Food: Don't give us some figgy pudding…

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…we want ice-cream moons and limoncello bombs. Well, those are the festive treats that supermarkets are counting on, as Simon Usborne discovers

It's pudding wars and the suet and sultanas are already flying as supermarkets fight for our faces ahead of the real Christmas stuffing. In the centuries since Jack Horner stuck his thumb in a pudding and pulled out a plum, table etiquette hasn't changed as much as the ingredients in our festive desserts. What would little Jack make of a limoncello and mixed berry dome (M&S), Heston's black forest buche (Waitrose, it's a gateau), or a £40 gold-leaf Jubilee pudding (Fortnum's, naturally)?

In the space of just a couple of hours on the big day we'll somehow find room for thousands of kilos of stodge, some of which will be on fire. That doesn't account for the cakes, mince pies and Continental biscuit selection tins we'll eat in the meantime.

But tradition evidently isn't tasty enough any more, as dessert makers produce more out-there creations. Häagen-Dazs has taken leave of its senses and the planet with a limited-edition "ice-cream moon" consisting of layers of macadamia ice-cream, meringue and raspberry sorbet, and a pistachio biscuit base.

The British Christmas pudding industry is worth an estimated £50m and those fighting for the spoils have a short period in which to flog their fare. Away from the exotic end of the market, Matthew Walker, a Derbyshire-based baker, starts its mixers in January, but sells the majority in just a few weeks. The firm, which was founded in 1899, produces 20 million puddings a year, or 70 per cent of the total we consume. Such is its dominance that its parent company, Boparan, announced last month it would sell the pudding arm of a new acquisition following government concerns about a potential monopoloy that could drive up prices.

Speaking of which, in pudding wars it doesn't always matter how many sixpences you add to the mix. At a taste test of traditional puddings conducted last month by Good Housekeeping, Aldi's £7.99 offering finished 27 places above that from Fortnum & Mason, which was "disappointing" despite costing £24.95, tasters said with their mouths full.

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