As Christmas approaches, I try to keep a cool head, I really do. I tell myself that there’s no need to stress. After all, it’s just one big meal. But deep down, I’m fretting about stocking up for the days that food shops are closed and having something to welcome the festive season drop-ins from friends and family, as well as the visits we’ll make, where, for some reason or other, the usual bottle of wine or bunch of flowers doesn’t seem thoughtful or seasonal enough.
I manage to hold my nerve when, after Halloween, shops and supermarkets sprout their Christmas seasonal sections. It’s ridiculously early for all that festive fuss. Who needs those boxes of twee, overpackaged Lebkuchen biscuits that contain more plastic and cardboard than food? I’m already struggling to find a purpose for all the seasonal biscuit tins that I’ve accumulated over the years, and there’s a limit to the uses I can find for pottery jars once filled with stilton.
I’m also wary of ‘foodie’ gifts, such as test tubes filled with lava sea salt, sugar swizzle sticks, smoked rapeseed oil, or ‘Christmas’ tea that smells and tastes like scented candles, accompanied by a mug with Santa on it. Bless the people who give them, but I’d rather they didn’t bother. Such purchases accumulate in the house around Christmas and then get palmed off on some other poor soul at New Year because no-one really wants to eat them and we’re all slightly horrified at how much weight we’ve put on. Come January, I’m praying for a tombola that’s in need of prizes.
A nice bottle of really good olive oil, a tiny amount of some fantastic chocolate I’d never buy for myself? Let me be clear, I’m delighted to have them. But in reality, so many Christmas lines are pretty ordinary offerings, tarted-up versions of foods that we would either ignore throughout the year,or buy cheaper and less ostentatiously wrapped.
Why do we keep buying into poor value, wasteful ‘seasonal’ ranges? Partly it’s panic, the nagging worry that we’ll get asked out and have nothing to take with us. But maybe we also feel insecure in this consumerist society that we’re spending enough to make sure that our household festival is suitably ‘special’? That pressure is intense and it’s women who feel it most acutely.
This year I’m determined not to crack, not to succumb to the glitz and tat of these perennial seasonal lines. And belatedly, I’ve realised that the very best Christmas food gifts that I’ve ever been given were homemade. My most memorable was a jar of Indian-style pickle from a friend, who had been maturing it since October. I know this sounds corny, but in its recycled jam jar, with its handwritten label, it really melted my heart. It tasted wonderful, but what really meant the most to me was that it contained that most precious commodity: time, effort and kindness of the person who made it for me. Now, that is special.
Make your own Chrsitmas food gifts:
- Mincemeat. Surprisingly easy to make.
- Cheese straws. Use the best quality salted butter and mature cheese you can afford.
- Gingerbread cookies, decorated with icing. With holes in so they can be hung from the tree.
- Hazelnut biscotti. Super-easy and they keep well.
- Chocolate truffles. Messy, but everyone who helps gets to lick their fingers.
- Piccalilli. Blissfully cheap ingredients but produces a great relish that will go down well with cold cuts.
- Kombucha Double ferment it with festive spices, turmeric and cranberries for a seasonal feel.
- Marzipan thins. They’re miles better than shop-bought.
- Sauerkraut or kimchi. Great in stuffing to eat with goose or turkey.
Read more articles by Joanna Blythman…
Britain has gone daft for national ‘food days’
Wonky veg isn’t second best
Cheap processed food comes at a high cost
A sandwich is not a proper meal
Can no-death meat replace the real thing?
Enough with the supersized sweets
Stand up for British seasonal fruit and veg
Stop giving children choices at mealtimes
Will the coffee bubble ever burst?
Will you be giving foodie gifts this year? Leave a comment below…
Good Food contributing editor Joanna is an award-winning journalist who has written about food for 25 years. She is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4.