The most feared holiday phrase?

“Some assembly required.”

Those three little words are uttered in incredulous exasperation frequently this time of year, from homeowners trying to install complicated decorations to parents struggling to get a toy put together by Christmas morning.

But a simpler kind of assembly is gaining fans as the holidays approach, aided by Pinterest and the do-it-yourself movement.

“The old cookie exchange felt kind of tired, so last year we got together and made jar gifts, and we’re doing it again,” said Maggie Melin. “It’s very satisfying.”

Melin, 35, and two friends-since-college gathered around her Brooklyn Park dining room table last December to measure, sift and layer ingredients into jars to create homemade gifts. Each of the friends brought ingredients for two finished products. At the end of the day on the assembly line, they had laughed, chatted and completed a half-dozen presents, all decorated and ready to be given away.

“We’re broke,” said Melin.

“But thoughtful,” put in her friend Beth Beardsley, 39, of Rockford.

“And crafty!” added Margaret Mahowald, 35, of Minnetonka.

In the hunt for fresh ideas for jar gifts for this year, the trio gathered at a recent “Gifts From the Kitchen” workshop at the Ridgedale Library. The free seminar, offered a half-dozen times this fall by the Hennepin County Library, filled up fast.

“It’s food-focused, but it isn’t cooking,” said class leader Mary Jo Rasmussen. A co-owner of Urban Relish, she and her partner usually offer cooking classes in private homes.

“Not everyone is ready to brew their own kombucha or put up their own preserves,” she said. “The less experienced fear they will contaminate what they’re making because they don’t have the equipment or skill to do it right. This is easy and safe. Assembling is low-tech. Just wash your hands and start measuring.”

Rasmussen put together four hands-on stations for participants to try. They could layer ingredients for a holiday soup mix using red and green lentils, mix up a taco spice blend or blend Mexican hot chocolate. One inedible product was included — an indulgent milk bath, featuring powdered milk, epsom salts and fragrant essential oils.

Many, many options

Pinterest is loaded with hundreds of jar gift recipes and almost as many ideas about decorating finished products, with instructions on how to paint the jars, etch the glass and emboss the lids — to say nothing of the tags, tops and labels.

“There’s interest in things made from scratch, because they’re authentic,” said Mary Meehan, consumer analyst with Minneapolis-based Panoramix Global.

“But people are busy and they don’t always have the know-how, but they still have the urge. So if they can’t make furniture, they can buy it at Ikea and put it together. People who don’t have time to cook add ingredients to a cake mix to make it their own. It’s homemade — but not really. Foodies might turn their noses up at that, but I don’t. I’m all for engaging with what we consume.”

The library event jump-started Karen Hanson, 31, of Plymouth. She said she came to the class because after eying virtual craft projects on Pinterest and pinning scads of them, she’s ready to actually make something.

“Seems like I once heard about someone who didn’t sterilize what they were canning and they poisoned people,” she said as she measured ingredients into a jar. “This is my kind of do-it-yourself.”


Kevyn Burger is a freelance writer and a newscaster at