A few of our favorite things: Southern-made food gifts people will actually like
People buying gifts for the cooking and dining enthusiasts in your life: I'm here to help. Drop the gadgets and put away the wine charms.
Culinary hobbyists are used to getting strange herb choppers and complicated decanters every Christmas, and many of those one-use kitchen tools just collect dust in the kitchen.
People who really love to cook appreciate those things, but they'll love this Southern-made stuff even more. I promise.
One major thing of note: This close to the holidays, many of these independent makers may have a hard time shipping in time for Christmas. Some, such as Spicewalla, are available at select retailers, including Whole Foods. Peruse each website to see.
You could also use this guide as a reference for future buying for your favorite food lover or find a version that's local to you. Fancy cutting boards, for example, can be found nearly everywhere.
Cool Southern spices
My hands-down favorite spice maker is Spicewalla, based in Asheville and expanding next year to Atlanta's Ponce City Market. Run by the Chai Pani Restaurant Group, the chef-driven company imports, roasts and hand-packages premium spices. Spicewalla's "Kitchen Essentials Kit" even landed a coveted place on Oprah's Favorite Things 2019 list.
The list of available spices and blends can be overwhelming, so let me help you out. If the person you're gifting loves to bake, try the Sugar and Spice collection. The grilling rubs are stellar, and the Buxton Chicken Rub is a fixture in my spice cabinet. The Oprah-beloved Kitchen Essentials Kit is perfect for someone just getting started with cooking. Some of my personal favorites include the Chai Masala blend, the roasted coriander powder and the exceptional smoked paprika.
More at www.spicewallabrand.com.
Like Spicewalla, East Fork Pottery has locations in Atlanta and Asheville. And also like Spicewalla, East Fork's offerings will enhance any meal.
East Fork's ceramics have achieved cult status among Southern chefs, with restaurants including Cúrate and Husk among its clients. Made from clay dug from Southern soils, these dishes are as nouveau Southern as it gets and work well for anyone who digs handmade, gorgeous ceramics. Which is pretty much everyone.
East Fork has tons of styles and colors, so it can be tough to choose. That's why I reached out to Catherine Campbell, East Fork's head of brand marketing.
"I would say our seven-piece You're All Set Set is our most popular set, and eggshell is our most popular glaze," she said. "It's a great one to start building your East Fork collection."
It's worth noting here that the collections are a bit on the pricey side, but these are sturdy heirloom-quality pieces. If gifting someone a couple of sets or more is out of your budget, try East Fork's Weeknight Serving Bowl paired with a walnut serving set.
More at eastfork.com.
Southern-made baking treats
Are you ready for the best chocolate chip cookies ever? French Broad Chocolates, which ships fantastic chocolate all over the world but is based right here in the South, also sells its handmade bean-to-bar chocolate in chips, available in both dark and milk chocolate. They will slay — sleigh? — you.
And of course, no one will ever raise a fuss if you grab some of the chocolate makers' incredible bonbons or sipping chocolates too. More at www.frenchbroadchocolates.com.
If you have a bread baker on your hands, consider buying Southern-made artisan flour. Examples of mills doing it the right way include Carolina Ground, Farm & Sparrow and Dayspring Farms. Hand-milled flour, particularly those made with specialty grains, can get pricey but not prohibitively so, which is what makes it such an exceptional treat.
The South Carolina-based Marsh Hen Mill, formerly Geechie Boy, makes stone-ground cornmeal if you'd like to go that route. While you're there (marshhenmill.com), check out the other coveted pantry products, including Carolina Gold rice and cool Southern-grown heirloom peas. I love peas.
There isn't a home cook alive who wouldn't love an awesome hand-crafted cutting board. Nashville-area Bayne Custom Woodworking makes gorgeous cutting boards and charcuterie boards too; check it out at baynecustomwoodworking.com.
In Kentucky, Boot Hill Blades (www.boothillblades.com) also makes hand-crafted cutting boards and a whole slew of other very neat kitchen pieces including hand-carved spatulas and tasting spoons. The cooking forks are delightful.
In Louisiana, NOLA Boards in the French Quarter makes lovely cutting boards finished with beeswax from New Orleans bees. Also cool are the other various wooden food-related pieces NOLA makes, including cheese and bar boards and wee little trays for holding nuts and dips. Visit them at nolaboards.com.
Southern-made stocking stuffers
When all else fails, just get them food
The Durham-based Big Spoon Roasters makes delicious hand-crafted nut butters in micro-batches, which means this is the place to turn for the folks on your list who eat peanut butter out of the jar.
Big Spoon has a huge catalog to choose from, so I reached out to headquarters to get the skinny. Recommended: The Staff Picks Trio, curated by operations manager Kevin Drake. Included is cashew butter with coconut nectar, almond butter with wildflower honey and a blend of peanut and pecan butter flavored with maple and cinnamon. More at bigspoonroasters.com.
For the heat-seeker, consider the Asheville-based Nine Mile’s new line of hot sauces, which just placed among the top 10 gifts for food lovers via USA TODAY's 10Best.
The red, gold and green trio is made with peppers from North Carolina-based Smoking J’s Fiery Foods, one of the largest growers of specialty peppers on the East Coast, and hempseed oil from U.S.-grown hemp.
The fiery Red-I gets a smoky kick from chipotles. The Sun is Shining is gorgeously gold with flavors of curry, mango, ginger and Scotch Bonnet heat. The Hempress Rising, with tangy, green tomatillos, jalapenos, garlic and thyme, is savory with a soft kick. And yes, I have them in my refrigerator right now. Shop at https://ninemileasheville.com/collections.
But remember, the spirit of the season isn't in fancy gifts. Food lovers also covet handmade, pickles, jams and cookies — just like everyone else. Whatever you choose, I hope you and yours have a fantastic holiday season.
Questions? Reach out to me at email@example.com. I'd love to hear from you!
Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South Region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.