AGEN PRUNES Agen prunes from south-west France are internationally renowned as the best but it's not simply down to the growing region. They use a special variety of fruit, devised by monks in the Abbey of Clairac, that is the result of crossing a Syrian damson tree with the local plum. For pruneaux fourrés these plump semi-dried fruits are filled with a prune, apple, vanilla and curaçao purée to make them even more succulent, and a wonderfully light, nutritious sweetmeat to enjoy after a festive meal.
Agen prunes from south-west France are internationally renowned as the best but it's not simply down to the growing region. They use a special variety of fruit, devised by monks in the Abbey of Clairac, that is the result of crossing a Syrian damson tree with the local plum. For pruneaux fourrés these plump semi-dried fruits are filled with a prune, apple, vanilla and curaçao purée to make them even more succulent, and a wonderfully light, nutritious sweetmeat to enjoy after a festive meal.
£16.95 for 350g tin from Cucina Direct (0870 420 4300) www.cucinadirect.co.uk
Bronze is the gold-standard when it comes to turkey, though the word merely indicates a particular variety of slow-growing bird rather than an official grade. Kelly Turkeys have gone a step further, developing their own KellyBronze®, a free range, hand-plucked bird hung for at least 10 days to develop a full flavour. These classy birds originate from Essex, though other farmers rear them if you're looking for local talent. They're sold at prestige outlets such as Lidgates, Selfridges and Villandry and can also be ordered online.
From £51.38 per bird from Kelly Turkeys (01245 223581) and www.kelly-turkeys.com
Shelling and peeling fresh chestnuts is a palaver, no question, but you don't have to settle for the tinny taste of canned varieties, or wait hours for dried ones to rehydrate. Merchant Gourmet's vacuum-packed chestnuts, produced by the Ponthier family, are hand-selected and gently roasted. The clever packaging helps retain their optimum flavour and texture and makes them exceptionally easy to heat and serve as though fresh. They also do organic chestnuts and chestnut pieces, and chestnut stuffing.
£2.09 for 200g box from supermarkets, and via www.merchant-gourmet.com
Stollen produced in Dresden is considered the real deal, and so meticulous are the bakers at Dresdner Backhaus that, when the cake is taken from the oven, any over-browned raisins in the crust are plucked by hand. As well as traditional raisin and almond varieties, there's a stollen suitable for diabetics.
£14.50 for 750g and £20.95 for 1kg from Harrod's, 87-135 Brompton Road, London SW1 (020-7730 1234); €10 for 750g to €19,90 for 2kg from Dresdner Backhaus, www.dresdnerstollen.de
Served with rye bread, hot-smoked eel makes a luxuriously simple and fashionable starter. Somerset-based Brown and Forrest use a combination of woods to smoke the fish - beech because that's what's used in Germany, where the owners learned the art of smoking, and apple wood to give a local flavour. Economy-minded? You'll pay around half as much if you buy a whole eel, which comes with filleting instructions.
£5.75 for 113g pack fillets from Brown and Forrest (01458 250875), their stall at Borough Market, London SE1, and from www.smokedeel.co.uk.
FLOWERY ORANGE PEKOE
No, it's not a fruit and floral scented tea. This romantic term is used to indicate a fine grade of Ceylon or Sri Lankan tea, and when it comes to these varieties, former tea planter Robert Wilson is the master. For gift-giving he has a choice of single estate loose teas and teabags in 125g boxes. The timber used for the boxes comes from "shade trees", that are planted in the fields to protect the tea bushes. As Robert argues, they're more environmentally friendly than tin caddies.
The geese are getting fat down on the Amiss family farm at the edge of Exmoor, the supplier chosen by Duchy Originals for its Christmas range. Today this bird seems a very traditional choice but historically it's more typically associated with Michaelmas. First-timers note: goose should be roasted on a rack set in a roasting tin, because it exudes a lot of fat, but this is great for your potatoes.
3.5-5.5kg birds around £7 per kg from selected branches of Sainsbury's
It's not just for roast beef you know - pungent horseradish cream is ideal for serving with smoked eel, fresh fish, cold meats, poultry and eggs. Finding a good ready-made one can be hard, until you learn that Forest Products of Bridport took a Gold prize for its horseradish cream in this year's Great Taste Awards. The company supplies own-label preserves to many small delis around the UK including Provender, which has a sizeable mail-order business.
£2.40 per 240g jar from Provender Delicatessen, 1 Market Square, South Petherton, Somerset (01460 240681), www.provender.net
ITALIAN MUSTARD FRUITS
Add continental flair to your ham or gammon by serving it with this unusual Italian preserve. Whole fruits are candied over a long f period in a syrup flavoured with mustard for a fiery, sinus-cleansing aftertaste. Guidetti's version comes from Voghera in Lombardy, and is available with mixed fruit, or unusual single varieties of tangerine and fig.
£3.95 for a 300g jar. House of Fraser, Birmingham and Croydon; 020-7635 9800 for other stockists.
Nougat can be hard on the teeth but this special Spanish variety, sometimes called "soft" turrón, is finely ground to make a crumbly paste reminiscent of halva (it's no coincidence: in fact, all three confections date back to early Arab sweetmeats). Brindisa's range comes from Lerida in Catalonia and, like all turrónes labelled Calidad Suprema, is made by master confectioners using traditional methods.
£7.40 for 300g from Brindisa, 32 Exmouth Market, London EC1 (020-7713 1666), and Borough Market, London SE1.
Hot-smoked salmon has a succulent meaty texture that makes a pleasingly sumptuous change from cold-smoked salmon, and is arguably more versatile as it can be served hot or cold. At Loch Fyne the salmon is kiln-roasted for a rich smoked flavour and given the name Bradan-rost, which means "roasted salmon" in Gaelic. The magnificent whole sides simply need to be cut into steaks and served with bread and salad - great for buffets. All salmon comes from the RSPCA's Freedom Food approved Loch Duart fishery.
£8.00 for 200g pack, £30.50 for whole side 1 kg min. From branches of Loch Fyne and www.lochfyne.com
The characteristic German passion for purity is very much evident in the country's highly-regulated food industry, and even sweets do not escape the white-coated scrutiny of the bureaucrats. To be called Lübeck marzipan - the world's finest - it's not enough to simply be made in that historic town in the northern region of Schleswig-Hölstein, the blend of ingredients has to meet key criteria too. Niederegger proudly exceeds the regulations, producing confections from their own-made 100-per-cent marzipan paste, and no additional sugar, so that the true almond taste is prevalent.
£18.95 for a 500g selection box from branches of Lakeland, www.lakelandlimited.co.uk
We think of it as the dried fruit filling for pastry, but back in the Middle Ages, mincemeat got its name because the spicy sweet mixture contained chopped meat, liver or fish. The meat content slowly dwindled to just beef suet and, these days, not only is vegetable suet the norm but some people are looking to eliminate the sugar too. At Goodness Foods you can choose: Martlet's organic mincemeat contains no added sugar; Meridian's vegetarian mincemeat is sweetened with apple and date juices; and there's a luscious luxury mincemeat spiked with rum from Cole's Traditional Foods. To keep the animal fat, make your own.
£2.05 for a 550g no-added-sugar jar, £2.06 for a 326g organic jar, and £2.95 for a 350g luxury jar. From Goodness Direct (0871 871 6611) www.goodnessdirect.co.uk
NOEL, BUCHE DE
Also known as Yule log, this French Christmas cake of sponge and chocolate cream is traditional only so far back as the 1870s, when Parisian pastry cooks were inspired to create it by the sight of logs burning in the hearth on Christmas Eve. Buy yours from a patisserie, as any self-respecting Parisian would.
Around £15 fr om Paul, 29 Bedford Street, London WC2 (020-7836 3304), and 115 Marylebone High Street, London W1 (020-7224 5615)
Rick Stein and Delia Smith are among the many fans of Kelly Galway oysters. These native Irish specimens are harvested from the clean, EU-regulated environment of Inner Galway Bay, packed in baskets with seaweed, and quickly despatched by mail order to customers. Served raw with a dash of lemon, brown bread and a glass of stout, it's a fine way to kick off Boxing Day.
€40 for basket of 25 from Kelly Oysters; www.kellyoysters.com
Less obvious than the now ubiquitous panettone, originally from Milan, pandoro is a traditional Christmas cake from Verona, a tall, buttery, yeast-leavened mixture topped with icing sugar, ideal for people who don't like dried fruit or want a break from it. This year Divertimenti is selling beautifully gift-boxed pandoro from Sorelle Nurzia, a family company that has been baking since the mid-19th century.
£8.95 from Divertimenti, 33/34 Marylebone High Street, London W1 (020-7935 0689), and 139/141 Fulham Road, London SW3 (020-7581 8065).
A lovely way to enhance a crudité or antipasto platter, tiny quail eggs are a treat when dipped into a spicy, herby salt or dukkah. Pre-peeled bottled eggs may be convenient but they're a tad rubbery. Your solution is to insist on fresh eggs (available in supermarkets from companies such as Stonegate) and boil them yourself. They're so pretty, guests don't mind peeling them - honestly.
£2.29 for 12 from branches of Waitrose
REDCURRANT JELLY AND OTHER RELISHES
Redcurrant jelly is a classic accompaniment to everything from baked ham to poultry and lamb. Tracklements' version, which won a Gold prize in the Taste of the West Awards, is made from the simple ingredients you'd use yourself if you could be bothered: redcurrants, wine vinegar, lemon juice, cane sugar and a dash of pectin. Or you could try the Apple and Cider Brandy chutney, or one of their many mustards.
£2.25 for 250g jar from independent delis and www.tracklements.co.uk
Thirty years ago you'd count on receiving a blue and white crock of Chinese stem ginger in syrup as surely as you'd expect Christmas to fall on 25 December. These days Australian stem ginger is considered the best because the roots are so plump and tender, but there's still something lusciously seasonal about the flavour - and as aficionados will agree, it's even better when a juicy chunk of the stuff is thickly coated in dark chocolate.
£2.75 for a 300g jar of stem ginger in syrup, and £5.95 for a 120g box of ginger chocolates from Lakeland (015394 88100), www.lakelandlimited.co.uk
The correct name for Turkish Delight is rahat lokum or simply lokum, but there's no question it's delightful. Pleasingly low-fat too, so treat yourself as well as your friends. Lakeland offers a choice of gift packs: go traditional with the wooden crate of rose, orange and pistachio varieties from Istanbul, or try the company's own mandarin variety in a contemporary box.
£5.95 for a 500g box (Istanbul), and £7.25 for a 400g box (mandarin) from Lakeland (015394 88100), www.lakelandlimited.co.uk
UMBRIAN BLACK WINTER TRUFFLES
The region of Norcia in Umbria is one of the best for black winter truffles, though they can be found in other parts of Italy, France and Spain, too. Sometimes called the Black Diamond, they are available preserved in jars but their flavour is not as good as the fresh specimens and the compromise is not worth the price typically charged. For fresh truffles, call Fortnum & Mason's fresh food department. You'll want to serve them properly too, so check out the store's handcrafted Italian truffle set with a mahogany base, horn-handled truffle bell, cutter and brush.
Pasteurised black truffles £35.50 for 50g, wooden truffle set £240, Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (020-7734 8040)
VACHERIN DU MONT D'OR
This creamy, fruity-tasting winter cheese from Switzerland could not be more unlike its firm cousins, the Gruyères and Emmentals for which the country is best known. It's also one of the simplest cheeses to serve as you can just eat it straight from the box with a spoon. Indeed, that's preferable to trying to cut it into wedges, because the wonderfully oozy paste runs everywhere.
£12.99 for a 750g box from The Fine Cheese Company, 29 & 31 Walcot Street, Bath (01225 448 748); www.finecheese.co.uk
It was Delia Smith's TV series on Christmas cooking that prompted the late-1990s resurgence of the pickled walnut, but they were first fashionable in the 17th century. With the trees practically on its doorstep - and a requirement to pick the young nuts before the shell forms - Kent-based Bennett Opie is Britain's leading producer. The company supplies many top retailers, especially at Christmas when pickled walnuts are ideal for hampers and serving with all those cold roast meats and cheeses.
From £2.19 for a 390g jar, and £4.25 for a 790g jar in all leading supermarkets and food halls.
You may have forgotten to do it, but Bettys started making this year's batch of Xmas puddings several weeks ago. The dried vine fruits and cherries need time to soak in ale and brandy, and the puds need plenty of maturation so that they develop a rich flavour. Don't like traditional Christmas pudding? The Harrogate institution offers a choice of alternatives, including Swiss-style Imperial chocolate torte and a Venetian festival cake covered with glacé fruit.
£9.25 for a 360g pudding from Bettys by Post (0845 345 3636); www.bettysbypost.co.uk
In Europe and America, dry-cured York ham is one of the most famous British varieties but here many people seem to have forgotten about it. Hannah Glasse described it as famous back in 1747, so surely it's time for a revival. Fortnum's to the rescue: their version is produced to a traditional Yorkshire recipe and matured for several months to give the proper meaty flavour and dry texture.
£58 for a half-ham, and £98 for a whole from Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (020-7734 8040); www.fortnumandmason.co.uk
New Year's Eve is the time when Italians traditionally enjoy this unusual sausage that comes stuffed in a whole pig's trotter. Zampone hails from Emilia-Romagna, where the ham industry provides plenty of raw materials. The Negroni brand, most commonly sold in the UK, is pre-cooked for fast preparation and long shelf life, making it a great addition to hampers.
From £16.95 for a 1kg pack in food halls and by mail order from Valvona and Crolla (0131 556 6066); www.valvonacrolla.co.ukReuse content