitchen shelves, which is currently still associated with the emission of climate-damaging CO2.

Now, I don't want to spoil the Advent season and Christmas for you and I don't want to use my article to promote doing without exotic spices. On the contrary, they provide many people with an income and a livelihood and, if they are of good quality, are very healthy. I have a few more Christmas spice recipes for you, in which vanilla plays a role.

Enjoy spices as a treasure!

Rather, I would like to encourage us to truly understand spices as treasures and to use them with gratitude and appreciation. If we don't take spices for granted and realize what it takes for them to find their way into our kitchens, we can see them as a luxury that we can treat ourselves to or use as a small gift to show others our attention and appreciation. If you can afford it, it's a good idea to opt for organic and Fairtrade products and to consider the origin of your spices. A conscious approach to industrially processed products can also make a contribution. Those who make things themselves have a greater influence on the ingredients used, know better what is in them and develop a better sense of their value.

Granola ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

Have you ever eaten homemade granola? Give it a try, I'm curious to hear what you think. With this in mind, have fun making your own!

  And why do we actually give gifts?

There are many reasons for this. Above all, giving strengthens our connections to other people and helps us to build communities. It's not about the monetary value, but more about the need and goodwill to make others happy and to care and make an effort for the well-being of others. At the end of the day, not only does giving a gift make the recipient happy, but it has also been proven to make the giver happy.

Apple, nut and almond kernel - what do they have to do with Christmas?

It's not just Christmas spices that are firmly associated with Christmas, apples are too. It is hard to imagine Christmas without apples, and as tree decorations they go back to the medieval church's play of paradise, which depicted the expulsion from paradise. The actors symbolically plucked the fruit, which according to contemporary imagination was an apple, from the evergreen tree. The paradise play was later replaced by the nativity play. The green of the tree still symbolizes hope today, the apple stands for paradise and God's love for mankind. Apples are also symbolic of fertility and the color red stands for life. Later, the decorated tree was first adopted by the middle classes and then also by the rural population. In addition to apples, it was richly decorated with nuts and sweet treats.

Äpfel ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

EXCURSE: The health aspect of apples

    Apples, especially old apple varieties, are considered to be very healthy. In addition to valuable vitamins and vital substances, they contain secondary plant substances such as polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids and quercetin, all of which are considered antioxidants. Apples and apple juice are said to prevent lung diseases and protect the liver, intestines and brain. It is hard to imagine Christmas cooking without them, whether as baked apples or savory in red cabbage with apple pieces. A wintery chestnut or parsnip soup with apples is also a real recommendation! Or how about a delicious baked apple spice or baked apple granola? A real treat for your own palate and that of your loved ones, but also a truly and literally sweet Christmas present or souvenir. So far so good, but did you know that apples are also great for facial and body care? Yes, they contain valuable ingredients that promote our skin metabolism, protect the cells and also improve the moisture balance. Apple juice can be used pure as a firming toner or finely grated and mixed with yoghurt and oat bran as a face mask. In my case, apple meets vanilla and combines with other nourishing ingredients to create a nourishing lip balm.

Vanilla, the queen of spices

Vanilla is considered one of the most expensive spices and is therefore often referred to as the "queen of spices".

Vanilleschote ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

It's impossible to imagine Christmas cooking and baking without it. Think vanilla crescents or baked apples with vanilla sauce. It is also used in all three of my recipes. Its aroma is simply delicate and soothing. On a mental level, it is said to have a mood-lifting, nerve-strengthening and even aphrodisiac effect. On a physical level, it promotes digestion and bile production and also has antifungal properties. For the skin, it provides relief from dryness and helps to regulate the moisture balance. All in all, it is a great winter spice that provides us with wonderful support during this time and gives us warmth and confidence.

My Christmas recipe ideas for you

1. baked apple spice sugar

Ingredients: 100 g sugar, 30 g apple rings (dried), 2 sticks Ceylon cinnamon, 2 vanilla pods (scrape out the contents), 2-3 allspice seeds, 5-6 cloves, 2-3 cardamom pods (just the seeds), 1 pinch mace, 1 pinch salt, 1 thin slice of ginger (1 g), a little tonka bean zest, zest of 2 lemons

This is how it works

  • Weigh out 50 g of sugar, add the apple rings, ginger, zest of 1 lemon, salt and all the spices except the tonka bean and grind finely in a high-speed blender.
  • Add the remaining sugar, zest of the second lemon and the tonka bean zest and grind in a mortar.
  • Pour into a screw-top jar, leave open for 2-3 hours, then seal. It smells wonderful!

Bratapfelgewürz-Zucker ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

The sugar is wonderful for preparing baked apples, but you can also use it for many other Christmas desserts, for example for Christmas cookies, dessert creams or for dusting waffles or crepes - let your imagination run wild.

2. baked apple granola

Ingredients: 2 tart apples, 300 g rolled oats, 125 g almonds, 125 g walnuts, 50 g sunflower seeds, 100 g coconut oil or alternatively high-oleic* sunflower oil, 80 g honey, 1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon, 2 vanilla pods (scrape out the contents), 1 thumb-thick piece of ginger, finely chopped, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baked apple sugar, zest of 2 lemons, a little tonka bean zest

*Particularly rich in oleic acid or monounsaturated fatty acids and therefore highly heatable.

Here's how it works:

  • Preheat the oven to 150 degrees fan
  • First cut the apples into thin slices (3-4 mm) and then into very small pieces
  • Mix the rolled oats, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds and apple pieces together in a bowl.
  • Gently melt the coconut oil in a pan or alternatively use sunflower oil. Add the honey, cinnamon, vanilla and salt, stir well and mix evenly with the dry ingredients.
  • Spread everything on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake for 30-40 minutes.
  • Keep turning the granola in the oven with a wooden spoon (about every 10 minutes). For the last 10 minutes, mix 2 teaspoons of baked apple sugar into the granola and finish baking until the granola is nicely browned and crispy. Watch carefully at the end, as the ingredients will burn quickly.
  • Remove the granola from the oven and leave to cool on the baking paper before filling into storage jars.

Granola ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

The baked apple granola goes wonderfully with yoghurt. With yoghurt, warm apple pieces and crunchy baked apple granola, you're sure to score points with your loved ones!

3. apple-vanilla lip balm

Ingredients: 1 apple, 1 stick of Ceylon cinnamon, 1 vanilla pod, 100 ml almond or high oleic sunflower oil, 5 g coconut oil, 15 g cocoa butter, 10 g beeswax, 6 drops of sea buckthorn pulp oil or/and ½ tsp honey if desired

How to do it:

  • Finely grate the apple, chop the cinnamon stick and scrape out the vanilla pod. Pour the oil over everything and gently infuse in a bain-marie for 1 hour.
  • Strain, add the coconut oil, cocoa butter and beeswax and melt gently in a bain-marie.
  • Allow to cool to lukewarm and stir in the sea buckthorn pulp oil and/or honey if desired.
  • Fill into jars or lipstick tubes and leave to harden.

Lippenpflege ©Silja Parke – Wilde Möhre

Especially in winter, the lip balm cares for dry, chapped lips affected by cold and hot air and makes them very soft again without drying them out again, as is the case with some commercial products.

More ideas for Christmas in Salzburg

I hope you enjoyed this little excursion into the world of spices and my recipe ideas for you. Take a look at my previous Christmas articles in the Puch magazine. There you will find all kinds of information, recipes and ideas for smoking - because the Raunächte are coming up again - as well as other gift ideas for your loved ones!

I wish you a peaceful Advent and a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.

Yours sincerely, Silja

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