Ah, the Christmas hamper. If ever there was a seasonal favourite that spells festive cheer, it’s that lovely lidded basket, stuffed full of tasty items to help the yuletide go with a yum. Within those wondrous wicker walls, the lucky owner will find a selection of luxuries that spell utter indulgence.
Everyone will have their own preferences for the perfect gift box full of goodies and groceries, but it’s our firm belief that no food hamper is complete without a dozen star performers that will put smiles on faces and jolly up the most steadfast Scrooge. From cheese to chutney, and from cake to cava, these family favourites will have pretty much everybody giving cheers of delight.
So here they are: the twelve yays of Christmas.
1. Smoked salmon
Whether popped on a cracker or put in a decadent Christmas breakfast of Eggs Royale, or even just eaten by itself for the ultimate treat for your taste buds, smoked salmon has a special place in the hearts of those who appreciate the finer things in life.
Smoked salmon has rarity value, but is an absolute must at Christmas time. For a lot of people, there is no clearer shorthand for luxurious living than a thin slice or two of this sublime stuff.
2. Heavenly ham
Ever since the worst actors of ancient times stinking out the place with their woeful soliloquies in tragedies too tragic to think about, we’ve had some awful hams to put up with. That’s why at Christmas, an inarguable necessity is the very finest quality boneless Wiltshire ham.
However you like it - thinly sliced in a sandwich of the gods or a juicy, great hunk of it nibbled from a skewer - great quality ham is something wonderfully way beyond the usual. Its presence in a Christmas gift hamper is a categorical must-have.
3. Choice cheddar
The next hamper essential is some really decent cheddar. You have to be careful with this firm favourite, as its very popularity has led to some pretty ill-advised mass production. So, you need to find a small-scale producer who takes pride in churning out a product of buttery richness, with just the right crumble coefficient. Yes, that last phrase was a technical term used throughout the cheese industry. We think.
Anyway, cheddar is often regarded as the solid workhorse of the cheeseboard, shouldering the burden of brightening up a biscuit or getting a cracker cracking. But it’s so much better than this. Get yourself some top-quality cheddar and gorge yourself. You’ll soon agree.
4. Banging blue
No cheese is an island. Cheddar can’t do all the heavy lifting. It needs a partner in piquancy, and it can find the perfect pal in an oozing blue cheese. Ideally, it should be different enough from cheddar to provide a tasty contrast, but not be so out there and exotic that it has prospective samplers taking a look at the label and then opting for something safer, like, well, cheddar.
There are some wonderful British blue soft cheeses around at the moment. It’s a gooey golden age, so dive into the blue.
5. Outstanding oatcakes
All that cheese, not to mention ham and smoked salmon, means you need one thing more than any other. The world of crackers is stuffed full of crispy and crunchy candidates, but for us, the disc of distinction is the mighty oatcake.
One of the simplest yet most delicious and accommodating of food items, this Scottish sensation simply has to find its way into your hamper. Slap something tasty on it and shout something inspiring about Scotland the Brave. That’s the way.
6. Superb sables
Nibbles don’t come much tastier than these little cheesy fellas. Often made with some powerful cheese like Parmesan, sables are inordinately moreish by themselves and even more wonderful as the base for a canape. They go in our hamper because they can be an incredibly tasty snack option to keep people happy while the sprouts are cooking.
7. Champion chutney
There’s not much in life that a really great chutney can’t cheer up. And Boxing Day isn’t Boxing Day unless there’s a pile of cold meat that is simply crying out for a dollop of this cracking condiment. What should it have in it? Well, every chutney fan has their own fave, but you can’t fail to tickle some turkey or give a truckle a chuckle with a variety containing dried fruits and ale swirled in amid its sumptuously spicy depths.
8. Corking Cava
With much toasting to be done, you’d better make sure that your hamper has some fab fizz in there. For our money, you can’t beat a good Cava to get things swinging. Find the right one, and you’ll be rewarded with great nose, creamy texture and an abundance of elegant mousse. In layperson’s terms, Cava gives liveliness fresh aroma, and it tastes like sunny Catalonia in a glass. What’s not to like? Salud!
9. Perfect pud
Christmas pudding is one of those performers, like that ball thing that slides down the pole in Times Square, that is only called on to get it right once a year, but what a gig to get wrong! The pressure’s really on to perform, as everybody’s waiting for it, whether they like the stuff or not. So, make sure that your Christmas dinner ends just right, with a pudding that is the last word in festive feasts.
10. Shcrumptioush shortbread (as Sean Connery might say)
So, now we move on to those things that you have to have around during the festive season for those with a tooth as sweet as Santa’s to munch on while they’re watching Call the Midwife. First up - shortbread. It’s another classic from Scotland (we have so much to send gratitude north of the border for), and it has the much-admired ability to get on with a range of beverage buddies. Tea? Sure! Coffee? Of course! Hot chocolate? Now you’re talking!
11. Classy cake
The world of cake has some basic performers (step up Victoria sponge) and some flash-in-the-pan morsels du mode (that’s you, red velvet), but, in terms of a cake that’s done the rounds and stayed the course of human history, giving satisfaction to the Saxons and pleasure to the Plantagenets, it’s the fruit cake. At Christmas, it really hits its stride, giving everyone the chance to indulge in a currant affair. It’s its raisin d’etre.
12. Cheeky chocolate
For many, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Chocolate. But care must be taken not to be ensnared in the mire that can envelop one at this time of year. No - fight against the cheap stuff that has only a passing relationship with cocoa and opt instead for something special, something that tells your mouth what time it is. That’s Christmas time, my choc-chewing chum.
So, you’ve got a luxurious list there that will give Christmas a kickstart and no mistake. Want a suggestion for a great hamper that has all these and more? Well, you’ll be as happy as Clarence Odbody if you go for the It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas Hamper from DukesHill. You’ll find within the leather strapped 20” wicker basket some truly showstopping examples of what we’re talking about.
Savoury and sensational
Firstly, there’s small-batch oak-smoked salmon sourced from an independent UK smokery where care and tradition are the watchwords. There’s Wiltshire cured ham, prepared with brine and brown sugar to impart a soft contrasting salty-sweetness that has to be tried to be believed.
The cheese choices are perfect, with a fine Scottish cheddar and a Lincolnshire blue both vying for a place on your Christmas Eve oatcake, which this hamper has too. It even has the sables we were talking about - these little beauties are full of flavour courtesy of the Parmesan and pistachio-filled recipe. And, naturally, there’s a Boxing Day chutney that will transform the fortunes of any leftovers and bring balance to the feast.
Sweet and superb
And now we turn to the sweet end of the deal. There’s a family Christmas pudding bursting with fruits, not to mention French brandy. A fruit cake (based on a family recipe) is ready for afternoon tea action, as is some handmade all-butter shortbread. And, of course, there’s chocolate - how do thick layers of the stuff enrobing delicious chunks of honeycomb sound? Like the bee’s knees?
But what’s that? You love all this but you’d like a little pork and perhaps some mince pies too? That’s what we were about to tell you. This hamper also includes a pot of rillettes - exquisitely tasty shredded pork and peppers (great on an oatcake, natch) - and, for those panicky ‘the shop’s run out of mince pies moments’, a box of mince pies.
Festive fare enough
So, there we have it. What every hamper should have in terms of festive treats, and an example of one that’s got the lot. The It’s a Wonderful Life hamper is a Christmas experience every bit as essential as the film it’s named after. As they say in Capra’s sublime slice of seasonal cinema, ‘no man is poor who has a hamper’. OK, it’s actually ‘friends’ rather than ‘a hamper’, but it’s broadly the same sentiment. Enjoy.