A great winter treat that carries the promise of spring is maple syrup. According to JP and Marian Welch of Justamere Tree Farm in Worthington: “Sugaring is the first sign of spring. Clouds of sweet-smelling steam float from sugar houses throughout the Berkshires.” Justamere is a regular on the farmers’ market circuit; local customers can find its products between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekends after Thanksgiving until Christmas at the farm, 248 Patterson Rd., Worthington (413-238-5902). You can also buy your local maple gifts online (justameretreefarm.com/) to spread New England’s sweetness far and wide.
If you buy maple syrup, consider opting for Grade B. Grade B syrup has a deep color and rich flavor, not second-class at all; it’s a great treat for the pancake lover or baker in your life. Syrup will run you $14 for a pint up to $36 for a half-gallon. You don’t have to give gifts that require anything of the recipient: maple pecans or walnuts, $5 for a three-ounce bag, are available, as is maple cream, $19 for a pound tub. Or give a gift box of assorted maple goodies (justameretreefarm.com/giftbox.html#maplelover) for $53.
Frigo’s Gift Basket
Bring a little bit of Italy to someone’s holiday table. That’s advice the proprietors at Frigo’s would agree is molto bene. Their family’s recipes from Dolo, Italy have made their way, via Chicago and Wisconson, to Western Massachusetts. First there was only a place in Springfield, in the South End. More recently, a second location opened in East Longmeadow. There cooking classes are held.
There are two physical locations for Frigo—at 90 William Street in Springield (413-732-5428) and 159 Shaker Road in East Longmeadow (413-525-9400). A gift basket with many delicious things from Italy ($55) includes pasta, sauce, chocolates and cookies (www.frigofoods.com) and can conjure visions of Rome, or sunrise over the Arno.
A long-held dream, a young orchard in North Hadley, Massachusetts and a century-old, refurbished cider press are among the essential ingredients at Carr’s Ciderhouse, owned by Jonathan Carr and his wife, Nicole Blum. “Shallow sandy-loam soil, underlain with quartzite and feldspar bedrock” enables the growth of intensely flavored apples with high sugar content. Here hard cider and cider syrup are among the very local, very handsomely bottled items on offer. Consider a beautifully packaged cider as a perfect choice for a local gift that’s sweet, yet has a little punch. One idea is Apple Pommeau, a smoothly blended cider and apple brandy, barrel-aged for up to a year. It sells for around $18.
You can learn about farmers’ markets and fairs where Carr’s Ciderhouse products are available on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/carrsciderhouse ), including options in Boston, and you can shop directly at Atkins at the corner of Bay Road and Route 116 in Amherst. Call for hours (413-253-9528) or learn more online (www.atkinsfarms.com/beer-and-wine).
Hungry Ghost’s Shadow for a Day
Maybe you have someone on your gift list who loves to bake bread, meaning seriously bakes bread—maybe even wants-to-become-a-baker serious. Or simply loves bread enough to want to know everything about how it’s made absolutely right. There’s a great opportunity for that someone at Northampton’s critically acclaimed, James Beard Award-nominated, nationally recognized artisanal bread bakery The Hungry Ghost (hungryghostbread.com/ ). You can arrange a daylong experience for your earnest bread-loving baker to shadow the professionals there.
The bakery is at 62 State Street in Northampton (413-582-9009). “Limited to one participant at a time, individuals will be able to get behind the counter, put on an apron and be part of a fast-paced enterprise,” says the bakery’s website. This is a chance to learn about flours and wood-fired ovens, wholesaling, retailing, and what the life of a baker is really like.
Nick Aretakis spent a day shadowing the Hungry Ghost bakers. “Jonathan, Cheryl and their colleagues were incredibly generous with their knowledge and experience, and I learned a tremendous amount by watching, by listening, and by doing,” he writes.
For more information, email the bakers: email@example.com. The cost for the day is $200.
To give a gift of Sangha Farm goat cheese—or bring it to a holiday feast, on a plate, with special crackers, fresh bread, and other condiments— would be to bring a family farm to the table (www.sanghafarm.com). And it would cost just under $5 to do so. The family relocated its farm to Plainfield, Massachusetts recently. You can meet its goats, Hershey and Artemis, at the farm or on its website.
Sangha Farm Cheese is available at several local farmers’ markets, or you can venture to Elmer’s Store, 396 Main Street in Ashfield, to purchase it (elmersstore.com). Elmer’s sells “mostly local things” and advises: “Call us (413-628-4003) if you’re looking for something before you head down the mountain and spend all that gas.” (Or before you head up the mountain, depending upon where you’re coming from). It’s fun to go there, regardless, and there are other local food items for sale.
Shy of an impromptu trip to a white-sand beach, the best way to get through winter’s chill is to have a nice cup of hot tea in hand. Aware that the beach isn’t the answer for most of us, Oliver and Emily Rich of Hatfield began their company, Tea Guys, in 2002. The idea was simple, and their tea blends are simple, too, but they climb a step higher. Their blends are “culinary-inspired tea creations made with the finest loose tea, freshly hand-milled spices, vanilla bean, dried fruits, nuts and artisan ingredients.” The range of teas is impressive—from the well-known categories like black, herbal, green and chai to rooibos. The company’s bestselling trio has Earl Grey Cream, Vanilla Chai Spice and Chocolate Delight (around $6). The company has on offer sheer tea filter pouches (around $4) to hold loose-leaf teas and tea rubs to flavor any home chef’s meat and fish dishes. The three-pack of Smoked Chipotle, Blueberry Curry and Jasmine Citrus goes for $15.
In collaboration with local artist and designer Molly Hatch, Tea Guys has a line of teas with her gift-worthy label available in Anthropologie stores and directly on the Tea Guys website (www.teaguys.com) for $12 a tin. Locally, you can purchase Tea Guys off the shelf at numerous stores, including River Valley Market in Northampton and Kringle Candle in Bernardston.
It’s impossible—or nearly so—to go wrong with a gift of delectable chocolates. One could venture as far as to say that chocolate makes a heavenly gift. Bud Stockwell, longtime owner of downtown Northampton’s health food store Cornucopia, would agree. He even named his business venture Heavenly Chocolate. In search of a new challenge, Stockwell was persuaded by a friend to buy some chocolate-tempering equipment when a nearby store went out of business. Having purchased the store’s entire chocolate-making inventory, Stockwell signed on to learn from an experienced chocolatier and proceeded to practice chocolate making for years before his abilities matched his standards.
You can purchase chocolates directly from the kiosk on the first floor of Thornes Market, 150 Main Street in Northampton (a floor above Cornucopia), or you can order on line by the piece or in a boxed assortment (www.heavenly-chocolate.com). Ganaches, truffles, herbal-accented chocolate, nuts and caramels are among the offerings. Boxed collections with 15 pieces are available for $25. For more information, you can also call the shop (413- 586-0038).
Brewmaster Jack Ambrosia
Sometimes it’s more interesting, casual or fitting to bring a pint of beer to a gathering than a bottle of wine. When Tyler Guilmette established Holyoke-based Brewmaster Jack, he was determined to craft local beer.
The effort is that much more local because Brewmaster Jack works in consort with Valley Malt in Hadley. There are just two small malthouses east of Wisconson. In fact, there are only a handful of small malthouses in the country. For Brewmaster Jack, this means there’s an opportunity to incorporate local grains in brew recipes.
Ambrosia is one of four year-round brews the company makes, along with some seasonal options. Available at Provisions, 30 Crafts Avenue in Northampton, a pint of Ambrosia costs $7.99. Go to the store, check the website (www.provisionswine.com/) or call (413) 727-3497.