Food & drink: Crystallised aubergines, anyone?

The stores are stuffed to bursting-point with a dazzling array of exotic foodstuffs. December is the month for decadent dining.

IN A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is led by the Ghost of Christmas Present through the streets of London on Christmas morning. He looks into the half-closing shops and sees them bursting with brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, baskets of chestnuts and filberts, gleaming carp, spices, sweetmeats, tea and coffee. The air is thick with the anticipation of eating so many delicacies. One hundred and fifty years later, you can still experience the same bustling excitement.

Step into a delicatessen and the scent of ripe Stilton, subtly blended with the aroma of ham, marinated olives and fresh bread will thrill a Christmas shopper. The butchers are packed with jostling, last-minute customers, keen to buy their goose, turkey, sausages and game. Supermarkets may have replaced many greengrocers, but they too are piled high with every conceivable fruit and vegetable. Everywhere there is gastronomic temptation, for December offers a cornucopia of goodies for the astute eater.

The range of exotic fruit on sale is dazzling. Luminescent Sharon fruit nestle by pomegranates, passion fruit and their sweet-tasting sisters, grenadillos. Luscious pineapples jostle for space with boxes of sticky dates, custard apples and piles of rosy lychees. If all that were not enough, you can also buy kumquats, physalis, grapes, clementines, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and chestnuts, as well as juicy British apples and pears. Now is the time to broaden your taste buds with strange new imports. If you feel timid about buying an unfamiliar tropical fruit, follow the basic rule of choosing produce that is heavy for its size and free from bruises.

There is something deliciously decadent about loading an after-dinner table with outrageous displays of fruit, nuts and sweetmeats. Lovers of crystallised fruit might like to dive into Selfridges' London Food Hall as the Lebanese counter sells pretty little sugared apples and pears, along with baby aubergines. The latter should be tried before purchase as they have a distinctive taste. Alternatively, you can contact Carluccio's mail order (0171-240 5710) for their Cestino di Frutta which contains, among other things, crystallised chestnuts, strawberries, mandarins and angelica (160g at pounds 14.00 plus p&p).

The best vegetables are British at the moment. Aside from fat roots like beetroot, celeriac, parsnips, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and carrots, you can buy onions, shallots, leeks and garlic. Who needs imported mangetout and broad beans when you could be eating home-grown celery, spring greens, Brussels sprouts, and red, white and Savoy cabbages? Traditional British herbs like parsley, bay, thyme, rosemary and watercress are also good now, although most are grown abroad in the winter to ensure that they are blemish free.

Fishmongers try hard not to be outdone at Christmas. Their displays are bedecked with seaweed-strewn Native oysters, scarlet lobsters and glittering farmed carp - the latter remains a popular European Christmas dish. Smoked salmon also sells like hot-cakes during the festive season, but if you are concerned about eating wild, or for that matter farmed, salmon, you should consider organic. Kinvara in Ireland have produced some with a fine oaky flavour. It comes quite thickly sliced, perfect for hearty sandwiches on long journeys (mail order 00 353 91 637489). If you feel the need for something akin to a salmon, look out for the gorgeous, silvery Icelandic Arctic char (available from Waitrose). Closely related to trout, this fish is farmed in Iceland, although it can be caught wild from Lake Windermere in the summer. Apparently it became trapped there during the last Ice Age. Treat like sea trout.

December is a prime season for cured meats as traditionally we have always eaten spiced beef, glazed hams and brawn at Christmas. Given the extended holidays, it has also become a favourite time for indulging in a proper breakfast. These days most of the supermarkets sell dry-cured bacon, which has a far lower water content than wet-cured.

This year, Duchy Originals, have brought out a particularly fine example with their Organic Dry Cured Back Bacon (selected branches of Waitrose, pounds 3.99). It comes from the pigs that gambol in the meadows of Home Farm at Highgrove. Sausage lovers might also like to note that they can now order some utterly yummy Eastbrook Farm Organic Pork and Welsh Leek Sausages (pounds 6.04 per kg). If you are in the mood for something spicy, then you should also try their Organic Merguez Sausages (pounds 7.64 per kg) which won first prize in the sausage category of the Soil Association's Organic Food Awards earlier this year.

Game, of course, is always popular in December, consequently, partridge and pheasant are widely sold in butchers and supermarkets. Woodcock and snipe appear to be enjoying a resurgence of interest this year, certainly among food writers. All four are in season until the end of January. As to the ubiquitous turkey, only a Bronze will do, according to the foodies - although my sources tell me that goose is the Christmas fowl this year.

No holiday season is complete without a good cheese or two. Many hard cheeses like Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire and Stilton have been carefully matured to reach perfection for the Christmas holidays. However, according to Randolph Hodgson, owner of Neal's Yard Dairy, you can only get the very best from a hard cheese if you buy a segment from a large truckle, rather than a mini-truckle. "Cheeses are a little like a compost heap," he explains, "they need the bulk to fully mature their flavour." A sentiment I feel sure Scrooge would share, as buying part of a cheese is considerably cheaper than purchasing a small designer truckle.

Eastbrook Farms Organic Meat will arrange home delivery for their meat: delivery charges vary according to size of order (01793 790460). You can mail order set selections of British cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy, 6 Park Street, Borough Market, London SE1 9AB, (0171-407 1800), e-mail: nydmailorder@nydairy.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue