Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Basket case

The M&S Christmas hamper catalogue has landed on my desk.

Yes, it's that time of year.

Thumbing through, I see it's gourmet this and gourmet that, a word that's horribly overused, especially in the US where it just means 'not a burger'. It's all induglent, sickly, rich and heavy. There's the usual rogues gallery of figs in port, bramble conserves (what's the difference between a conserve and a preserve, anyway), 'speciality' teas, Dundee cakes, sweet wine, chocolate coverered stem ginger and other delights that get put to the back of the cupboard and forgotten about.

A hamper seems a terrible waste of money. I'd wager that if you had 25 items in it you'd probably only eat - or want to eat - about five. I see there are some that have things like ham or beef, for every one of those there's juniper smoked venison and wild boar pate.

A couple of Christmases ago I bought a River Cottage hamper, which included lots of lovely things, like a side of ham and great pates. We ate just about all of it, though I think the blackberry jelly sat in the fridge unloved and untouched (I don't eat jam) and we were brave with the brawn but I found a pig's hair in it and couldn't go on. But on the whole it was great. Now that's the sort of thing you want.

So why do all hampers have to be filled with ridiculous things? I assume it's because it's seen as a luxury gift and therefore should include luxury foods. But if you're trying to help a pensioner on a budget out at Christmas, what do they want with giant-sized truckle of Stilton or a hundredweight of salted caramel truffles dusted with fair trade cocoa powder? They'd rather have a box of Black Magic and some cherry brandy. None of these things makes a meal. It's a light lunch at an absolute push, but it's mainly snacking. I feel bilious at the thought of even more rich food.

Each year in the building where I work there's a food collection for the homeless. It's all very noble but it basically means people clear out the larder of any old junk that's been knocking around for ages. I laughed when I noticed a panatone, and of course there were jars and jars of rhubarb in cider and plums in cognac among the more prosaic things like Ambrosia custard (Devon knows how they make it so creamy!). Some showboat even put a widescreen TV in there. Mmm, tasty.

I don't know what those Park hampers contain, you know the ones people sell to make a a bit of extra cash for Christmas, but judging by their advertising it's more likely to be a turkey and stuffing Pot Noodle and some Marie biscuits, i.e., stuff you don't want to eat.

I'm off to check out the Fortnum's hampers. There's got to be something worth eating in there.

Slice of connoissseur hand-decorated holly and ivy cake, anyone?


Bright Ambassador said...

An apron-strings-tied acquaintance of mine buys his mother a Fortnum's hamper every year, as he's a showy bastard. I've seen what's in them and I'm not overly fussed about any of it. Mind you, a tin of beans with those little pork sausages is the height of luxury chez BA.

Paul McCartney buys George Martin the toppest of top notch Fortnum hampers every year for Christmas, and then removes all the meat-based products before sending it to the old boy. I doubt there's much left.

Who said...

I'm interested to know why Macca removes all the meat from the hamper and what he does with it...

Mondo said...

Hampers always strike me as straight out Dickens, or when people ate goose instead of turkey, although I was always fascinated by the hampers in the back section of catalogues as a child, which usually included Ye Olde Oak Tinned Ham, Piccalilli, Heywards Pickled Onions and dates.

Somewhere I worked years ago, gave us 'hamper' one year - a cardboard box, filled with shredded paper a few bottles of cheapo wine, a serves one Christmas pudding and a few things I don't eat - great!

I'd like to see the sell by date on the food collection donations. I'll bet some choice 'vintage' bits have been offloaded

Mondo said...

PS watch you FB inbox FC, I found and John Collier nugget earlier today - which should be right up you high street. Mail you details in a mo'.

Five-Centres said...

Ooh smashing, thanks PM.

Ishouldbeworking said...

My Mum always donated the tin of ham she got in the Ford's Christmas Hamper to the following year's harvest festival. She said tinned ham was full of mercury. I still think she was getting it mixed up with tuna.

TimT said...

My pub quiz team won a Christmas hamper a couple of weeks ago - not a luxury one by any means, but still well stocked with food and drink.

As there are six of us (from four different households), it actually worked quite well: each of us got to choose a few items we actually wanted. I took a bottle of champagne, a jar of marmalade and a Christmas cake. Amazingly, one of my teammates actually wanted the lobster bisque soup.

So maybe they should market hampers as: ‘perfect for a disparate group of people to share out among themselves.’

Five-Centres said...

Yes Tim T, we had one sent into the office a while back and we divvied it up accordingly and it worked quite well. I got the parkin.

Clair said...

Being single, my particular festive bugbear is one of those mini-hampers with everything in it for one person. Because at this time of year, when the suicide rate is at its highest, I like nothing better to be reminded that I am alone in the world via the medium of tiny pots of jam and a packet of five tea bags.

Five-Centres said...

They should ban those. And while they're at it they can ban Christmas pudding because I don't like it.

Cocktails said...

You can always make your own for your nearest and dearest. I got talking to 'an old dear' in the supermarket recently and she was buying 3 massive jars of Nescafe Gold Blend and some 5 pack tins of Sainsburys tuna for Christmas hampers for her 3 children. She recommended that I do the same. Perhaps you should too!