What was your favorite holiday gift? Mine was a brisket.
In a family like mine, most gifts have something to do with food. For instance, this past Christmas I sent my brother Ed four pounds of bacon from Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the best stuff ever. I wanted to get him something really nice; last year he sent me a lovely gift box from Williams-Sonoma, with lemon scented soap and lotion for my kitchen.
This tradition of giving food gifts started long ago, when our parents would give each of us a five-pound bag of pistachio nuts on our birthdays. They were red, so we could tell if anyone swiped any. In retrospect, it does seem weird. But it never got old.
Now, don’t think it’s all fruit baskets and English muffins. We take this pretty seriously.
Mom gets boxes from Katz’s Delicatessen in New York City, filled with pastrami, rye bread, corned beef and pickles from my sister Peggy; Peg is thoughtful, she also sends Mom boxes from Phillip’s Chocolates (Boston’s Oldest Chocolatier) from where she lives. They source the largest, most delectable cashews I’ve ever had.
Hotel Chocolat, a British chocolatier that sells luxury gifts, offers suitcase-sized boxes of chocolate. When Mom got one from Peg a few years ago I had to go over and help her open it. The packaging took up most of the sofa.
The annual holiday gift from my brother Bob is eagerly anticipated, over the top, and usually requires a styrofoam cooler and dry ice. Bob told me just before Christmas, “Someone needs to be at your house Thursday afternoon.” It turned out to be a five-pound smoked brisket from Texas, complete with sauce and baked beans. I made cornbread and got coleslaw and invited six of our closest friends for dinner.
What a treat.
Bob started out by sending much-appreciated Omaha steaks but has gotten more adventurous and loves finding outrageous new stuff for family Christmas gifts. We’ve gotten Lobster Gram complete meals, round blue boxes from Vosages Haut-Chocolat two feet across, a dozen Georgetown cupcakes. Last month, I sent him a five-pound bag of pistachios, red.
When my parents moved to Florida years ago, we sent them local apples and cheese from Vermont. They responded with oranges and grapefruit. Ed, in Raleigh, sent us wild rice, peanuts and barbecue sauce. And he makes an annual run north in summer with baskets of peaches.
It’s not all food. When my nephew Joe got married, I made sure he started out right with a couple of good Wusthof knives. And who wouldn’t want a set of personalized red silicone spatulas? I love mine.
For an important birthday, my sisters gave me a Kitchen Aid mixer. That’s the kind of family I have.
Husband Eric gave me a super cool knife bag for Christmas this year. I used to transport my knives wrapped in thick dishtowels secured by rubber bands. Until I lost one in the back seat of the car.
No matter how busy we are, or how far away from each other, a love of cooking, and eating good food is something everyone in my family shares. It’s a bond we make stronger every time someone mails a kielbasa.
Don’t tell Eric, but there’s a whole beef tenderloin hidden in Mom’s refrigerator for his birthday present.
Caroline Lee is a contributing food writer and restaurant reviewer for The Daily Gazette.