Dates, Hazelnuts, and Thoughts on Food Gifts

At a C&Z anniversary party three years ago I met David, a reader from L.A. who was spending a few months in France. We’ve been in touch on and off since then, and when David came back to Paris for a vacation in late spring, he very generously brought me a gift.

What he brought was a bag of honey dates grown in Indio, California by Dates by Davall, and a pound of dry roasted hazelnuts from the Freddy Guys orchard in the Willamette* valley in Oregon. He included a note to explain that he gets the former at his farmers market in Santa Monica, and discovered the latter while in Portland.

This struck me as a textbook example of the perfect gift.

I’ve been savoring those dates and hazelnuts sloooowly, trying to make the supply last as long as possible.

Not only are the dates and hazelnuts spectacularly good — the dates soft and caramelly as toffee, the hazelnuts crisp and light as popcorn, and vividly flavorful — but the combo of the two is the ultimate treat. Throw in a square or two of dark chocolate and angels come out from behind the clouds, playing their tiny trumpets.

Beyond the sheer good taste — literally and figuratively — of the present, I love the elegant simplicity of offering ingredients that reflect the work of fine growers I might never have come across otherwise. I love that they come with a personal story, too, and that I get to imagine David visiting those market stalls, sampling the fruits, going cuckoo for them, and buying extra to give out to friends so they could share in his enthusiasm.

And share in his enthusiasm I certainly do. I’ve been savoring those dates and hazelnuts sloooowly, trying to make the supply last as long as possible. Of course, I can find good dates (from Iran) and hazelnuts (from France or Italy) here, but I won’t be able to get more of these particular dates and hazelnuts anytime soon, and this makes each snack extra special.

When it comes to food gifts, you can’t possibly go wrong picking up high-quality local goods that you’re fond and proud of.

I regularly receive requests from readers who are coming to France, and want to bring a gift for French people who are going to host them: what should I get them, they ask?

There are a million and one suitable gifts — and, in general, any gift is a great gift — but I often recommend taking advantage of the rather lenient customs policy of the EU, by which you can pretty much bring in any food you like for personal consumption, as long as it’s not meat, fish, or dairy.

You can’t possibly go wrong picking up a small selection of high-quality local goods that you’re fond and proud of, and including a card to explain what they are and why you’ve chosen them.

Do you share my point of view? What kind of food gifts have you particularly enjoyed as the recipient, or been particularly successful with as the giver?


* Though I only spent a couple of days in Oregon, it was enough to learn the proper way to pronounce Willamette: it’s Wi-LAM-it, and it’s easy to remember once you’re told that it rhymes with “dammit!”

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  • Coming from San Francisco, we are blessed with ridiculous spoils when it comes to foodie gifts. A quick trip to the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market yields dozens of options, from Recchiutti chocolates to Stonehouse olive oils to Happy Girl pickles and jams . . . it’s really hard to go wrong. Those honey dates and hazelnuts sound wonderful.

    • True that. The Ferry Building shops are excellent food gift sources!

  • I love to receive gifts of food, especially if it means trying something that I“ve never had before or getting a gift of food that I love but is hard to come by.
    I think something non-perishable and delicious like dates and hazelnuts are a phenomenal hostess gift.
    I, personally, like to bring homemade bread. It`s usually a crowd pleaser.

    • Ah yes, if there’s little traveling involved, homemade bread can’t be beat! (I wrote about it a little while back if you’re interested.)

  • becky

    I am a fan of the local or regional gift as well.

    Four years ago we went to a wedding in India. The bride’s father and uncle run one of the largest conglomerates in that country. There is no way we could buy an impressive enough gift them so we brought maple syrup and our homemade Oregon jam (we should have brought hazelnuts too since they’re lighter than jam!!)

    • I completely agree: with people who have everything and more, the best strategy is to go small, local, and homemade.

  • I was just in the Willamette valley last week! I usually bring a good wine from a local vineyard that I have been to and enjoyed.

    • That’s a great idea, Michelle. If you can talk about the vintner and the vineyard, it makes that bottle so special.

  • Those were definitely perfect gifts. I love receiving local foods as gifts. I also love receiving homemade jams and sauces. :)

  • We love the thought of giving handmade food as gifts, but we’re probably a bit bias. ;-)

  • Oh yes, I’ve had Oregon hazelnuts and they are the best! The most tasty ones are usually being sold in more rural areas, street-side, by farmers. But I’ve never had really fresh dates, only imported ones and those are still pretty delicious.

    • I hope to take a road trip through the Pacific Northwest someday, and I’ll be looking out for those roadside stands then!

  • Rachel

    Those dates are amazing, aren’t they? I first discovered them when I lived in LA and you can imagine how thrilled I was when I found out that the same farm has a stall at the Santa Barbara farmer’s market!

    As far as food gift giving goes, I find it hard to pass up the opportunity to make them myself, but when I lived in France the jars of local fruit in eau-de-vie were always a big hit with anyone I gave them to.

  • Best gift ever – YOUR (/Poppy’s) raw granola recipe, I think it may have just changed my life and shhh don’t tell customs but I’ll be bringing a HUGE batch across the Atlantic with moi to the US (no dehydrator there – hélas!) Merci beaucoup for sharing – she’ll be missed in Paris, but her rawnola lives on! Any more C&Z raw recipes welcome aussi for l’été! (Though based on this RAIN in Paris, I’m not quite positive it’s actually summer :)

    • I hadn’t realized you’d adopted this granola recipe with such enthusiasm, Rebecca, that’s great to hear. What dehydrator did you get?

  • Michael

    I too am from San Francisco. My favorite gift is a beautiful jar of rosemary infused salt from Allstar Organics – great house warming, host gift, foodie gift, etc

    I have been lucky enough to have visited So Cal recently and those dates were *incredible*.

  • ATL Cook

    When I have friends – guests coming I always make it a point to say I am allergic to ______ and list all of them. I don’t serve those foods and ask if there is anything they are allergic to.

    That also-I hope–discourages any food gifts of those items. It is horrid to live in Atlanta, Georgia and be allergic to peaches. I usually gift people with peanut products–if not allergic, Vidalia onions–or a BBQ sauce or salad dressing with them is good. Anything with peach shape or fragrance is nice, and peach jam is popular.

    Regional cookbooks are a great gift and the GA Dept of Agriculture puts out a nice one. I collect cookbooks from my travels.

    Love those hazelnuts and remember when Southern Living magazine did a feature on that farm. My friend from Dubai brings spices.

    • Regional cookbooks are a fabulous idea, too, especially if you’re traveling someplace where you can’t bring actual food.

  • Liz Thomas

    I “WAS” going to receive some amazing foodie gifts next week but it’s not to be!

    A chef friend (French incidentally) has just moved to Kunming in China to cook at a spectactularly expensive private dining club.

    He left some of his stuff in my office (in Macau) because he could not carry it all and is coming down to collect it and asked me if I would like some Yak Cheese and Wild Mushrooms! Can you imagine!

    Then they changed his travel dates and he flies today so no time to go shopping!


    I love foodie gifts and those dates and hazelnuts sound lovely. In France middle of next month so the hazelnuts should be coming into season I hope.

    When we take gifts it’s usually homemade bread, jam or chutney.


    • Sorry you missed out on those, Liz, and I hope the yak cheese train comes again soon!

      • Liz Thomas

        They’ve changed his dates again to 29th!

        I live in hope!


  • Rien de tel qu’un cadeau avec une histoire ! Encore mieux quand il a été fabriqué par des petits producteurs ou par un ami ! On m’a récemment ramené de la vanille en poudre et des noix de muscade de Bali et même si c’est facile d’en trouver ici, j’étais toute émue ! Elles sont encore dans mon placard : dans quel préparation SPÉCIALE vais-je bien pouvoir les utiliser ?

    J’avoue, dans mes cadeaux, je suis très tradi : mon petit confit d’oignons à Noël (mais qu’il est bon !) ou des pots masson avec pleins de trucs bon à manger dedans… Et quand je reviens de voyage, ça dépend toujours pour qui est le cadeau… mais, si c’est à manger, c’est souvent pour moi ! :D

    Enfin, j’aime beaucoup ton billet. Il reflète bien ce que la bouffe est et devrait toujours être. Le bonheur simple de partager. (et je suis très heureuse de savoir désormais prononcer “Willamette” qui rime avec damnit! ;)

  • Min

    I like to give garden grown veggies all summer long.

    • Indeed, it’s hard to compete with that!

  • Joan

    Clotilde, I’ve almost lost count of the number of THE chocolate cakes I’ve given as gifts…I’m now asked “Would you bring that cake from chocolate&zucchini?”

    Also, over the years (35) have made thousands of rum balls ..the recipe of my mother-in-law..

    Perhaps David will surprise you with another visit!

    I buy my dates at a local market..oh my they’re scrumptious..Sieg loves Wednesday…a new supply!

    • It always makes me happy to think of that cake getting so much mileage down under! ^_^

  • My favourite food gift to give to people is cookie of muffin mix in a jar. Layer up all the dry ingredients and then put a tag on with instructions to add the wet ingredients and cook them, and tie the top of the jar with pretty ribbon!

    • I love these. Never made them myself, but it’s on my list!

  • I never thought of giving raw ingredients. When visiting friends for supper, I’d always bring a bottle of wine. I stopped that a while ago and now take homemade marmalade! When I return, I’m often presented with an empty jar for refilling. If I do take wine, I now take a bottle of Denbies, an English Vineyard a few miles down the road. They do make exceptionally good wines and there’s a nice local touch.

    • I love that it serves to promote little-known producers, too.

  • Muriel

    I love giving homemade food gifts but very rarely get given any. I love making mince-pies or little cups of spiced nuts. A foccacia and dips also goes down well.

    I’m just drying out the dates that grew in our garden and will bring those to my in-laws as a present as well as lots of spices from the spice-souk. One of the perks of living in Dubai.

  • I’ve been lucky enough to receive some wonderful gifts from an Indian typesetter I work with. Whenever he visits the UK he brings fresh black pepper from his family’s estate.

    If I’m not going too far I like to take local clotted cream or veg from the garden. I’ve also surprised lots of French gîte owners with English wine – they’re never sure what to expect but are alwaysb pleasantly surprised!

  • hannah

    Anything home baked, or from a home garden is appreciated. But not everyone can pull that off, and I’m equally pleased with anything special; a bottle of Madagascar vanilla, a bag of good quality salt…olive oil the best I’ve ever had was the gift of a bottle from Tunisia. And I still remember a Dussledorf dijon with white wine and tarragon, that was gifted to me way back in the 70’s! Also from Germany, I got most lovely calendula cream. I once got home made beeswax candles that I didn’t burn for the longest time, because they smelled as nice as a bouquet of flowers!

    When I was young and broke, I decorated 3″x5″ cards with a fave recipe on it, and a note like: “Remember the portabello skewers LA made for the ’08 Bbq? And we all went wild for them and ended up arm wrestling for the last ones? I found the marinade recipe!” People tell me it’s so nice to come across ones that they stuck inside the go-to cookbook, and memories are conjured up.

    Now if someone would just gift me with a bottle of Lucini’s lemon infused olive oil!

  • I am addicted to making jam and jelly, so that is what I always bring. This works in two ways:

    1. I use local fruit that sometimes I am introducing people to for the first time. (Like the loganberry jelly I made last week.)

    2. Giving the jam and jelly away allows me to clear a bit of space in the jam shelf, so my husband will actually allow me to make more jam and jelly.

    P.S. May I highly recommend loganberries? They are a cross between raspberries and blackberries and they make the best jelly ever. Ever!

    • A win-win arrangement it seems! And I don’t think I’ve ever had loganberries, though I’ve heard of them. Hope to have the opportunity to sample them sometime!

  • vicki parish

    Coming regularly from Australia to France I’ve anguished each year over what to give my much loved French friends as a token of my affection and thoughts of them while on the other side of the world…. any perfum or body product from Australia is dicey no matter how haute gamme – Australian perfumed products don’t seem to work in France (different sensory aesthetic and climate). The same for Australian wines – too much fruit and too high in alcohol. But over the last couple of years I’ve had great success with chocolate covered macadamia nuts! Also white chocolate and macadamia biscuits – luscious. Not as much enthusiastic response from macadamia oil or butter. This year Í’m ‘trialling’organic spelt liquorice and the same covered in chocolate, all made in a mill in Junee, in the Riverina.

    • Those all sound like wonderful ideas. And you would certainly get an enthusiastic response from me if you were to bring macadamia oil or butter! :)

  • I’m also a big fan of food gifts. In part, this might stem from the year I spent in Japan, where, whenever you or a work colleague would go on a trip, beautifully wrapped local delicacies would appear on desks…Maple-leaf shaped cookies, rice crackers, apple-flavored chocolate from the North. It was a lovely experience.

    These days I like to share things I’ve tasted and loved: local jam, tea from a favorite tea shop, cookies or chocolate. I also like to give things I’ve made; often cookies or granola…it does, however, become complicated on flights. Security sure has made life hard for food lovers!

  • I love giving and receiving food as gifts – it feels a lot more thoughtful than a lot of gift ideas that go around. Last birthday a mate asked me what I wanted and I answered honestly – a dish of this wonderful dessert he makes (we call it Sudden Death – definitely NOT good for you with lots of chocolate, butter and even cocoa pops). It made me much more happy than a gift card/soap pack/foot spa ever could.

  • Annette

    Re Joan’s comment: which one is “the” C&Z chocolate cake? I just did a search of your archives, and there appear to be several. Maybe the Trish Deseine melt-in-your-mouth cake? Or the one inspired by Ottolenghi? This weekend will be a good one for chocolate-cake baking, so pls let me know!

    • This is the one Joan is referring to.

      • Mary Ellen

        We’ll have to try the Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cake. My 16-year-old daughter’s go-to chocolate cake is this one.

  • Richard

    When I visit friend in Europe I often bring American luxuries that cannot be bought in France. Forget dates and nuts! Try Skippy peanut butter, Marshmallow Fluff, Pillsbury Brownie mix, Drakes Devil Dogs, Miracle Whip or Aunt Jemima Pancakes & Syrup. These are truly a treat for the French who cannot buy them in local markets!

  • Those are lovely gifts. Very thoughtful. And stories to support them—making them treasured even more—tasting even better.

  • I try to give food gifts, and even if they’re not particularly local to me, I try to make sure that they are decidedly non-local to the receiver.

    When I lived in Morocco, I wanted a gift to give to my landlord before we left – when my parents were going to send me a package, I requested that they include some macadamia nuts. Nuts are a very popular food in Morocco, but Macadamia nuts are nonexistent (and, so far as I could tell, unheard of). He was intrigued (and possibly confused) at first, but he loved them!

  • Michelle

    I love to give and receive food gifts. Some of the wonderful gifts I have received include roasted peanuts from Virginia, tea and a spice mix from India, Trader Joe’s gluten free brownie mix and my favourite foods from Australia when I’m not there (Vegemite, Tim Tams, crystallized ginger covered in dark chocolate).

    When travelling to visit friends outside Canada I like to give coffee beans roasted at my favourite cafes, special tea blends from my favourite tea shops, and of course maple syrup and smoked salmon.

  • Julieta

    If you come to Mexico, make sure you take home some local vanilla beans (grown mostly in the state of Veracruz), maybe some guavas (they are one of my favourite fruits, they are fragant and exotic, besides they are cheap and you can find them at any time of the year), and artisan-made candies, such as quince paste or “jamoncillos” (a kind of solid dulce de leche)

  • Bonnie

    I was pleased at the reaction I had to bringing our local Minnesota wild rice to Europe. It’s sort of a fancy treat here, mostly for special occasions. I gave some to our hosts, and they were intrigued, and some to a young chef who was cooking in our hotel, who held it as if it was pure gold. So easy to pack, wish I had been smart enough to bring much more with me. Next time…

    • It must have felt wonderful to see that young chef take the gift so seriously! I can certainly relate to his reaction. :)

  • I’m so happy that you are sharing the pronunciation for Willamette with the world! You make a good point in your post; the best food gifts are often local treats your recipient has yet to experience.

    Though I was born and raised in Kansas, I moved to Portland almost two years ago. I can’t get enough of the hazelnuts here, and of the fresh salmon and the blackberries that grow everywhere–even on the roadside. When I go home for Christmas, I bring friends and family hazelnuts, home-made blackberry jam, and locally roasted coffee.

    When I go back home from Kansas, I bring local treats with me like chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and a quirky lip balm from Wichita called “Chicken Poop.” (No real chicken poop is involved. Check it out.) My coworkers love these presents! This Christmas, I think I’ll be more adventurous with my packing and bring home a few sacks of Kansas flour. I miss having Hudson Cream flour around the house!

  • dory

    I love to give food gifts I have made myself, such as jam, or a pear brandy (as I call it) made by soaking pears from my garden in cognac until they give up their juices, straining and re-bottling.

    I come from Wisconsin, USA, so we have a lot of great local products like cheese and maple syrup. When going trans-Atlantic, or across national boundaries, I have been more likely to take locally made artisanal chocolates. At this point many areas have these, but the good thing is, each chocolate maker seems to have unique specialties.

    I once got hickory syrup from my sister in Indiana. Although it was not that different from maple syrup it was unique because I had not heard of it anyplace else.


  • ruth

    As I get older, I have to agree with a longtime friend from high school who said: “If I can’t eat it, drink it or read it, don’t give me anything at all.” Food gifts, especially unusual products,are great fun to search out and to give.

    • Love your friend’s motto! It just about sums up my interests in life, too. :)

  • Food gifts are the best since everyone will like them – no chance of dreaded re-gifting!

  • Giving and receiving, food gifts are the best! My aunt Sibille taught me this when I was young. She lives in Lubeck, Germany, and has, for years, sent my family shoeboxes full of marzipan candy. When we travel, we always seek out food souvenirs. So it is natural to bring food gifts with us when we travel: wild rice from Minnesota.

  • Mary Ellen

    What do you take FROM France to the US? So many of the best products are imported already, I find it very difficult to choose. I’ll usually take some French chocolate, but after that?

    • I find that unrefined sea salt and fleur de sel are always appreciated by cooks — they’re so crazy expensive in the US!

  • How ironic! I’m from the US and just brought back dates and pecans for a friend in China. We both live here and I just can’t find the same quality ingredients for the price, so I brought back some for both of us…as well as almond butter, dried fruit and vitamins! It’s also great to see that you favorite restaurant in France in Chinese-inspired…stop by Beijing sometime and we will treat you.

    • Thank you, Erin, I hope to have a chance to take you up on that offer sometime!

  • Judy Klinkam

    Nice to see that Freddy Guys is getting some international visibility. They have wonderful products and work very hard. My nonprofit here in Seattle helped Barb at Freddy Guys obtain and use a grant to do projects that are helping the firm become more competitive.
    Please continue to feature them!

  • My favorite part was this: “Throw in a square or two of dark chocolate and angels come out from behind the clouds, playing their tiny trumpets.”

    Nice story… perhaps he’s sweet on you? Pun intended.

  • Of course I love food gifts for any and all occasions, but it’s interesting that here in Japan, there is an entire culture of gift-giving called ‘omiyage’ that centers around giving small, elegant, beautifully wrapped local specialities. When I came here in August, I brought with me a two-pound bag of locally grown dried Michigan cherries to share with friends and coworkers! I can’t wait to return to the states with armfuls of Japanese treats to share :)

    • When we were in Japan, I loved spending time in those omiyage gift shops. Such pretty things and pretty wrapping paper!

  • I can’t say I’ve received any food gifts, since a box of chocolates from the store doesn’t count. I’m usually the food giver, and I love giving fancy cookies, home-made granola snacks, and various jams. One time I mixed some herbs and spices and made a meat rub as a gift.

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