I am the type that loves to give gifts.  Given the money and opportunity, everyone I know would get gifts, regardless of the occasion.  Unfortunately, our budget just doesn’t stretch that far – and Christmas is usually a budget-buster as it is.  Still, I have a few neighbors that I want to do for, yet I do not want them to feel as if they have to reciprocate.  To be quite frank, they have given to us all year long, with their assistance, the loan of tractors, their friendship, advice and in many other ways. The Country Boy and I just want to tell them ‘Thank you’ for who they are and all they have done. 

Many years ago, I stumbled on a way to do just this.  It all started with a Christmas tray, filled with goodies that I already baked for the holidays.  That year, I was telling Nicholas at our bank what I was baking, and there was one in particular he wanted to try.  So, I went home, assembled a small tray for the people at the bank.  From there, it snowballed.  We did this for 20 years, and the last year we did it, our tray deliveries had grown to 10 – just for the bank.  Yep.  Our bank has grown that much. 

When we moved to the farm, we decided to expand the tradition for our neighbors, who helped us in so many ways.  Through the years, we have gotten to know others, and the tray deliveries have grown.  Two Christmases ago, we sadly chose to stop the bank deliveries, as it had gotten to be too much.  We are back down to a manageable six.  We are still loving every minute of it, too.

If you stop and think about it, the cost of baking all those treats is very manageable.  Our trays vary each year, but basically they consist of two or three different types of cookies, peanut brittle (Daddy’s recipe), a sweet bread, maybe fudge, maybe something a bit different.  The least is six different items, but if I am in a ‘I have to try this’ mood, it could go up to eight.  Most items include the same basic ingredients – flour, sugar, vanilla, butter or shortening, salt and either baking powder or baking soda.  Other ingredients, like this year’s Sour Cream Gingerbread Hearts, may call for ‘extras’, such as molasses and sour cream.  All of the ingredients you can usually find in my pantry.  So, I don’t have to buy a lot of extra things just to create these trays. 

One year, we did some rough calculations, and found out that each tray cost just barely under $5.00 each, and that included the trays.  Part of that savings was a trip to the dollar store after Christmas to snap up all those trays for twenty-five cents each.  A definite bargain for this frugal Farm Wife.  Toss a seasonal set of paper napkins in the buggy with all those trays, and you’ve spent $2.00 + tax.  You just can’t argue with that!

Need an easy gift for someone you love, but just don’t want to get in the gift-exchange pattern?  Try your hand at making up Christmas trays.  Choose your favorite recipes and start baking.  If necessary, (which at my house it is), double up and make two batches of each – one for the trays and one for your family and guests.  This is definitely a win/win option for the frugal Christmas shopper.  Besides – who doesn’t like sweet treats!

Want to try your hand at Sour Cream Gingerbread hearts to go on your tray?  Come on over and visit me in the kitchen for a great recipe!