Rebecca Armstrong: The lure of festive food

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The Independent Online

The tremors are becoming harder to ignore, like the tread of an approaching, tinsel-covered T-rex wobbling across the surface of a glass of water.

That day, next month, which shall remain nameless, is increasingly making itself felt in shop windows, television ads - and chiller cabinets. But when is it too early to indulge in festive foods? Bonfire night has only just whizzbanged its way across the sky, for goodness sake, and already my lunch and hotdrink options have been co-opted by seasonal scran.

Just as the leaves have changed colour, so too have coffee-chain cups undergone their annual metamorphosis. Starbucks has dusted off its red cups, Costa its silver and my second-favourite local boozer has plugged in the urn and put up a hand-written sign advertising mulled wine - the illegibility of the script hinting that the scribe may have partaken before taking up the marker pen. In the i Towers canteen, a scarlet-liveried turkey sandwich has just landed, more than a month and a half early.

Thankfully, Pret-a- Manger is holding strong in the face of the onslaught, something I'm relieved about because I find its deliciously lardy stuffing-and-sausage- filled sarnies almost impossible to resist - but resist I must, since each half contains about 11 million calories. I usually let myself have two, max, each year. Marks & Spencer, however, has shown no such restraint.

Four different kinds of mince pies have been on sale for what feels like months. The a-certaindate- in-December sandwiches have been spotted in the wild, as has a creamy, spiced turkey salad (no, not something I'd been longing for either) and a threepack of rolls with celebratory fillings such as brie and cranberry, and salmon mousse (fancy!).

It has also unveiled, new for 2011, a smoothie based on a you-know-what pudding. On the plus side, the little bottle comes topped with a tiny, fleecy red-andwhite hat (that's the tortoise's present sorted), however, it is rather let down by the taste - like raisins. Wet, yoghurty raisins. Butwhile some places have rushed with rather indecent haste to flog turkey-flavoured everything and mince-pie slices now that pumpkins and sparklers have had their moments at the checkout, I can't be too grumpy about M&S's first-past-thepost approach.

Its range gives 5p per item sold to homelessness charity Shelter, the recipients of which probably don't give a red-nosed reindeer that M&S is a bit premature in its good will. So even if the smoothie is pretty grim, I shan't be a scrooge about poking down treats for the sake of a good cause.