Christmas: Some suggestions for the perfect feast – Stephen Jardine

There are some stunning culinary offerings available from big retailers, but farmers markets are also a good place to spend your money and make a difference, writes Stephen Jardine.

A turkey with all the trimmings is traditional, but there are some interesting alternatives (Picture: Shutterstock)

It’s arrived. Alongside Black Friday and 24 December, the Saturday before Christmas is always one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

If you are in retail and you are not busy today, you need to not be in retail. Up until now has been all about the growth of cyber shopping, but today brings a return to traditional boots on the high street.

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Where Christmas Day falls during the working week makes a big difference. A midweek celebration leaves this weekend for gift-buying with plenty of time to wrap purchases. From tomorrow the emphasis shifts to food and drink shopping. Every year, we spend more than £4 billion on good things to eat and drink at this time of year. What is remarkable, is how little that changes down the years.

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Our diet and how we work and communicate has been transformed over the past decade but at Christmas that doesn’t matter. On 25 December, we eat a meal that has changed very little in the past century.

For major food retailers, that represents a bit of a challenge. If we buy and eat the same things every year, how do they increase turnover and build their Christmas business?

In recent years, the answer has been showstopper products aimed at grabbing shoppers’ attention and luring them instore with items that stand out from the rest on offer. That is helped by research which shows that even those on tight budgets will spend more at Christmas to make the feast extra special.

Fig-and-port cheesecake, three-fish roast

For that reason, Waitrose always lead the way on this. Their Heston Blumenthal Christmas range of products continues to give the upmarket chain a competitive advantage. This year’s offerings include a pistachio stollen loaf and a fig-and-port cheesecake that actually looks like a giant Stilton. Say goodbye to any arguments between those who want cheese or dessert first after the turkey when you can have both at the same time.

Over at M&S, the move away from meat is obvious with a ‘plant festive roast’ on the shelves alongside a three-fish roast containing salmon, haddock and prawns for the committed pescatarians. Aldi are also chasing that market with a similar product and the Christmas advert campaign, fronted by Kevin the Carrot. Meanwhile Lidl have opted for a more traditional approach with a whole goose for the bargain price of just £20.

But if you really want to impress your guests this Christmas, the big shop will take some extra effort. Although only based in the north of England, Booths supermakets have the best-looking Christmas food catalogue with stunning options like an apple-fed cockerel for main followed by a whisky-and-marmalade pudding.

Alongside the big shop, this is the most important time of the year to be supporting small retailers. Only your local butcher, baker or fishmonger will have the knowledge and experience to give you the advice you might need if you are cooking for the big day.

Any of the many farmers’ markets taking place today would be a good place to start putting your money where it can most make a difference this festive season.

When the big day comes, let’s be thankful for all the good things we have to eat and for being here for another year to enjoy them. Happy Christmas.