Christmas Gifts: Basket cases

A hamper full of festive food always goes down well, and there are plenty to choose from, as Fiona Campbell discovered

The perfect hamper should cause a stir when it arrives. Once opened it should reveal layer upon layer of straw, then carefully chosen, delicious food - and it should not require extra shopping to enjoy it. The price should be sensible as well: if you're considering sending a pounds 1,000, knock- you-off-your-feet-hamper, be careful: many companies slip in a few useless, expensive items to make up the price, such as silver stilton spoons.

The Duchess of Devonshire's farm shop on Chatsworth Estate sends out hampers containing food almost solely produce from the estate. The crammed hatbox has a nostalgic, fairytale packaging.

pounds 34.50 plus p&p (01246 583392), e-mail: farmshop@chatsworth-house.co.uk. Contains: plum pudding, rich fruit cake, shortbread biscuits, heather honey, English breakfast tea bags, after-dinner mints, Christmas ale.

Madeleine Trehearne sends out simple, round baskets filled with excellent wines, cheese, chocolates and lavender bouquets.

Entente Cordiale Hamper, pounds 103.50 (0171 435 6310). Contains one bottle Muscadelle AC 1994 (blanc, dry), two bottles Givry Cellier aux Moins 1er cru 1995, one truckle cheese, hand-made chocolates, two bottles of sparkling Montlouis 'Methode Champenoise', fruit, and a lavender bouquet.

Gourmets will enjoy Marchant le Franc's platter of fresh fish from Cornwall. The dover sole can be baked in its dish as an alternative to the usual festive round of turkey.

Fish dish pounds 22.50, box of fresh fish pounds 55 (0870 900 2900).

Alternatively, discerning taste buds will appreciate Donald Russell's delivery of two pheasants, two ducks, two partridges, and a pack of pheasant breasts. pounds 92 incl p&p (01467 629666)

Many companies have brought out new takes on the traditional idea. The Fireside Hamper from Waitrose contains festive wines and nibbles.

pounds 55 (0800 188 881) Contains Domaine des Fontaines merlot 1998, Waitrose Bordeaux sauvignon 1998, Waitrose original plum pudding, Bronte cake selection, Lazzaroni amaretti, strawberry conserve, Mexican wild sunflower honey, Truffettes de France truffles, Boulevard cheese twirls, pistachio nuts, Waitrose after-dinner mints, Maille A L'Ancienne mustard, sweet pickle, Pringles, homebake shortbread, Delacre biscuits, spiced almonds.

Greens defies festive alcohol poisoning with its Bloody Mary hamper.

pounds 50, plus pounds 6.50 p&p (0207 493 4097) or www.greens.org.uk. Contains Stolichnaya vodka, stainless- steel cocktail shaker, clamato, Big Tom Bloody Mary mixer, V8 vegetable juice, Lea and Perrins, horseradish sauce, Tabasco red and green, celery salt, lemon, lime.

If someone you know is spending their festive weekend in a lonely cottage, the Teesdale Trencherman hamper will see them through in style.

pounds 180 Teesdale Trencherman (01833 638370) e-mail: orders@ trencherman.co.uk, www.trencherman.co.uk. Contains half ham, sliced side smoked Scottish salmon, roulade de foie gras de canard, griottines, marrons de Correze, old mature Cumbrian ham, dill and mustard sauce, panforte, roasted artichokes, lingonberry sauce, chocolate-covered walnuts, sun- dried tomato olive oil, smoked quail eggs, bottle J Lemoine Cuvee Royale Champagne.

Full marks go to the organic Green Gourmet Company hamper. Hampers are made to order.

pounds 97.95 incl. p&p (01477 500703) Contains sparkling grape juice, Bianca de Custoza, two beers, rich Christmas cake, sticky lemon whiskey ginger cake, three cheese wedges, oat biscuits, chutney, matt gold ballotin truffles and clusters, Durm chocolate-coated orange sticks, lemon biscuits, luxury shortcake, autumn berries preserve.

The perfect hamper can be rounded off with some personalised champagne (pictured left) available from Chocolate Store (0118 934 5858), but after all that you may have need of the Pharmacy Detox hamper, which contains all the ingredients needed to recover after Christmas.

pounds 40 (0171 221 9777). Contains vegetable juices, peach and mango candies, Shaker Country herbal candies, Duskins pure apple juice, Cape herb spice grinder, organic pesto cous cous, Rock's organic lemon cordial, Serendiptea tisane, quail egg pasta, farm apples.

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