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Make a wedding a taste more memorable

(Charles Krupa/Associated Press)
By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / February 6, 2011

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Hours before out-of-town guests arrived for her eldest son’s wedding, Bette Novick of Portland, Maine, packed welcome bags with assembly-line efficiency, tucking homemade lemon squares, Stonewall Kitchen blueberry jam, bottled water, local maps, and other items into layers of purple tissue paper.

With years of experience creating welcome bags for family and friends, Novick is an expert on the do’s and don’ts, something I saw firsthand. Her son married my sister, so I’ve twice been on the receiving end of her welcome bags — once for the engagement party, once for the wedding.

“You want the people who are coming to feel special,’’ said Novick. “You want the gift bag to have a personal touch.’’

Ideally, welcome bags should include practical items and goodies that give both a sense of place and a sense of the couple. The lemon squares were one of the couple’s favorite pastries, while the Stonewall Kitchen jam evoked memories of Maine where the groom grew up and proposed. The idea was to bring a piece of Maine to guests who would be attending a wedding in Connecticut.

On the practical side, it’s helpful when bags come with information about the local area and its attractions, wedding itinerary with transportation details, and snacks.

Food presents the perfect opportunity to blend practicality with creativity. Looking to add New England flavor to a welcome bag for out-of-town guests? Trying to take guests on a tour, to showcase regional destinations, without leaving the wedding location? Why not provide beverages and snacks from the region.

Done well a gift bag can take guests on a unique, virtual trip around the region, perhaps reminding them of a summer day at the beach or a winter warm-up in a ski lodge. Or, it might inspire them to explore other parts of New England.

Stonewall Kitchen wild Maine blueberry jam (www.stonewallkitchen.com) No guest wants to arrive to a live lobster, or to lobster rolls left sitting in a hotel room, so focus on Maine’s other famous food: wild blueberries. Maine is the world’s No. 1 producer of wild blueberries and, 10 years ago, adopted the fruit as its official state berry. Stonewall Kitchen is a Maine company, headquartered in York. When Stonewall Kitchen turns wild blueberries into a not-too-sweet jam, it’s Maine in a jar.

Burdick’s chocolate (www.burdickchocolate.com) On a cold winter night, hot chocolate is a time-honored chill chaser and one that winter wedding guests would appreciate. L.A. Burdick Chocolate, a Walpole, N.H.-based company, offers three flavors — milk, dark, and white — in bags with mini-whisks attached. The thicker-than-usual hot chocolate gets raves, and the mix can be served over ice in summer. Burdick’s also sells whimsical chocolate novelties — mice, penguins, snowmen — and wedding-themed treats.

Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers (www.pepperidgefarm.com) Some New England trivia: Pepperidge Farm was created by a Connecticut housewife in the late 1930s. According to company literature, Margaret Rudkin launched the company after creating preservative-free bread for a son with allergies and named it after her family’s Fairfield farm. Today, Pepperidge Farm cookies and crackers make good gift bag stuffers. Goldfish, in particular, come packaged in a variety of smaller sizes. Think of them as a fun wink and nod to New England’s fish-rich waters.

Maple sugar candy Vermont is all about skiing, fall foliage, and maple syrup. But only one fits neatly into a gift bag. Since a bottle of maple syrup could be potentially messy when packed away, maple sugar candy provides a sensible alternative that doesn’t come in breakable bottles, or drip. The sweet stuff is easy to find at places that harvest and sell maple syrup. Candy molded into the shape of a happy bride and groom can be ordered from some suppliers.

Del’s Make @ Home Mixes (www.dels.com) Del’s ice-covered lemon logo is a familiar sight for New Englanders thirsting for summertime refreshment. The Cranston, R.I.-company known for its frozen lemonade now sells mix packets for a make-at-home cool down. The half-gallon size with 15 packets comes in a bucket with a shovel, maybe a nice touch for a wedding taking place on or near a beach. There are also individual packets easily slipped into gift bags. With access to ice, water, and a blender, guests can make frozen lemonade on the road or bring a packet, or several, home with them.

Whitney’s Castleton Crackers (www.castletoncrackers.com) Called an artisan cracker, these hearty, crisp, thick wafers draw inspiration from a baking and breaking method that dates to the early 1800s. Cracker packages relay some of the history and baking process, along with the all-natural ingredients inside. The flavors are named after Vermont towns — Middlebury Maple, Rutland Rye, Putney Pumpkin, and so on. The hand-cracked crackers are intentionally rustic in taste and feel and a good vehicle for wild blueberry jam.

Salty Oats Cookies (kayakcookies.com) These are curiously big cookies, big enough to give a hockey puck competition. So, even a couple of individually-wrapped cookies per welcome bag will leave an impression. Each package of a half dozen Salty Oats Cookies comes with a tag that tells the history of the Cape Cod-based company. It all started on a kayak trip in Maine . . . The sea inspired the salt on top of the cookies. Maybe they will leave guests thinking of the New England coast.

Locally-brewed beer assortment (www.smuttynose.com) Add to the alcoholic beverage menu with some local brews that are as fun to taste as they are to name. Smuttynose ale, anyone? The Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, N.H., has received many awards for its beers. And its artistic labels deserve a few, too. The company takes its name from Smuttynose Island in the Isles of Shoals located off the Maine-New Hampshire coast. Smuttynose and 15 other breweries are listed on the state’s Brewery Map (maybe another item to include if it’s a Granite State wedding) and open for tours.

Salt water taffy With every sticky bite, this candy offers a piece of New England nostalgia. Even though it probably originated on the Jersey shore, most children believe trips to a New England beach, particularly on Cape Cod, aren’t complete without stopping for taffy on the way home. With its many flavors and colors and its buy-in-bulk convenience, salt water taffy can brighten up a welcome bag and bring the beach to the hotel.

NECCO candies (www.necco.com) It’s hard to ignore a local company known around the world for its candy sweethearts decorated with short, love-themed sayings. Be Mine. True Love. Let’s Kiss. The Sweethearts Conversation Hearts are a natural place to start. But beyond the traditional Valentine’s Day favorite, the company based in Revere makes such classics as Necco Wafers, Candy Buttons, and Mary Janes. Another easy way to sprinkle in some old-fashioned New England flavor.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.