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Gift ideas for European Friends

I recently moved to central Europe and am coming back to Boston for Christmas. I know that there are a dozen or so European friends of mine that I need to bring gifts to when I return from vacation in early January. Some kind of local dessert or delicacy not widely available outside of Boston would be ideal. The problem is that everything I can come up with is either European in origin or won't keep well. Any ideas on things I could buy locally that would still be delicious 2 weeks later?

Taza chocolate bars, whoopie pies or something with peanut butter (though I fear no one will appreciate it) are the best idea I've come up with so far. I'm also worried that the whoopie pies would be stale before consumed. Perhaps others who have traveled abroad have ideas of things they've brought as gifts or things they missed while they were gone. All the things I miss most (BBQ seitan from Clover is top of my list) definitely won't survive a plane ride in a checked suitcase. It's certainly not necessary that it be something sweet.

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  1. how about bourbon whiskey? California or NY wine? I like the idea of some local chocolate, perhaps Burdick's?

    Cambridge, MA, Cambridge, MA

    1. Not sure what customs is like heading back into Europe, but some American-made cheese and charcuterie might be appreciated. Formaggio Kitchen could help you out there.

      Edit to add: Skimming through "cuisine of new england" over at wikipedia...how about maple syrup?

      Formaggio Kitchen
      244 Huron Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

      1 Reply
      1. re: emannths

        The charcuterie might not make it past customs. I'd stick with the cheese. Kids on my son's school trip to Spain last year got caught out by salami-sniffing dogs when they tried to bring meat products back into the US; this likely works both ways.

      2. Maybe visit somewhere like Nashoba Valley Winery to pick up some local wines or liquors.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Boston_Otter

          I think Turtle Creek is a better bet. They make actual wine, from actual grapes.

          1. re: Isolda

            Er.... so does Nashoba, in many varieties, actually, as well as cognac, whiskey, apple brandy, grappa, and a selection of beers.

        2. When I brought gifts to my Euro friends this summer, I brought Taza chocolates and a whole bunch of dried New Mexican chilis and interesting salsas. While it's not all that hard to find many international ingredients in the bigger cities, somehow the Tex-Mex stuff is hard to find and is very popular. I hear that hot sauce is in high demand. Too bad you can't buy Inner Beauty off the shelf any more- that would be an awesome gift.

          1. Local root beer? I have an Austrian friend who was fascinated by the stuff.

            6 Replies
            1. re: LeoLioness

              Just bring them a whole bottle of syrup!

              I find that feelings of the unaccustomed are mixed when it comes to root beer. Some are fascinated, and others are repulsed by the flavor they deem to be too medicinal.

              1. re: emannths

                Speaking of syrup, I understand that maple syrup is unbelievably expensive in Europe -- that might be a good idea.

                1. re: Boston_Otter

                  I second this. When I visited my Swiss uber foodie friend in Zurich this spring - he requested Maple Syrup. He said that he can find almost everything else - but nothing beats the real thing.

                  1. re: mintchip

                    this is interesting. I almost brought maple syrup to the UK this year but when I got there and found it in my local supermarket I was glad that I didn't haul it over.

                  2. re: Boston_Otter

                    This is what I bring.... maple syrup, especially Grade B is now expected when I visit relatives in France.

                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                      Yes! Heck, it's even pricey here. My cheap brand (Maine Woods) just went to $18 a quart. My husband pours it on his cereal every morning, so I'm always looking for a less expensive supply. But I think that would make a really nice gift. And you definitely want Grade B.

                2. I am always dragging US products for my European friends. Seems the best liked ones are spice blends (like Tony tony Chachere creole seasoning, Old Bay, etc), dried chillies, coffee blends (like some of those canned "gourmet" instant ones), beef jerky (available here but horribly expensive), special cookies and candies, regional cookbooks, specialty preserves and that kind of thing. Regional wines are also a good choice, altho there are limits to how much booze you can bring back.

                  1. Fluff is a Somerville-based product, and it should keep and pass through customs.

                    I personally love the maple syrup idea!

                    I also second the hot sauce idea, especially for making hot wings ... which I'm craving right now.

                    1. I'll chime in on the maple syrup - Trader Joe's is probably going to be the best price and don't forget that Grade B (now sometimes also called Grade A Dark Amber, to confuse matters more) is the one with the deep flavor. Grade A is ho-hum. TJ's also has lots of unique items but some are sourced from abroad..... If you can get to one of the Cracker Barrel chain's area stores, they sell many of the old time candies that baby boomers were raised on but which are no longer available most places (other than online via Vermont Country Store).

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: greygarious

                        my friends in Europe love the maple syrup I bring and have also appreciated bourbon and high quality rums which apparently are expensive in their neck of the woods. i don't bring chocolate both because it can deteriorate from temperature changes and also because it is generally better in Europe. Oregon pinot noirs have also made successful gifts and texas pecans..

                        1. re: greygarious

                          I disagree that grade A is ho hum. Good well-produced grade A (not the TJs commodity stuff) is really wonderful.

                          The dark Amber is more molassesey, but has none of the subtle floral, woodsy notes of a GOOD Grade A.

                          I just picked up a half gallon by the side of the road in WAY up state NY and it is wonderful stuff.

                          1. re: StriperGuy

                            From "The Maple SYrup Cookbook" by Ken Haedrich, recommended uses:
                            GRADE A LIGHT AMBER maple candy, maple cream, icing, ice cream, delicate sweets
                            GRADE A MEDIUM AMBER: used more as a table syrup than for cooking and baking.
                            GRADE A DARK AMBER: some find it too assertive for table syrup but bolder flavor good for baking.
                            GRADE B some like the vary strong maple flavor as a table syrup, but most often used for cooking and baking. Works well for meat glazes, candied yams, baked beans, and desserts that call for robust flavor.

                            As regards your dismissal of the TJ's syrup, I have purchased various brands of Grade B and much prefer them to any of the Grade A's I have used (which do not include TJ's Grade A). Boutique producers of Grade A may have better product but it's not readily available to most consumers.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              "Boutique producers of Grade A may have better product but it's not readily available to most consumers."

                              I don't agree with this at all. There are plenty of places in Massachusetts to buy great, local Grade A maple syrup (light, medium and dark). During sugar season, you can go to the sugar houses in person and buy it directly (there are plenty of places within close driving distance of Boston). I personally love light amber on my waffles and pancakes, although I know that others prefer darker.

                              Back to the original poster's question: I think maple syrup (or other maple products, like maple candy or cream) are great ideas. Also jams....especially of fruits that aren't common in Eastern Europe. Cranberry products could also be good, or salt water taffy.

                              1. re: Dave MP

                                Yes, totally agree, I just did not want to get into it. But the stuff produced by the little guys sometimes (not always) just tastes better.

                        2. Thanks for all the great suggestions! I hadn't thought of maple syrup, but I definitely haven't seen any of it here other than once in a specialty food store. My concern is that people won't know what to do with it. Other than putting it on pancakes I myself don't use it much. I wonder the same about Fluff

                          Meat products are probably out. I'm a vegetarian and already have visions of not being able to get the meat smell out of any clothes that were in my suitcase. But cheese is not a bad idea. Not that you can't get good cheese here. Although I haven't found anything close to a sharp cheddar yet.

                          Wine and liquor are also good thoughts. Maybe I should look into what the allowance is for bringing them into the country. I am a little concerned about packing bottles so that they don't break. I assume you can't carry wine or liquor onto the plane unless you buy it at the airport. Am I wrong about this?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: bostovie

                            maple syrup and pecans are great in baking, dressings, brines, various sauces, etc. anyone who cooks can find dozens of ways to use them. you can pack liquor in a suitcase but, as it is a liquid in greater quantity than allowed through security, you can't carry it on until you are past security.

                            1. re: bostovie

                              You're correct that you can't take bottles of wine/liquor on the plane with you due to the 1 oz liquid rule. You can buy duty free and the airline will hold onto them in flight and you grab them on the way out, but selections can be limited to not local brands.

                              I roll bottles up in my "dirty" clothes--sometimes put them in the leg of a pair of jeans and then roll them up around the bottles, then I pack them towards the middle. I've not lost a bottle yet (but of course I probably just jinxed myself, right?)

                              1. re: bostovie

                                I'm sure there are maple recipe websites but if your recipients read English, you could accompany the syrup with the cookbook I cited above. It's only about $10, has a wide variety of recipes, and has interesting info on the history of maple syrup, plus snippets about storage, current manufacturers, etc. I am particularly fond of the Maple-Mocha Pudding, and have posted that recipe in a couple of Home Cooking threads. Nothing to do with this cookbook, but I like my cornbread sweet, and use maple syrup in the batter.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I forgot to mention my own recipe for Shaker-style applesauce, which is to quickly cook diced peeled firm apple with maple syrup, stirring in a shallow pan until most of the liquid is evaporated and the apple tender.

                              2. We take blueberry preserves and syrup as well as maple syrup as gifts when we travel on business. If there are children you are shopping for, we found Lego products to be cheaper in the USA than some countries.

                                1. you have many good suggestions here. I would second maple syrup grade B (cereal, yoghurt, ice cream, crepes) and pecans (so fantastic- BJs has best price but TrJ is not far off and smaller packages/likely better for gifts).

                                  i would avoid items like chocolate and wines because we're less competitive in those areas and europe has so many exc wines and chocolates. Indian Pudding is a completely New Eng. thing and there is/used to be an excellent canned indian pudding in the regular supermarket. all you have to do is reheat it and serve w/ vanilla ice cream.

                                  Good Brownies(Formaggio Kitchen makes my favs; they use top quality choc.) are a quintessential American dessert, very compact and not-so-fragile baked good; and they also have a good shelf life. or a high quality brownie or pancake mix from Formaggio or WF.

                                  What about a high quality Taco Seasoning Mix(Frontera?) and fresh corn tortillas(non-refrigerated kind).With that, you just need ground beef or cooked chicken, tomato and some cheese and you could make them dinner.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    i think that burdick's does very well in chocolates, and I think that West Coast wines are worthy. In particular high end California Cabernets are, amazingly, relatively affordable when compared with high end Bordeaux. I understand that this is not a native Mass product, but still it is American. And Burbon is defintely an American experience.

                                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                      I am Scottish, and having left Boston at the end of last year, for back home here is some of what I am missing - some are more practical than others to import!!! If anyone is swinging by St Andrews then take this as a hint!!

                                      Some of your cheese: esp cyprus grove - midnight moon and humboldt fog, bayley hazen blue, le cremont, bonne bouche, triple creme from cowgirl creamery

                                      dufour frozen pastry - probably not that practical to take!!

                                      cascadian farms dark chocolate chip chewy granola bars

                                      GOOD US and S American wine which although expensive over there, is way cheaper than here. OH misses Shipyard ales, smuttynose IPA, Harpoon IPA and many others...

                                      I miss Flour, but the cookbook has given us some AWESOME results back here so it's like having a wee taste every so often!

                                      Peppermint patties

                                      +1 for grade B or Medium amber Maple syrup - can't easily get all the varieties here

                                      Canned stuff like tomatillos and adobo peppers are tough to find if where you live does not have a mexican population

                                      canned pumpkin if you can get it is expensive here.

                                      non-food - ziplock bags - ours just don't cut it like yours do

                                      Hope this gives you some ideas - I am really really missing Boston and the States - can't you tell?

                                    2. re: opinionatedchef

                                      I've been commuting between Boston and the UK for 30 years - so have some experience in what's appreciated and what isn't readily available over there.

                                      Second the maple syrup recommendation as its usually far more expensive over there.

                                      New England-brewed beers.

                                      Southern Comfort (seems hard to get over there, and my mother loves it!). It's not significantly cheaper when bought duty free (at least at BOS) so I buy it at a liquor store and pack in my checked baggage.

                                      Macadamia nuts (again, expensive over there when compared with the big bag i can get at TJs), and also pecans as someone mentioned earlier.

                                      There are store brand cookies (I've seen them at CVS and Target) with white choc chips or macadamia nuts (do you see a pattern here ?) which have always been a hit. And you could do worse than bringing the best box of brownie mix you can find, and preparing them when you get there.

                                      Alder-smoked salmon from the North West was a big hit, as was the salmon I smoked with alder chips on my stovetop smoker.

                                      Rather off topic, but I'd be intrigued to know what chow-ish food people bring back from their travels to Europe ?

                                    3. Things that have gone over well with my western European friends:

                                      Reese cups
                                      Peanut Butter
                                      Maple syrup (although I hesitate because it's heavy and yeah...you don't use it much except for pancakes!)
                                      Hot Wing sauce -- this is almost guzzled straight out of the bottle by our friends. I don't know what there is about it, but it's a sure-fire hit here (and these same friends make a beeline to Hooters or similar when they're in the States)
                                      Zapp's Cajun Crawtators (cajun potato chips) -- not exactly Boston, but a big hit.
                                      Good bourbon whiskey
                                      Good California wines

                                      Hope that helps!

                                      1. I live in Norway and a few requests I get from friends and relatives have been Old Bay, pecans and Velveeta shells and cheese. A friend of mine ordered a crate of Velveeta off of eBay. After the shipping it was very expensive. Being from the South originally, I've hooked some Norwegians on cheese grits. Now that has been added to my "bring back" list.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Ikkeikea

                                          Perfect! Bring Velveeta and Natty Ice and show those Europeans how we really roll here in 'merica! ;-)

                                          1. re: emannths

                                            SHE requests Velveeta but maybe I can further her corruption.

                                        2. I travel bck and forth all the time and my Dutch friends LOVE dried fruit and especially berries from Traders. I bring loads of dried cherries, cranberries, blueberries and such, as well as mangoes with chili, cashews with honey and sesame, and other TJ novelties. They do not have stores that sell these things. Sometimes I even bring larger bags frm Costco: their dried cherries and blueberries are really nice and make lovely gifts

                                          1. WRT New England products I am fond of taking the crystallized maple sugar to my European connections -- not as heavy as syrup and it can be used to sprinkle on all sorts of stuff. Boiled Cider is also good (for those who know what to do with it). I always load up on good whiskey -- Evan Williams Single Barrel, for example, or even more expensive American Whiskeys. My French connections enjoy American BBQ sauces. There are other syrups that are good gifts too -- for example, sorgum or shagbark hickory syrup. Last time I went over I took some "bourbon barrel smoked sugar" to my daughter, and she loved that. Finally, cocktail bitters -- Peychaud's, Regan's, Fee Brothers Barrel Aged, Bittermens Chocolate Bitters - there are lots of them these days beyond the commonly available Angostura, and many Europeans are advanced cocktail drinkers.

                                            American BBQ
                                            950 Cummings Ctr Ste 96X, Beverly, MA 01915