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Always a lover of the holiday season, I was confused several years ago when carols and decorations became an anxiety trigger for me as Christmas approached. That year my husband had returned to school to finish his degree, and I was working only part-time at the local community college. Although my husband and I had never been able to afford showering our loved ones with many gifts, our budget was squeezed more tightly than ever that year. To distract from my stress, and to warm up the poorly insulated kitchen of our small apartment, I took up a form of cooking I had only dabbled in previously – canning.

I started making jam.

That Christmas my friends and family were treated to beautiful, delicious, homemade and — most importantly — inexpensive jars of pear-and-rosemary preserves (see recipe below). What I once worried would be seen as a cheap excuse for not buying presents has since turned into a much-loved tradition. People have even started putting in requests for their favorites (fig spread for my husband’s grandfather, chai-spice jelly for my big sis). I share these treats throughout the year too. When my neighbor gave me a bag of cucumbers, I gave her raspberry preserves. For my best friend’s wedding, I provided the spreads for the Sunday brunch. I even started a jam-for-books exchange with a librarian friend.

Preserving the fruits of every season has become an addiction. My husband finally had to establish a rule: When I run out of storage space, I have to either stop filling jars with goodies or start giving them away. My neighbors and co-workers reap the benefits. Best of all, when my little sister confided she felt guilty about being unable to afford presents for her husband’s big family gathering one year, I invited her over to help me make an extra-large batch of jam and sent her home with a dozen tiny jars to share.

That Christmas years ago, my pocketbook was too small to show my love through purchasing gifts. Instead I was able to share it through the time and love I put into beautiful eight-ounce jars.

If you are interested in spreading your love, consider these inspiring sources:

Pear-and-Rosemary Preserves

Yields about 7 half-pint jars

Place pears, sugar, zest and juice in a large pot or preserving pan. Over medium heat, stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rosemary and pectin (if using), and bring to a boil. Cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, until pears are soft and mixture thickens (15-25 minutes). Remove from heat, and skim off any foam that has formed on top of the mixture.

Ladle mixture into sterilized half-pint jars, leaving -inch of space at the top. Wipe clean any spilled mixture from the mouth of the jars, and gently screw on two-piece lid/ring seals.

Place jars in a pot of hot water at least 1 inch deeper than the tops of the jars. Bring water to a boil, and process by boiling jars for 10 minutes. Carefully remove jars and place on a towel or wire rack to cool for 12 hours. If any lid does not pop down to seal within an hour, refrigerate that jar. Label jars with date and contents.

Emily H. Moore makes jam, crochets, reads, jogs and gardens on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. She’s a proud wife to her best friend, mother of an 18-month-old boy and 10-year-old puppy, teacher of writing and literature for Virginia’s Community College System, and member of the ESVA MOPS – a tiny group with a huge heart.

What from-the-heart Christmas gift traditions have you started with loved ones?