Food | Wry Society

The Christmas hamper

A businessman enlists his PA to customise some traditional holiday hampers – with some rather creative results.

December 04 2011
Adam Edwards

Roddy Enstone disliked Christmas and, in particular, he despised flogging around the hot shops in search of an original present that he knew the recipient, with the exception of a small child, didn’t want.

Nobody needed yet another hip flask, or desired a “Keep Calm and Carry On” pair of cuff links. An actual-size plastic model of a Jack Russell’s bottom might have been amusing 10 years ago, but it wasn’t now. And why would anyone wish for a desk-tidy in the shape of a wheelie bin? Teenagers, he came to the conclusion after years of failed gifts, were only interested in money; women, he believed, didn’t care much what you gave them as long as it was expensive, beautifully wrapped and impractical; while men tended to trade bottles of expensive booze.

His solution to this Christmas conundrum, last year anyway, was to send everyone on his gift list a hamper – although that too had its drawbacks. Much of the contents of a festive basket that had been sent to him many years ago still resided in his kitchen cupboard. Even then, he didn’t need to be Auguste Escoffier to know that the tinned ham was best avoided, or Oz Clark to eschew the Chilean “cava”, while he gave the hamper’s stem ginger in syrup to his chum Charlie as a jokey house-warming present, and it subsequently circumnavigated his social circle and was given back to him some months later by an anonymous dinner-party guest.

Roddy’s internet search to find suitable boxes of tuck for his friends and relations proved dispiriting. He did, however, discover that most celebratory wicker panniers seem to be named after cosy English market towns, and contain a slew of comestibles that would be found in the cupboards of the most impecunious of his connections. Every creel of these overpackaged, archly named victuals, for example, boasted – for reasons best known to its creators – English breakfast tea. Also ubiquitous were designer biscuits and nibbles (at least these could be happily scoffed at home in front of the Christmas telly), obscure chutneys, marmalades made from everything except oranges, and a box of three mince pies.

However, this gloomy prognosis on the modern-packaged yuletide foodstuffs did not deter Roddy from going ahead and buying some. He simply decided that, with the help of his PA, Suzie, he would beef up each basket. In fact, Suzie did all the work. She tailored for his broker the £300 Fortnum & Mason basket containing, among other things, St James Christmas Pudding and Piccadilly Piccalilli, by adding two bottles of single-malt whisky – and which the broker gifted to his assistant without even opening. Suzie added Chanel No 5 to the Belgian truffles and cocoa-dusted almonds that were part of the Marlborough hamper Roddy sent to his business-partner’s wife, who was always very generous to Suzie, and very partial to expensive perfume. And in addition to the stilton and smoked salmon in the bog-standard Burford hamper that was posted to Roddy’s in-laws, Suzie added a pair of tickets to go hot-air ballooning (Roddy didn’t attempt to stop her, even though he knew full well that his mother-in-law suffered from vertigo).

Roddy couldn’t, of course, ask his PA to send herself a hamper, and so he found a £42 “Noël” version containing tea, coffee, chocolate, cranberry sauce and a miniature bottle of strawberry vodka. Rather crassly, he addressed it to the office, and it arrived while Suzie was snowed under organising the personalised hampers. To say she was not filled with gratitude would be something of an understatement. She would have preferred a little something from Jo Malone or a Harvey Nichols gift token. In fact, anything rather than a few old groceries. All of which goes some way to explaining why, on Christmas Eve, Roddy’s wife, Fiona, received a boxed bottle of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne, and a 100g tin of beluga caviar nestling in an eye-poppingly expensive designer handbag, while his mistress, Jane, got not so much as a Christmas cracker.

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