Saturday, January 01, 2005

The fourth tale of Christmas: PNWMPS 

As I have mentioned previously, I have developed something of an obsession with preserving the fruits of the Pacific Northwest, this beautiful and bountiful place in which we live. My family know this, and have come to expect that their Christmas presents will include jam, chutney or conserve of some sort. How, then, does one surprise these people with gifts of preserves?

Paul and I decided to use a conceit based on a marketing idea from mail-order purveyors of fine foods (and plants and books): the [Item of your choice]-of-the-Month Club. This would allow us to schlep only a few jars of preserves from Seattle to Houston, but would guarantee people future deliveries of preserves. (I have not yet been willing to consign a box filled with dozens of jars of my homemade jam to the drop-kick handling of UPS or USPS, and a carry-on bag filled with jam is really, really heavy.) The dozen jars of preserves that I packed in my carry-on made it through airport security with nary a question (good thing it wasn't fruitcake!), and made the flight tucked safely beneath the seat in front of me.

The next issue was packaging. I wanted to find something on which we could use rubber stamps, perhaps a plain kraft paper gift bag. We headed out for my favorite store for gift wrap and containers. On December 23, there were no plain gift bags of any color to be had. What about a plain, matte-finished box of some sort? After looking at Chinese take-out boxes (too small and shiny), some paper boxes (too flimsy), and hat boxes (too expensive), we finally found white cardboard boxes that had a matte finish, an interesting shape and a handle. The shape of the box gave me the idea that we could treat the package as a shipment, with address and all. This would be good.

We also needed some appropriately festive paper on which to print the Jam-of-the-Month Club gift notification letter. We wanted simple, like a border of holly leaves; apparently the same people who got the plain gift bags also snapped up all of the simple holiday paper. Finally, at the back of the sale rack in the third store in which we looked, I found paper with a top border design of greenery, red bows, apples and pears. It seemed appropriate. We bought a couple of colored markers, borrowed my sister's alphabet stamps (upper and lower case), and were ready to package.

After Christmas Eve dinner, Paul and I retreated to my parents' office to create. While Paul wrote the notification letter, I stamped addresses, lots of little penguins and a cancelled stamp on boxes. (The cancellation mark was made with 3 impressions of a stamp that reads "Winter Wishes" in a wavy line.) I edited the letter, laughing at Paul's cleverness, while he colored in the penguins' hats, scarves and packages. We printed the letters, folded them into red envelopes, and filled each box.

On Christmas morning, during the middle of the present-opening madness, Paul left the living room. He took the three boxes from our room, snuck out the back door, carried them around to the front door, and placed them on the doormat. He rang the doorbell and ran. I opened the front door, and made a big fuss about a Christmas day delivery, and how surprising that the boxes for my sister and my aunt were delivered to my parents' house, though the boxes had their correct addresses on them. During all of this, Paul wandered back in, said, "Did I hear the doorbell?" It was all very silly, but fun.

The letter caused much laughter among the recipients (though not as much as Paul's about America). The text was as follows:
The Pacific Northwest Monthly Preserves Society is pleased to inform [names here] that they have been granted Membership in the Society for the year Two Thousand and Five.

Congratulations. Membership in the Society is not open to the general public, and your selection indicates that you are a person of discrimination and fine taste, of the sort who will best appreciate the fine bounty of our beautiful Pacific Northwest.

You will find delivered to you, along with this notification, your Initial Membership Package. As a Member, you may expect deliveries of preserves from the Pacific Northwest to arrive every two months, on average, during the coming year.

We ask that you remain mindful of this Helpful Suggestion: Though upon opening you may be tempted to do so, please do not consume the entire contents at one sitting. Though exquisite, these preserves are best consumed across a decent interval, and shared with friends and family. New Members who have ignored this Helpful Suggestion have reported short periods of bliss, followed by longer periods of gastric distress. By offering this Helpful Suggestion, we hope to prevent such unfortunate occurrences. We thank you for your attention to this matter.

Should you have occasion to visit Seattle, we welcome you to tour our production facilities. We will be upgrading our facilities in the first part of 2005, however, and while you are welcome to visit the site during construction, you will be unable to partake of the User Recipe Testing that has made our facilities tours a "must" for members visiting Our Fair City.

We welcome you to our Society, and wish you the very best of New Years, assisted by your delectation of preserves from the Pacific Northwest.

Beneath each letter, nestled in excelsior, were three jars of preserves: Cherries in Almond Syrup, Brandied Peach Preserves, and either Curried Apple Chutney or Cherry Chutney.

A lot of effort to give nine jars of preserves to several of our relatives? Perhaps, but Paul and I had such fun creating the Society (PNWMPS) together, and the payoff was great.