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First past the post

Bill Cashmore picks the winners among mail-order food companies

5 December 2007

2:53 PM

5 December 2007

2:53 PM

I love the nectar and ambrosia of luxury Christmas hampers but recipients aren’t as grateful as they ought to be; partly because they’ve already bought their Christmas food and partly because their heart sinks at yet another jar of plums in champagne vinegar. This year I wanted to find something a bit different on the food front without totally sacrificing style.

The Meg Rivers Cake Club fits the bill. For a subscription of £159.95 you can have a cake sent every month of the year (there are also six-month and three-month subscriptions). Delivered in the UK by overnight courier, nearest and dearest are reminded of your generosity for a whole year and enjoy 12 different cakes, often made with seasonal, locally-sourced fruit. I’m a big fan of their elderflower and gooseberry cake and the Yorkshire Parkin. The simnel cake at Easter is the most popular and the hefty 2.5 kilo Christmas cake in December not far behind. Cakes are sent to Germany, Canada and, recent additions to the club, Baghdad and Afghanistan — our chaps emboldened by a choice chocolate tiffin.

For the truly luscious, I find Claire Macdonald a great treat. Or more precisely, in order to avoid the High Chief of Clan Donald (Claire’s husband) stabbing me with his sgian-dhu, her fabulous food. Puddings are especially fine; Belgian Chocolate, Orange and Lemon Steamed and Triple Ginger, it’s difficult to choose between them. They all have a four-month shelf life, are extremely good value at £7.95 each and are packaged so beautifully that it makes you look terribly lavish. They also do wonderful savoury sauces and their apple and onion relish with horseradish makes cheese on toast heavenly.

It was the Victorians, encouraged by the transformed Ebenezer Scrooge’s largesse to the Cratchit family, who developed this whole notion of giving food at Christmas. They saw the greater value, particularly to the poor, of enhancing the table rather than the equivalent in gold, frankincense and myrrh. Although interestingly, as some of today’s most opulent hampers are retailing at a few thousand pounds, they are becoming more precious than the gifts of those Three Wise Men.

And Magi of today should certainly consider Daylesford Organic, who have some excellent choices. I particularly like the layered box of smoked salmon and biodynamic champagne which, starting at £90, is excellent for a brother-in-law or two. Until recently, I’d never really heard of biodynamic champagne and now it seems to be becoming the boisson juste.

Also, similar to the cake club, I am very taken by the sommelier’s year. A decanter, two glasses, a lemon-scented cloth and a bottle each of Ch

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