Chocolate Pecan Pie

Cream Cheese Brownies

Blackout Cake

Chocolate Chip Noodle Pudding

Chocolate-Covered Caramel Apples

Sweet Spot


Special Section: Non-Chocolate Gift Foods

We all know them, we all love them: people who can't or won't eat chocolate. Want to get them some special food gifts for the holidays? Following is a highly selective list of companies, all of which make at least some commendable non-chocolate food products. Not all of the companies have websites or shop-on-line capability, but even those that do not are worth looking into.

--Applesource, 1716 Apples Road, Chapin, IL 62628, (217) 245-7589 or (toll free) (800) LUV-FUJI, website is: How many varieties of apples can you find in your local market? Six or seven? Applesource has over eighty, many of which are "antiques"- -older apples that have been replaced in the flood of so-called progress by strains that are more disease-resistant or bear greater yields. Fortunately, Applesource sells many interesting and flavorful "antiques", as well as more familiar varieties; the apples have been taste-tested by customers, and those that have fared especially well have "A" or "B" letter grades. Distinguished "antiques" Esopus Spitzenberg and Northern Spy compete for your attention with more recent introductions such as Goldrush and Honey Crisp in this incredibly diverse listing. Your apples will arrive in excellent condition, too, ready for casual munching or an apple tasting party. There are fun and clever assortments, where you can choose your own apples--or let the company choose for you.

--Al Dente Pasta Company, 9815 Main Street, Whitmore Lake, MI 48189, (734) 449- 8522 or (toll free) (800) 536-PASTA, website not yet on line. When I want to make a special pasta dinner or just treat myself to something of really good quality, this is the pasta I often use. The packaging is eye-catching, but it's what's inside that really counts, and I believe I could eat Al Dente's fettuccine every day and never tire of it. The company seems to stick primarily to fettuccine; varieties range from egg to fennel bell pepper to spinach to red chili (spinach and egg linguini are also available, however). In addition, Al Dente sells several organic pastas and two kinds of sauces; they even have pasta "kits" which include both pasta and sauce (rotini with spring pesto sauce, for instance). Their fettuccine is done in three minutes, too--a great boon for a busy cook!

--Restaurant Lulu Gourmet Products, Inc., (toll free) (888) 693-5800, website at: I go to as many Fancy Food Shows as I can. Every time I go to a Show, Restaurant Lulu is there; as samples, they always have pieces of bread spread with unsalted butter, topped with prosciutto, and drizzled with their White Truffle Honey. It is paradise. This honey is so good you can eat it right out of the jar; I've never tasted anything quite like it. There's enough food at any of these Shows to dull the appetite of an elephant, but I can always make room for just one more piece of bread, provided it's drizzled with this honey. I have also sampled their fig balsamic vinegar and their black cherry-currant balsamic vinegar, and both are terrific. Check out their website for other condiments, sauces, and mayonnaises.

--Lundberg Family Farms, Richvale, CA 95974-0369, (530) 882-4551, website at: Rice is rice, right? Nope. Lundberg Family Farms offers rice and rice products in a staggering array. California Basmati Brown Rice not to your liking? OK, no problem--how about some organic sushi rice or Wehani, an aromatic brown variety? Maybe a risotto or rice pudding mix, or wild rice cakes instead? You have a lot of choices here. I am never without a package of this company's Wild Blend (a mix of several gourmet brown rices) in my kitchen; I love it! I especially like this company's agricultural practices, which include crop rotation and soil conservation. Many of their products are organic. If you think rice isn't exciting enough for your tastebuds, take a look at Lundberg.

--Reed's Original Beverage Corporation, 28926 Boniface Drive, Malibu, CA 90265, (toll free) (800) 997-3337, website at: Reed's is serious about ginger. The company actually brews their own ginger-based beverages, using fresh ginger root and filtered sparkling water. There are five varieties: original, extra (with more ginger for more of a "bite"), premium (the no-fructose version, sweetened with honey and pineapple juice), raspberry, and spiced apple. In addition, Reed's makes crystallized ginger, but they use only baby ginger root (more tender than it's mature counterpart) and raw cane sugar, so you get a lot of flavor in this candy. To me, the raw cane sugar lends a wonderful flavor to the ginger root without overwhelming it, and this is my first choice for any recipe I make containing crystallized ginger. This fall, they'll be coming out with a certified organic crystallized ginger. Check out their informative and amusing website. The company also sells Tianfu Colas and Malibu Teaz; as of this writing, plans to sell Virgil's Root Beer from the site are in the works.

--Bela-Olhao Sardines, Blue Galleon, 1007 Chestnut Street, Suite C, Newton, MA 02164, (617) 558-7156, no website. Now you think I'm crazy, right? Sardines as a gift? Ah, but these are special; they are whole sardines (no heads or tails), caught in non-polluted waters off the coast of Portugal. Bela-Olhao (pronounced "bela-ol-yow") sardines are canned within eight hours of being caught, and the fishing practices used are dolphin-friendly and ecologically supportive. These all-natural sardines don't smell nasty when you open them, either. Sardines are a fantastic source of vitamin B12, and they also contain calcium and omega-3 oils. They're a good source of protein, they're convenient, and (take it from me) they taste really good. The sardines, lightly smoked, are available in olive oil, soybean oil, hot sauce, lemon sauce, and tomato sauce. They are distributed nationally (but most heavily on the East and West coasts); the company will do mail-order if you can't find them in your area.

--Florida Crystals Corporation, 50 Cocoanut Row, Suite 215, Palm Beach, FL 33480, (561) 366-5200, website at: Florida Crystals grows and produces sugars and rice, but they are very environmentally aware and responsible; using renewable energy to power their mills is just one example of that. Their website is filled with all kinds of information, including recipes and advice on "natural living", and you can shop on line. I haven't tried their rice, but at least some of their sugars are wonderful. I love their milled cane sugar, a light tan sugar with a gorgeous molasses aroma. Several friends have told me it lends a distinctive flavor to coffee and tea. And their demerara, a coarse- grained brown sugar, would be ideal for beverages or for sprinkling atop unbaked muffins, scones, or sugar cookies. They also sell powdered sugar and a certified organic cane sugar.

--In Pursuit of Tea, Inc., P.O. Box 1284, Cooper Station, New York City 10003, (718) 302-0780, website at: Doesn't it seem as though tea companies have gone crazy in the past few years, flavoring their products with almost anything? Here's a company that's different; they sell only unflavored, loose teas. No herbal teas, no added flavorings or sweeteners or perfumes, just hard-to-find types of genuine tea. There are green, black, oolong, white, and pu-erh varieties, some of which have wonderfully evocative names such as "Snow Dragon" or "Phoenix Bird". Teas are sold by the quarter-pound, and some prices will seem expensive until you realize that you can make up to seventy-five cups of tea with just those four ounces. I like this company's simple, basic approach. They also sell gift certificates and tea gear, including an Easy Steep Cup for brewing individual servings, one of the most clever little gadgets I've seen in a long time. The website has lots of information. In Pursuit of Tea is for people who love real tea and those who want to expand their tea horizons.

--Indian Harvest Specialtifoods, Inc., P.O. Box 845, 909 Paul Bunyan Drive SE, Bemidji, MN 56619-0845, (800) 294-2433, website at: Good Mother Stallard. Tiger Eye. Mortgage Lifter. You'll find these heirloom beans, and many more, at Indian Harvest, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Rice, Grain, and Bean Catalog". That doesn't appear to be an idle boast, based on the amazing variety the company offers. Black quinoa, purple Thai rice, and crimson lentils are side-by-side with pilafs, pressure cookers, and pepper mills. There are gift assortments and samplers, too. It's hard for me to describe much of what's in this catalog, because there are so many different items packed into the pages. Eating more beans and grains can be a great start to a healthier diet, and Indian Harvest presents many intriguing choices, whether you're an experienced cook or just getting started.

--American Spoon Foods, P.O. Box 566, Petoskey, MI 49770-0566, (616) 347-9030 or (toll free) (888) 735-6700, website is: Think "preserves". Now, think "better-quality preserves". Good, you're getting the idea. There are many manufacturers of jam/jelly/preserves in the US, but this company is one of my favorites in that line. I find their preserves, fruit butters, and jellies less sweet than most, and they truly capture a good fruit flavor. American Spoon Foods also offers dried fruit and mushrooms, interesting condiments (portobello mushroom relish and ginger plum grilling sauce, for example), salad dressings, a few sweets, and a number of gift assortments that sound mighty appealing.

--Hammond's Candies, 4969 Colorado Boulevard, Denver, CO 80216, (303) 333-5588 or (toll free) (888) CANDY-99, no website. Hammond's is famous for traditional hand-made hard candies, including large and small "whirl suckers", candy canes, ribbon candy, and art candy "cut rock". I have tried the candy canes, which are large and resplendent in their festive stripes; they taste as good as they look. The art candy is small sections of striped-on- the-outside hard candy, each with a tiny scene related to the season in the middle. The result is fascinating, and I have no idea how it's done. Again, these candies really have flavor; they're not just sweet. Candy coal (for those who've been naughty), Christmas straws (a hard candy shell surrounding a creamy filling), peppermint pillows, and gift boxes of brittles or assorted candies are offered, too, as well as specialty popcorns. Hammond's also makes chocolates. Call them for a brochure.

--Walnut Acres Organic Farms, Penns Creek, PA 17862-0800, (toll free) (800) 433- 3998, website at: This company has been farming organically since 1946 (!), and their catalog includes a wealth of fresh, dried, and canned fruits and vegetables...but that's only part of the story. Quickly thumbing through the pages of a recent catalog, I found apricot nut cake, organic navy bean soup, a yogurt maker, whole wheat croissants, organic popcorn, vitamins and supplements, full-spectrum lightbulbs, organic ketchup, preserves, cookware, cheeses, gift assortments, and natural turkey hot dogs. How's that for a range of products? I have tried some of their soups, which I like very much, and I adore their nut butters. It would be an easy matter to make up a gift basket for anyone on your holiday list just by searching through this company's selections.