But food lovers, daring food lovers, who want to give something customised, will search among the highways and byways of small British producers, a movement which has been growing in strength. Happily there is advice on hand about these. Henrietta Green's Foodlovers' Guide (BBC pounds 12.99) can set you on the road to this paradise regained.
Paradise was lost (if there ever was such a thing) when the mass-production needs of the supermarket buyers put a stop to those farmers who made bacon and hams to individual recipes, while their wives made cheese, preserves and cakes to old traditions.
The re-emergence of the small food producer is a stirring story. Some praise must be given to the government-funded organisation Food from Britain, which sponsors groups of committed small regional producers, four to date, which are Taste of the West, then Taste of East Anglia and recently Taste of Middle England and Taste of the North-West. Prince Charles was an early patron, abetted by his friend Nicholas Soames, when he was the food minister.
But much of the credit for pioneering the cause is due to Henrietta Green. She started along this road 15 years ago, after a visit to America where she saw the birth of a similar movement in California. "I thought what happened there, usually comes here. But, my God, it has been a long hard slog."
An ex-RADA student, who had worked in theatre and films, she migrated to food after 18 months in India, meditating. She meditated over the fact that in Europe, especially France and Italy, they offered wonderful local produce, yet in England there was none to speak of. She started to write about food and, when Food from Britain was launched 10 years ago, she was recruited to assist. Some of its early thinking was pretty simplistic and she felt there should be more to it than slapping a Union Jack on an apple or piece of cheese and waiting for it to work its magic.
She left to devote herself to compiling books such as Food Finds, then Food Routes and, more recently the Foodlovers' Guide. Initially she was a Queen Canute standing in a floodtide of supermarket dross and commanding, "Go Back". Now she's deeply respected, her advice sought by not only the discriminating consumer, but by the food-hall buyers at top department stores.
She and Food from Britain have long settled their differences, and indeed last month it asked her to open the North-West Fair at Tatton Park, Wilmslow, Cheshire.
She was present, it turned out, as both critic and exhibitor, launching her own mail-order company, Foodlovers Direct. She is offering a range of Christmas Food Boxes (rather than hampers) which she has sourced herself. The Duke of Devonshire's Chatsworth Farm Shop provides back-up, making stuffings, sauces and preserves in its kitchens. "If you had oodles and oodles of time you could get all these foods together yourself," she says. "The other option is to go to a supermarket, but you will never get this quality."
Liked the book? Now you can get to eat its dishes. Her Christmas boxes range from a modest pack of a dozen, traditional apples at pounds 6.95 to a top-of-the-range suckling pig at pounds 97.50 (with stuffing and all the trimmings). Stuffed goose and trimmings is pounds 67.50, free-range turkey, pounds 55. A box of smoked meats, or smoked fish, pounds 37.50. Christmas pudding and wine, or cheese and biscuits at pounds 24.95. Festive shortbread pounds 7.50. Foodlovers Direct, tel: 01246 583392.
Below, Henrietta Green makes a selection of her favourite suppliers that will provide a mail-order treat this Christmas.
HENRIETTA GREEN'S POST-IT NOTES
Richard Woodall, selling from a Cumbrian village post office, produces some of the best in the country. You can order Cumberland hams (the pigs are farmed by his brother), made to a traditional cure, smoked or unsmoked. Avail-able as whole hams, half-hams, steaks, or packs of two slices. For eating "raw", sliced thinly like Parma ham, you can also buy his Cumbria mature royal and Cumbria air-dried ham. Wonderful bacon and Cumberland sausages too. Available from Selfridges in London or by mail order from Richard Woodall, Lane End, Waberthwaite, Nr Millom, Cumbria LA19 5YJ. Tel: 01229 717237.
John Ward's old-fashioned dry cures for smoked bacon and other smoked foods have gourmets salivating. The process is costly and rare, since it results in 20 per cent weight loss, compared with brining, a method which induces a 20 per cent or more weight increase. Wide choice of flavours, cuts and weights of bacon, plus charcuterie, smoked game and fish too. Mooreland Foods, Vost Farm, Morley Green, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5NU. Tel: 01625 548499.
Forman and Son (son Lance Forman now runs the business) provides the Dorchester hotel with its smoked wild Scottish salmon. It also does smoked- salmon fillet for first-class passengers on Pacific Airways. Made to the London cure (milder and silkier than the Scottish) by a family 90 years in the business. Sold pre-sliced in 450g and 675g packs, and 900g unsliced whole sides. H Forman and Son, 6 Queen's Yard, White Post Lane, Hackney, London E9 5EN. Tel: 0181 985 0378.
Smoked eel is a peculiarly Northern European taste. Because of its high fat content the eel lends itself well to the process. Michael Brown, who learnt his trade in Germany, trawls the unpolluted, chalk streams of Somerset for plump, mature eels which he brines, then hot-smokes over beechwood. Sold as whole eels (900g) or 225g and 450g packs of skinned and neatly cut fillets. Best eaten, he suggests, with no more than a twist of the pepper mill and a squeeze of lemon juice. Brown and Forrest, Thorney Langport, Somerset TA10 0DR. Tel: 01458 251520.
The views from Keith Dunbar's smokehouse to the Summer Isles are as lovely as any in Britain, as is his smoked fish. For a present no gourmet could fail to appreciate, try buying a subscription to his Kipper Club, guaranteeing delivery of two plump kippers, 900g (21b), every month. Ask about his smoked salmon and trout with whisky cure. Summer Isles Foods, Achiltibuie, Ullapool, Rosshire IV26 2YG. Tel: 01854 622353.
Most connoisseurs regard Valrhona chocolate (made in the Valley of the Rhone) as one of the great tastes of the world, with its grand `cru classe' selection of pure, raw materials. Expensive but a little gift makes a big splash. For lists of products contact the Chocolate Society. Tel: 01423 322230.
Randolph Hodgson led the renaissance of small-scale British farmhouse cheeses. He exercises awesome judgement in his pick of the best. Any selection from the 100-strong range will make a thrilling Christmas present for a cheese-lover. Neal's Dairy, 17 Shorts Gardens, London WC2H 9AT. Tel: 0171 379 7646.
John Noble's oysters are trained to survive out of water, grown in plastic net sacks at limit of the Loch Fyne tides, which means they stand up well to a mail-order operation. Very clever. They are wrapped in seaweed and sent out in polystyrene boxes. Loch Fyne Smokehouse, Clachan Farm, Ardkinglass, Cairndow, Argyll and the Islands PA26 8BH. Tel: 01499 600217.
Situated in rural Wales, Wendy Brandon uses no commercial tricks to pack flavour into her jams, preserves, pickles and chutneys. A Christmas present of any selection would be a revelation. Wendy Brandon, Felin Wen, Boncath, Pem-brokeshire, SA37 0JR. Tel: 01239 841568
Claire Swift bakes a couple of thousand fruit cakes a year in in her farmhouse. She uses only the best ingredients to produce rich, dark cakes with a honeyed taste. Priory Farm Shop, Wrabness, nr Manning-tree, Essex CO11 2UG. Tel 01255 880338.
Buttery, soft fudge made from the best ingredients, so good you wonder why anyone else bothers. The toffee is sensational too, made with black treacle. Mail order for packages from 225g up to 900g boxes. The Toffee Shop, 7 Brunswick Road, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 7LU. Tel: 01768 062008.
The ice cream fancier's favourite ice cream. Peter Redstone's real cream ices from his own organically-reared cows run to many hundreds of flavours. And the magic of modern technology (and communications) can get them to you (or as a present to a friend) by mail order. Rocombe Farm Fresh Ice Cream, 123 Union Street, Castle Circus, Torquay Devon TQI 3DW. Tel: 01803 293996.
Julian Temperley has single-handedly revived a 200-year old tradition against all the odds. A true British hero. Somerset Cider Brandy Company, Burrow Hill, Kingsbury Episcopi, Martock, Somerset TA12 5BU. Tel: 01460 240782.
Stamp Collection Chocolates (they are endorsed by the actor Terence Stamp). For children who, because of food intolerances, can't enjoy chocolate. The products are made from 60 per cent organic dark chocolate, are dairy free, and sweetened with pure fruit sugar. Swish packs containing 85g each of chocolate-covered organically- grown, sun-dried apricots, sultanas, and sunflower seeds. Normally pounds 2.99 each, they are on offer to IoS readers at a special price of pounds 7.50 per mixed pack of three, p&p free. Buxton Foods, tel: 0171 637 5505.Reuse content