Good Food Blog
Last-minute luxuriesPosted at 12:02PM, 23 December 2008 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
What could be nicer than a gift of food at Christmas? Our grandparents' generation were lucky to get an orange from Father Christmas. It was the original stocking-filler, and might, if times were half-decent, be accompanied by a handful of nuts, reminding the lucky recipient that 'festive' means feasting, and that certain foods only entered the home at the glittery end of the year.
A box of Turkish dates, chocolate-brown and sticky enough to gum up a child's fingers for half a day, was a treat that was as inextricably associated with merrymaking as the tinsel on the tree. By the time I was writing to Santa, these had largely been replaced with Cadbury's selection boxes , a cornucopia for tiny appetites of all your favourite chocolate bars in one handy tray. It can't have been half an hour after the wrapping was torn off - or so it seemed - that we were told we couldn't eat them in case we spoiled our dinner, and so they sat taunting us on top of the sideboard, awaiting their moment behind the Brussels sprouts, when they could be plundered with impunity, and taste all the sweeter for the wait.
These days, gifts of food are even glitzier: a box of chocolate-covered figs from the Italian deli; marrons glacés from the French patisserie; real Turkish Delight from Fortnum and Mason; dried mangoes from the Chinese emporium; spiced macadamias from the supermarket. The continuity with those earlier times is that they should be as foreign as sticky dates and oranges once were, imported from sunnier climes where the sweet delights were about much more than cocoa-flavoured vegetable fat.
It may seem gratuitous in the midst of so much other feasting, but that is half its appeal
More than any other kind of gift, food has the potential to be surprising. It may seem gratuitous in the midst of so much other feasting, but that is half its appeal. Something that you know the receiver has never tasted before can be much more of a thrill than exotic toiletries. Who wouldn't rather have a jar of pomegranate jam than a tube of shower gel that only smells of it?
Make the food gift yourself and the Christmas spirit is truly kept alive. Sweet things are best because they can always be fitted in around an already planned menu. Even if everybody is tucking into Christmas pudding at the end of lunch, there will come a moment later on (there always does) when a glass of port or fortified Muscat will seem an irresistible temptation with a slice of something luxurious and home-made . It just looks a whole lot more inviting than another raid on the Celebrations tin.
But perhaps the best thing of all about gifts of food is that they vanish. Even if they turn out not to be an instant hit (perhaps give the pickled walnuts a miss), they tend to get eaten, obligingly disappearing while the biliously patterned scarf sits in the wardrobe till kingdom come.
If you're still Christmas shopping, or if there are friends you're only due to see after the event, hold the cinnamon-scented body-mister and get something truly delicious.
Happy Christmas everybody!