More Than Nuts by Mail Order

But watch out for the re-gifted fruitcake
Peter Spacek

When I was growing up, our family would receive the same holiday mail order food gifts from the same people every year. From our Uncle Ben and Aunt Ibby in San Francisco we would get a three-pack of hickory smoked almonds. These were pretty good, but since Uncle Ben worked for the San Francisco Giants I’m pretty sure my bros would have preferred some sports memorabilia. Our friend Teno Roncalio, the one and only congressman for the State of Wyoming (and a Democrat, no less) would send us a huge tin of popcorn, divided into three sections: plain, artificial Day-Glo orange cheez-flavored, and caramel. We kids would work our way through the “cheese” and caramel, let the plain get stale, then we would have a huge empty tin can to play with. Good times!

Do people still send cases of Harry and David’s pears, or crates of Honeybell oranges from Cushman’s in Florida? Not many do, but they should. Food gifts are easy and they are always handy when there’s a houseful of family and guests and parties galore.

Some of the more retro food gifts are best forgotten. I can’t remember who, but someone used to send us a Hickory Farms Summer Sausage and Cheese gift box. What is summer sausage? And was that really cheese? Nobody in our household liked this stuff except our dog, Moses.

 Have you ever received the famous Collin Street fruitcake from Texas? Fruitcake is ghastly in my opinion, and I am convinced that the same fruitcake has been circling the globe for decades, being re-gifted over and over and over by its angry recipients.

One year my husband and I gifted ourselves for Christmas with a package of Omaha Steaks. We thought we were so soigné, spending that much money and getting a whole box of beef. Back then, the steaks were delicious but their sales department tactics verged on stalking. As soon as we got the steaks, they would call us every day: “Would you like to order more? Have you eaten those yet? How about a case of our ‘Towering Meat Labyrinth? ’ ” Obviously, this was before Caller ID. Do not order Omaha Steaks, ever, they are terrible.

There are plenty of tried and true food gift ideas. The aforementioned cases of fruit are healthy and moderately priced. Who doesn’t like getting a box of tangerines in midwinter when we need our vitamin C? Wolferman’s English muffins are a safe bet, as are jams and jellies from American Spoon. From Zingerman’s you can get rugelach, chocolate gelt, and hamentaschen. For as little as $25 you can get a macaroon assortment or go nuts with a “Better Than Bubbe’s Baked Goods Gift Box” for $120.

Speaking of nuts, I find that an assortment of peanuts from the Peanut Shop in Williamsburg, Va., is a great gift. The nuts are blanched and blister-fried, making them super-crunchy. I like the sea salt and cracked pepper and Old Bay seasoning varieties.

There are also the “insert-food-name-here”-of-the-month-clubs, like bacon of the month and tea of the month. My favorite recent discovery is the avocado of the month club. Who knew there were so many more varieties than Hass and those big watery ones I don’t know the name of? There are Gwen, Bacon, and Reed avocados. You can also get cases of artichokes while in season. I would jump for joy if someone gave me a monthly case of artichokes!

If you want to personalize food gifts you can go to Kellogg’s website and have a message and photograph printed on a box of Pop Tarts or Corn Flakes for your favorite recipient. My son dressed as David Lynch for Halloween but everyone thought he was Sam Smith so I think that picture on a box of strawberry frosted and sprinkled high fructose corn syrup partially hydrogenated palm oil processed white flour product will fill his heart with warmth and gratitude and holiday joy. We share the same dark humor.

How about something interactive like a root beer making kit? Or something that lasts longer than fruitcake like nuts or dried fruits from MeduriWorld Delights?

Nowadays, you can get anything and everything online, from smoked salmon to Moravian cookies to a bride from Belarus. Some may find the thought of mail order gifts a bit impersonal or corporate, but if you do your homework and consider the personality of the recipient, you really can’t go wrong. In other words, don’t send Eli’s cheesecake to your dieting, diabetic friend or a wine of the month selection to your recovering alcoholic friends who just got their first sobriety coins. Use your head and your heart when choosing gifts.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to that case of artichokes, hint, hint, hint. . . .