... a spice rack full of flavor;
... hand-tools for the kitchen;
... Forager's cooking kit;
... a Diva for the ladies;
...canning jars with rings;
... a cast iron skillet;
... a French coffee press;
... black turtle beans;
... and a sapling apple tree.
Our Pop-culture is full of end-of-the-world stories for everything from a viral pandemic that turns 99% of the population into zombies to space matter colliding with our fragile planet.
One of the one's I've most recently read is Lucifer's Hammer. It's set in the 1970s and opens with the discovery of a comet that is heading toward earth, which, at first, astronomers believe will come close, but not touch, our planet, and then, begin to realize that it might actually come a lot closer than originally thought.
As they explain in the story, the comet is not one solid mass, but rather, it's a huge (and this one is HUGE) frozen gaseous ball in which are caught a lot of smaller stones, and as the comet comes closer to the sun, the gas starts to thaw, releasing some of the solid matter.
This matter falls to the earth like stone hail, and when it falls, it wreaks havoc like nothing people have ever seen.
In the story, there are two types of people: those who believe, from the beginning, that the comet will hit and start to make their doomsday preparations; and those who believe that it will be just an incredible opportunity to see something spectacular ... and then, life as usual will continue.
As the comet gets closer, the first group grows in number, until, by the time the comet comes within view, even those original naysayers are starting to make preparations.
Of the preps described in the book, I think Harvey Randall's last minute stocking up is probably the most creative. In particular, I liked his purchase of pepper.
Before refrigeration, meats were preserved using either drying or salt ... or a method called "salt-drying." This would make the meat very salty, and spices were valued to combat the saltiness of the food. Many of the spices used do not grow in temperate climates, like those found in Europe (and most of the US). Most of our favorite spices are indigenous to southeast Asia: cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper, and nutmeg - to name a few. Wars have been fought (the Crusades were fought to secure trade routes through the Middle East from Europe) and lands have been conquered (the European conquest of the Americas was an attempt to find a water route to India as an alternative to the overland route through hostile Arabian territories) to obtain these spices .
Today, we take these spices for granted, as they're relatively inexpensive and abundantly available just about everywhere we go ... including, often, the local dollar store.
... But, in a world turned upside-down, as Harvey Randall imagined the world would be after the comet hit, pepper won't be so easy to find, and while we're probably not going to run out of pepper any time soon, and neither will trade routes simply disappear overnight, the fact is that the price of everything is increasing, and as the availability of cheap energy decreases, so will our access to cheap spices.
Of course, there are a lot of people who don't, necessarily, agree that we've entered "Peak" anything, and they'll scoff at the idea that we should, at very least, be contemplating a world of less, but even if we believe this "Re"cession is a passing thing, and that it will soon be business as usual, if we look to history, "business as usual" is usually preambled by a big, world changing event. At least in the last century of recorded history, economic down times have always been followed by a war.
I have this list I like to refer to. It was compiled by survivors of the War in Sarajevo, and it lists out the first 100 things that disappeared from or became difficult to find in their local economy as the war raged across their land. I imagine if we could get some people who lived in Europe during WWII to make a list, theirs would look similar.
Living, like we do, here in the US (or other Western countries), where we've been in a state of relative peace - i.e. we haven't been aggressed on our own turf - for half a century (and here in the US, we haven't had a war on our soil since the late 19th Century), it's easy to become complacent and to believe that all we could ever need or want will always be available. Complacency and apathy are dangerous traps, and while I won't advocate hoarding hundreds of bottles of spices, I do think that having an extra on hand all of the time is a good idea.
As a gift, spices actually have a long tradition. In fact, some believe that the origin of our gift-giving tradition in this season stems from the Wise Men's visit, and as the song goes, the men were "Three Kings from [the] Orient", and what they brought were spices - a very valued and valuable commodity.
Here, in my community, we have an Asian market where spices can be purchased in bulk at a fraction of the cost of buying McCormick brand spices at the grocery store, and at a much better quality than the generic-brand spices available at the dollar store. Bought in bulk, the spices could, then, be divided and repackaged (in canning jars) to be disbursed to many different recipients.
For the prepper-minded there is no need to explain why spices are a good gift choice.
But even for a non-prepper, spices are a good choice of gift. We may not really appreciate the long and bloody history of the spice trade today, and we may not be thinking about the possibility of spice shortages, but, especially this time of year, we highly value our spices. Afterall, where would we be without nutmeg for our pumpkin pie and eggnog or cinnamon for our mulled cider?