Extension Explores: Preserving Holiday Gifts

Jar of Apple Jam

Summer and early fall are the perfect time to start thinking about homemade preserved gifts. The garden is bounding with harvest. So if you have an abundance of garden produce or access to fresh produce, consider using the excess for holiday gift giving. Just follow these tips for safe giving of preserved foods. 

Tip # 1 – Consider the food Safety Risks – The best gift options with the lowest risks includes soft spreads (jams & jellies) and fruits.  Of medium risks are tomato and pickled products.  Higher risks are involved with vegetables, meats, and seafood. 

Tip # 2 – Use tested recipes – It’s important to use tested recipes rather than ones that may have been passed down to you from family and others you may find on the internet.  Some options include:  University of Tennessee Extension canning booklet, the National Center for Home Food Preservation out of the University of Georgia, “Let’s Preserve” series from PennState, USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning, or the “So Easy to Preserve” book by the University of Georgia. 

Tip # 3 – Gifts you can safely give when using a tested recipe: apple spreads, pickled apples, apple juice, applesauce, apple pie filling, pepper jelly, pickled peppers, hot pepper relish, cayenne pepper sauce, tomato jam, tomato marmalade, pickled sweet green tomatoes, spiced green tomatoes, salsas, taco sauce, watermelon rind pickles, cranberry sauce, mint jelly, and mango chutney. 

Tip # 4 – Avoid unsafe foods – The following foods are not considered safe options:  mashed or pureed pumpkin or pumpkin butter, mashed or pureed winter squash, canned summer squash, thickened soups or stews, canned plain or pickled eggs and cakes in jars. 

Tip # 5 – Use creative packaging and proper labeling – Show your own creativity by using standard mason jars and decorating according to your style. You might even include a recipe card or create a basket of “goodies”.  Be sure to include labels with the following information:  name of product, date processed & batch number, list of ingredients, source of recipe, procession method, storage/handling instructions, and how to use the product (suggested recipes). 

Tip # 6 – Consider dried foods as possible gifts. There are some fruits and vegetables that make good gifts. A great way to use dried fruits and vegetables are in home-made trail mixes.  Use your own creativity on how to package and overall presentation using glass jars or food grade plastic bags . 

Canning Recipes:

Soft Spreads

Cucumber Pickles

Pickled Vegetables

Pickled Fruits





Reduced Sugar/Sodium Recipes:


Frequently Asked Questions:

The best items to can and give are soft spreads (jams, jellies, preserves, marmalades and conserves) or fruits as these are high in acid, therefore reducing the risk of botulism.

Pickled items and acidified items (like tomatoes) carry a higher risk for botulism because of the mixture of low acid vegetables with a high acid ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice. It is imperative to use the correct proportions of acid to the low acid vegetables as specified in the recipe. Because of the addition of acid, these products are processed in a water bath canner.

It is not advisable to give pressure processed low acid items as gifts as these carry a higher risk for botulism when not processed correctly or with faulty equipment.

Whenever you are processing and especially when giving as gifts, always follow a safety tested recipe exactly.

Some products that may be popular on social media do not have a safety tested recipe for preserving by canning. Avoid canning these items:

  • Mashed or Pureed Pumpkin
  • Pumpkin Butter
  • Mashed or Pureed Winter Squash
  • Summer Squash
  • Thickened Soups or Stews
  • Plain or Pickled Eggs
  • Cakes or Breads in Jars
  • Pesto
  • Chocolate Sauce

Dried fruits and vegetables, leathers and jerky can make good gifts as well. They can be given plain or they can be incorporated into mixes like dried fruits and cereal for trail mixes or dried vegetables for a soup or dip mix. Dried herbs or herb blends can also make tasty gifts and work well with accompanying recipes to use the herbs.

Safety tested recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and USDA are tested in standard mason type canning jars in standard sizes as specified in the recipe. Changing the jar shape or size can affect the temperature penetration of the product. Therefore, it is necessary to use the standard shaped mason type canning jars with two piece lids.

If you want to make your gift unique, some of these jars are available in a quilted pattern on the outside or some are smooth sided and others are tinted with blue or amber to make them look old-fashioned. These are fine to use.

Some standard canning jars also come in a 4 ounce (1/4 pint) size or a 12 ounce (3/4 pint) size. You may use these if there is a processing time for the next size up and you must use that time. For example if you use a 1/4 pint jar and your recipe only has a processing time for 1/2 pints, you must use the processing time for the 1/2 pint size. Likewise if you are using 3/4 pint size and there is only a 1/2 pint processing time, you cannot use that jar. If there is a processing time for pints, you may use that processing time for the 3/4 pint. Do note that the product may be over-cooked and affect the quality.

Do not re-use any commercial jars. These are intended for one time use and can shatter. Also the lids may not fit correctly affecting the seal.

Also make sure that you are using jars intended for canning and not just decorative purposes.

The packaging and labeling of the gift can take a jar from ordinary to spectacular.

Paper labels may be printed and added to the lid or side of the jar. A special tag may be tied around the ring.

Fabric or decorative paper can be placed over the lid and ring and tied with ribbon, cording, jute or raffia. You can also place a thin fabric over the lid and screw the ring on over the fabric. Machine or hand embroidery or a stamped design on the fabric can make it more decorative.

Tie an ornament or trinket on to the jar or ring or tie a special serving utensil to a jar of jam or salsa.

Include a recipe or booklet of recipes to use your gift item in cooking or give serving suggestions.

Make a basket with your items. Maybe include something to serve with the item, like a loaf of homemade bread with jam or chips with salsa.

Give a special serving vessel and/or utensil along with your preserved items.

  • Name of Product
  • Date Processed and Batch Number (if more than one was made on that day)
  • List of Ingredients
  • Source of Recipe
  • Processing Method (i.e. Processed for 10 minutes in boiling water bath)
  • Storage/Handling Instructions (i.e. Refrigerate after opening or Use within 3 months)
  • Serving Suggestions/Recipes (optional)
Preserving Gifts for the Holidays
Popular Canned Gifts to Avoid
Packaging Ideas for Home Preserved Gifts
Making Linzer Cookies for a Gift Using Homemade Jam

For more information or questions about food preservation, please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at your local county Extension office. Click here for a list of the Tennessee Extension Offices.

Trade and brand names are used only for information.  The University of Tennessee Extension and Tennessee State University Extension do not guarantee nor warrant published standards on any product mentioned; neither does the use of a trade or brand name imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.