Most people are fairly traditional when it comes to food at Christmas. The wonderful and great late cookery writer Jane Grigson wrote: ‘In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous.’ I think things have changed a little since she wrote that and most of the ‘little ones’ I know develop a sophisticated palate as soon as they start eating solids. And I couldn’t possibly allow that old ones would be made nervous by clever food. In my experience it’s often the little ones – and by that I mean school kids – who wrap themselves in the comfort of tradition and want everything the same every Christmas. I can remember cries of, ‘But we always …’ from my own children when they were little.
If we have to stay traditional for the Christmas Day meal we can, however, branch out into creativity, cleverness and downright modern when it comes to gifts. Now when it comes to gifts, I want luxury; I want something I might not have thought to buy but turns out to be exactly what I need; I want a gift that I might feel was too extravagant to buy myself (and I’m not talking something necessarily hugely expensive but maybe a box of glorious Neuhaus chocolates). I’ve never been someone who thinks that something as mundane as a dishwasher could count as a present (not that anyone has ever tried that, but you know what I mean!). If the family needs a dishwasher, fine, let presents be small that year. But even the smallest, cheapest present, if bought with a huge amount of love, care and thought, can fill one with joy.
Foodie gifts don’t have to be food – though they might be. An interest in food covers all kinds of things and doesn’t even mean you like cooking – you might just like eating and know a lot about food. I’ve got a 10-week course booked at the Royal Academy of Art to study ‘a history of food in art’ from January. Now that would make a nice (if expensive) present; it appeals to my interest in food combined with another passionate interest – art. Perfect. Well, it was a gift to myself, but my point is that creativity goes a long way to making the perfect gift.
Here are some foodie gift suggestions. Many are pretty obvious but hopefully with a twist and it would be great if you felt it gave you some good ideas.
1. Food hampers
Perhaps the most obvious foodie gift is the hamper. Our most famous London one has to be those from Fortnum & Mason. However, splendid as those are, there are many others that will be kinder to your wallet. It’s become quite fashionable for shops and supermarkets to offer made-up hampers for gifts. One of the nicest I’ve seen this Christmas is at the wonderful Corto Italian Deli in Twickenham. I took the photo above when I popped in earlier in the week. It was a quiet part of the afternoon, near their closing time, and Romina and Alicia were busy packing up hampers ranging in price from £25 to £65 (which included wine). I’ve also bought panettone from them as it’s our traditional Christmas morning treat with coffee as we open presents (yes, I can be traditional too!). They sell Loison panettone, which my Italian teacher Fabio tells me is one of the best makes and it was also top recommendation in the recent Observer Food Monthly Christmas issue.
To the right of the Loison photo is one I took in Your Bakery Whitton on Thursday. They had made up some little hampers of their biscuits and Christmas specialities, so I think you’ll find a hamper of some kind to fit your pocket if you look around. Carluccio’s also have a good selection.
2. Make your own food hamper
Of course a fun thing to do is make up a hamper yourself for a loved one. I’ve done this often and enjoy looking round for something just a little special. This has in recent years involved a trip to Fortnum & Mason in London’s Piccadilly. But as I said above, I think a gift just has to be a little bit special. My family might not regularly buy their tea in Fortnum & Mason but when I bought them tea from there last year, they loved it – and the pretty tins too, which can be refilled. There are also wonderful tins of biscuits and all kinds of glorious foodie treats. Just a little way along from Fortnums is a whole Maille shop selling a fantastic selection of different flavoured mustards – and gift packs. This is the perfect place to go for the mustard-loving foodie in your life! But other years I’ve put in olive oil from Liquid Gold Cave, foodie treats from Carluccio’s, and chocolates from Montezuma’s.
3. Homemade foodie gifts
This is where being a baker – as in someone who loves baking and is good at it – comes in handy. I don’t bake much, though I seem to have managed to put quite a few baked things on the blog. Homemade baked goods are very special treats in my house (due to their rarity) and generally reserved for family, though my lovely friends Jane and Terry have come in for a few when I’ve been cooking as they live close by. A couple of years ago I made some individual sized panettone and they made great gifts, wrapped up and decorated as in the photo above. And this year I’ve just made gingerbread with my little grandson, so that’s another good thing to wrap up in pretty paper for a small gift to a friend.
4. Luxury kitchen equipment
OK, so I said above that something as practical as a dishwasher isn’t a present. But I have to admit that I think a kitchen knife, despite its evident practicality, is most definitely a gift when it’s a Global one (or a similar posh and expensive make, like Flint & Flame, or Wusthof). My son introduced me to Global knives when he bought me one of their chefs’ knives (2nd from right) a few years ago. I love it so much I’ve always thought that should I ever be famous enough to be invited on to Desert Island Discs, that would be my luxury choice. And very useful it would be on a desert island too! These are knives for life; they may be expensive but you’ll never need buy another one. Another ‘gift’ to myself recently has been the Dualit hand blender in the photo. Well, I needed to replace a broken one, but couldn’t resist paying a little bit more for this one that looked so special and elegant. (And it works brilliantly too.)
5. Books for foodies
Books are a pretty obvious choice for the foodie and I’ve given and been given many cookbooks over the years. But foodies tend to be cookbook addicts so you can rarely go wrong (unless you buy them the wrong kind, by which I mean something not sophisticated enough; there are some TV chefs I definitely wouldn’t be impressed to be given a book by, but I won’t be unseasonably unkind and name them!). I’ve given both my son and daughter Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles as part of their presents this year. I gave them early (so no, I’m not spoiling the surprise) because I thought it would be useful for them to have it before Christmas morning. But it’s a book not just for Christmas but all of winter – and a glorious read it is too (click here for more). A little book for someone’s stocking that I think is great is Nigella Lawson’s Eating from the Vintage Minis series. At only £3.50 each, these little books, covering a range of subjects, make ideal small gifts. If you know someone loves a particular restaurant, there’s usually a book available of their recipes. I bought Honey & Co’s cookbook after eating there earlier this year (click here). I’m still waiting to buy myself – or have someone buy me! – Barrafina’s cookbook as it’s one of my very favourite places to eat (click here). Think about what someone likes; what their particular food interest is and there are so many brilliant food books out there to buy.
6. Fancy serving dishes
If I’m cooking a special meal I do like to serve it on lovely, attractive plates. I try to be appropriate. I often serve Italian meals on some Italian plates I have.
And I like to serve Middle Eastern dishes in some Palestinian bowls I have.
More generic are a pretty bowl, plate and spoon stand I bought in Anthropologie (shown in the photo at the top of this section). I like them so much, I’ve bought them for other people! If you like cooking, and you go to a lot of trouble to prepare something nice to eat, then it’s so nice to have a special dish to serve the food in and thus I find this kind of present is always welcomed by my foodie friends.
7. Buy someone a cookery course
I’ve never actually bought someone a cookery course, though I did think about it once for my niece Clara who loves cooking. However, a friend asked me a few months ago to recommend somewhere she could buy a cookery course for another friend as a gift for a special birthday. The only place I could think of to recommend was the Caldesi Cookery School (click here for more details). Katie Caldesi was one of the first people I interviewed for the blog and I did do a (complimentary) cookery course at the Caldesi school with Total yoghurt a few years ago (click here). La Cucina Caldesi offer a wide range of courses and prices. It turned out to be a success, my friend told me. So … if you want to give the foodie in your life a special treat this Christmas, why not buy them a cookery course?
8. Meal voucher
I think a meal voucher to a restaurant can make a great gift, particularly for perhaps a young family who don’t have a lot of extra cash for meals out. A voucher or gift token is always much more thoughtful, I think, than money. I think most restaurants would offer you a voucher. Last year my friend Linda, who lives in Spain, asked me to get a voucher from Your Bakery Whitton so that her eldest daughter Katie and family, who were staying near there last Christmas, could have a special breakfast treat. It was no trouble at all when I went in to arrange this. A local favourite for family celebrations at the moment is Masaniello. I’ve never asked if they have vouchers but I’m quite certain they could arrange something and I know members of my family who would love to be able to go there for a gift treat.
9. Take someone out for a special meal
As a family, we often take each other out for birthday treats and I’ve had friends do the same for me. One of the most memorable being to Le Gavroche, a treat from my friends Annie and Jerry for a special birthday. Then last year my daughter Nicola and her wife Rachael took me to Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow for my birthday. A lovely evening of food in a great restaurant and the company of family or good friends just has to be one of the best kinds of present.
10. Foodie culture
It’s not on for much longer, but the brilliant Soutine’s Portraits: Cooks, Waiters and Bellboys exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery is a perfect outing for a foodie. Why not offer to take them (or something similar) and depending on what you want to spend, you can always add in morning coffee, lunch or dinner.
It’s been fun putting these ideas together and I hope it’s given you some inspiration. I wish you and your loved ones and very happy Christmas!!