Stop the clocks: Fortnum & Mason is still delivering hampers. I am not surprised, because this shop — or rather this myth disguised as a shop — sold condiments to the Empire, and it wouldn’t let a global pandemic thwart the consumption of those condiments. It was among the earliest fans of globalisation, which is now something I have to explain to my son.
He doesn’t understand globalisation, although he knows some dogs come from abroad. He does understand a Fortnum & Mason hamper though; he knows it is a consolation, although he wouldn’t call it that. As soon as the lockdown began, I ordered an Easter basket and an Easter egg.
However you may feel about the commercialisation of Christian holidays — and Easter is the one that matters — it is an objective truth that Easter eggs improved when Cadbury, and now Fortnum & Mason, got their hands on them. Consumer capitalism gets some things right. (Goodbye Jeremy Corbyn. Slink back under your Jew-hating rock.) I may love the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem — and you should go when this is over, to touch the rock of Golgotha and gawp at the pilgrims fighting to get to Christ’s tomb. (‘Hello,’ said my friend, when we fought our way in, ‘you caused a lot of trouble.’) But I don’t love early Christian Easter eggs with the same fervour. They weren’t made of chocolate. They were birds’ eggs painted red to symbolise Christ’s suffering which — in Christianity — is renewal. I wouldn’t put that in my mouth. I usually buy a giant £8 Cadbury egg with two small packets of Mini Eggs inside. After ten years of restaurant criticism, I still maintain that Cadbury’s Mini Eggs are one of the great foods.
But as a non-Jewish Jew — squashed up against a ghetto wall, which is internal now, but still feels powerful — I prefer to shop at Fortnum & Mason. Many of the foodstuffs in a Fortnum & Mason hamper are pointless, but that only adds to their charm. I like the snobbery. I like the jams. The Fit for Your Queen Alcohol-Free Hamper cracks me up. I’m not sure she would like an alcohol-free hamper.
So: the Easter basket. It is wicker, of course, and exciting. My son unpacks it and soon there is straw on the floor, which charms my husband, who is from a Wiltshire farming family. He feels it keenly; when our son pulled up the potatoes too early last year — showing off to a girl with a face as round as Mr Happy — he went full Jean de Florette, clutched the soil with his hands, and wailed at the unforgiving sky. I had to tell him to get a grip. Now he is soothed that the study looks very slightly like a farmyard.
Inside the basket are many lovely things. There is Easter tea — Ceylon from Sri Lanka with marigold and cornflower petals — and Easter biscuits. There is rhubarb and raspberry conserve — that is the decadent element, for rasp-berry alone would be better — and Hot Cross Bun flavoured hot chocolate with spices. There is a packet of Happy Bunnies made of solid milk chocolate. I wondered if they were happy to be consumed and, if so, is it a religious metaphor? There are Six Golden Eggs: chocolate eggs filled with milk chocolate hazelnut praline, encased in a hen’s egg painted gold. Jean de Florette did not read the label. He bit into one and choked, but he had broken his Lenten fast to sample it, and perhaps God was watching. Other-wise the hamper is a delight. They always are. The Easter egg contains more metaphorical chocolate bunnies; literally food for thought.
Happy Easter, dear readers. Build a church in your heart or, failing that, your stomach.