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:

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game