Food plays a starring role in the holidays -- whether given as presents, assembled in gift baskets or served on the homefront.
So for those seeking tasty, unique or one-of-a-kind edibles, we've compiled the ultimate guide to options from the East Bay, including a Union City granny's potato chip cookies and a Niles baking queen's to-die-for pies.
- Andy's Orchards, Morgan Hill. Sells, packages and ships Northern California-grown dried fruits, nuts, jams. Even sugar plums -- eight ounces in wooden gift box is $15. Other gift boxes range from $9 to $50. For info and store hours, call (408) 782-7600, or view website.
- Apricot King Orchards, Hollister: Family ranch that still grows the Blenheim apricot and sells it in a variety of forms, including the chocolate-candied "Apricot Puddles" at $12.50 for a 10-ounce box. Mail order online at www.apricotking.com or view the site for lists of area famer's markets that sell the fruit, plus walnuts, almonds, jams and syrups.
- Artisan Marshmallows, Livermore: Marshmallows never had it so good -- made over two days, cut by hand, dipped in chocolate and decorated. Custom-made, packed in fancy boxes. Three-week lead time for orders. For details, view www.artisanmarshmallows.com.
- Bart's Blazin' Q BBQ Sauce, Livermore: Husband-and-wife caterers Dave and Deny Bart bottle and sell their award-winning barbecue sauce at 3989 First Street. Call (925) 292-5018 for shop hours (or see if they'll open the store for you if they are nearby.) Bart braggin' rights: sauce ranked 47 out of top 100 nationwide. Sauce also sold at First Street Wine Co., 221 First St., Livermore and 5385 East Ave., Livermore.
- Cafe Attila, San Ramon: Popular bistro/cake studio sells its signature scone mixes, granolas, coffees and cookies (including gingerbread!) through mail-order or at its shop at 2211-B San Ramon Valley Boulevard. Call (925) 837-2886 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Minimum quantities may apply.
- Chrissy's Confection Perfection, Livermore: High-quality, gluten-free toffee, baked by hand and hailed as "worth calories!" Available in 4 oz. or 1 pound gift packages. For info, (925) 784-9189 or email email@example.com Also sold at Steven Kent Winery, Livermore.
- Danville Chocolates, 175 East Prospect Ave., Danville. Locally owned and operated since 2009. Known for handcrafted, holiday-inspired chocolate bark and other sweets. Open seven days a week. (925) 314.0001.
- Double 'R' Bees, San Leandro: 24-year-old company selling honey, candles, almonds, walnuts -- all great gifts! Sales primarily at Northern California farmer's markets, or by phone (209) 499-1030.
- Fra' Mani, handcrafted Italian meats, Berkeley. Founded in 2006 by chef Paul Bertolli. Old-school producer of dry salami, pancetta, sausage. So old-school, there is no online store. Purchase at: Draeger's Market, Blackhawk Plaza, Danville; Estudillo Produce And Deli, 1305 Macarthur Blvd. San Leandro, (510) 352-1010; . Or call Fra' Muni at (510) 526-7000.
- Frog Hollow Farm, Brentwood. Mail-order, all-organic gift packages start at $23 for fruit preserve sets to $90 gift basket with several jars of Frog Hollow conserves, olive oil and cookies. On-site bakery sells such items as cherry gallettes (serves 8 to 10, $40), cream scones (six for $40; dozen for $70) and assorted-cookie for $25. Baked goods are ordered online and ship frozen. Or check Danville's farmer's market for Frog Hollow booth. The 133-acre organic farm is not open to the public. See website for more details.
- Grandma Rhea's Gourmet Potato Chip Cookies, Newark. After 30 years in the food biz, this Union City grandma bakes and sells her delicious line of "potato chip cookies" -- including a Christmas version of peppermint and white chocolate for $15 a dozen. Visit her website at www.grandmarheas.com for ordering information.
- Gourmet Gift Horse, Dublin: Nineteen-year-old company specializes in creating and hand-delivering gift baskets using local artisan foods. For details, email firstname.lastname@example.org or see website at www.gghorse.com.
- Gourmet Works , Pleasanton: Downtown's specialty candy shop with a white-chocolate, peppermint bark that is, to some, a holiday staple. Gift-boxed or by the piece. Open seven days a week at 420 Main Street. (925) 461-1110.
- iLL Fortune Cookies, Union City: If you're seeking cookies with traditional, "happy-future" notes inside, these ain't them. iLL fortunes -- perfect for pranksters. Available online here.
- June Taylor, exquisite fruit butters (like the $14 White Doyenne Pear & Vanilla), jams, conserves and syrups ($10 for 7.5 oz-bottle of such treats as "Strawberry Rhubarb Rose Geranium") are sold worldwide in high-end stores. We are lucky and only have to travel to the Berkeley headquarters to purchase, or online at this link or at Saturday farmer's markets in San Francisco. (Even Martha Stewart loves June's goods.) Call for more info: (510) 548-2236.
- Let's Get Pickled, Danville: Local produce "gourmet pickled" into pickled green beans, marinated pearl onions, garlic-stuffed eggplant and more. Sold online here, at San Ramon and Walnut Creek farmer's markets, Danville International Market, or call (855)538-7438. Gift baskets available, and jams sold, too, like carrot or fig, $7 to $8 a jar. More info: Let's Get Pickled's Facebook page.
- Lucky Dog Hot Sauce: Sold in Castro Valley at Al's Market, 3550 Somerset Ave. or online here for $5 a bottle in three varieties: hot, hotter, and yup, hotter still. A hot-sauce hobby turned business four months ago for local Lucky Dog founder Scott Zalkind, who is bottling his new products in Sonoma. Heataddicts.com loved it -- here's the video.
- Niles Pie Co., Niles/Fremont: Local baker takes on-line orders for baked goods ($12.50 chocolate babka!), then has items ready for customer pick-up at locations in Fremont and Niles. For info: www.nilespie.com or Facebook page. Pie menu changes weekly; recently offered: old-fashioned spiced pumpkin pie for $7.75 and Niles persimmon pie with candied ginger and gingersnap crumb topping for $18.25. Gift certificates and monthly pie club, too.
- Oaktown Jerk, Oakland: Culinary-created beef jerky in flavors like chili-lime cilantro and pineapple basil. Sells at some farmer's markets and online for sales in California. For details: www.oaktownjerk.com.
- Olivina Olive Oils, Livermore -- Made from olives grown, picked by hand and milled on . About $20 to $25 a bottle; or smaller-sized six-sampler pack is $20. Sold at Pleasanton and Livermore farmer's markets, at retailers and online. Details here.
- Robert Lambert Fruitcakes, San Rafael. Former California chef used his Wisconsin grandma's recipes to create variety of fruitcakes that sell for $50 to $60 each. (Pricey perhaps, but fans say worth it.) Purchase online here or at Draeger’s Market in Danville.
- Swank Farms, Hollister: Family farm sells its raved-about fresh Heirloom salsa, plus homemade fudge and more at farmer's markets in Livermore, Pleasanton and San Leandro. For more info: see Facebook page or Swank website here.
- Steve's Bees: Bay area beekeeper sells honey and honey bee products at area farmer's markets and local grocers. Details here, or call (925) 254-8063.
- "Tastes of the Tri-Valley" -- Tri-Valley's First Kosher Cookbook. Authors: Jewish Women of Tri-Valley. $18. A beautiful cookbook with a compilation of Kosher, home-tested, delicious recipes assembled by women of Chabad of the Tri-Valley, Pleasanton. To purchase, use order website or call (925) 846-0700. Shipping an additional $4.95.
- Victorine Valley Farms, Inc. between Danville and Livermore -- Makes and sells $16 balsamic vinegars (including a cranberry-pear white version), $6 olive-oil soaps, $12 to $22 per bottle extra-virgin and flavored olives oils. Sells online, at Livermore and Danville farmer's markets or at tasting room at 21 South Livermore Ave. Details here.
Have we missed a favorite of yours? Let us know in the comments section.