Tis the season of stretchy pants. Gluttony, greed and sloth. So a stash of delicious food handily packaged together for your Christmas consumption sounds great, yeh? Actually no. Let’s be honest, generic Christmas hampers are a bit rubbish. When I was younger my dad would often get one from a client and those mysterious wicker baskets promised so much, yet ultimately disappointed. We’d peer inside, excitedly rummage through the paper strips, (which unless you’ve got a hibernating rodent in need of a bed you’ll find down the back of a sofa in mid-June) and generally find a haul of average shortbread, mint thins and a jar of something that’s half opened and still collecting dust to this day. (Incidentally my dad also used to work with a biscuit factory, now their parcels really were the stuff of dreams. Layer upon layer of barely broken biscuits, gnarly rejects whose splurted innards had formed caramel rivers on their chocolatey landscape and the ultimate treasure: a solid chocolate ‘wafer’ finger.)
So my distrust of Christmas hampers is ingrained and granted, Waitrose, M&S, Fortnum and Mason all give it a good crack these days, but if you want to give the gift of food (is there anything better?) it doesn’t take much to put your own package together. A package that supports local, independent produce that you know the recipient will love.
Here’s my pick of what to give the people you like:
Snowdonia Black Bomber
Christmas is all about cheesus, and this baby is for winners. Mature enough to incite a decent jaw ache, yet still smooth, mellow and moreish. This is partly down to it being wax wrapped which also makes it less crumbly than other Cheddars and the Black Bomber is the perfect partner to a traditional fruit cake.
Millers Damsels are a classy cracker, perfect for a variety of hampers. In fact strictly speaking they are probably more a wafer, but regardless they make an excellent vehicle for cheese. Handmade in Derbyshire, they are named after the stone used to grind the flour that goes into them – go for the set of three and you’ll get delicious wheat, buttermilk and charcoal varieties.
Hardknott Hibernal Glow
Now for something to wash all that down with. A onetime experiment of the landlord of the Woolpack pub in Cumbria, Hardknott is now a full time brewery producing outstanding beer. Chuck in a couple of bottles of the Hibernal Glow, their winter porter infused with orange and cocoa nibs, for a nostalgic liquid version of the Terrys classic.
Inevitably at some point over the festive period your recipient is going to be so desperate for caffeine they’ll be like a bear with a sore head, or rather a mule in a grump. Give them some of this top notch, sustainably sourced coffee and they’ll be ready for round two. Try the Guatemala Santa Paula for a brew that somehow genuinely tastes like Turkish delight.
Crisps. Big, fat, tasty hunks of crisps. Crisps that are so huge the smaller mouthed will need two bites and so crunchy that they are the stuff of misophonic nightmares. The season of excess cries out for Slabs and they’ll stand up to a puddle of dip, hollandaise, cranberry… brandy butter? Basically whatever leftover sauce you can lay your hands on when you’re wedged into the sofa on the 28th December.
If you’ve been to any good northern food festivals you’ll have seen Simon the Chilli Jam man, and tasted his delicious wares. His sauces and jams are the perfect way to rouse taste buds from their meat and veg slumber. Maybe give the Reaper Jam a miss unless the recipient has an asbestos mouth.
Funky Nut Peanut Butter
Every food parcel should contain peanut butter and the good people of Funky Nut make butters so amazing all you need is a spoon. I could bathe in the Chocolate Hazelnut, the Cashew is outstanding but the straight up smooth Peanut is the still the daddy.
Squidges Double Chocolate Fruit and Nut tiffin
Eating Squidges tiffin is a spiritual experience. Created by award-winning Liverpool baker Katie (aka Squidge) they have just the right ratio of fruit, nuts and decadent chocolate. Plus they are presented in a really cute box, suited to hampers and have featured in Tatler, so Kate Middy is probably getting some for Christmas too.