Don’t start the Christmas trolley dash before you’ve read our guide to the best festive treats, says Women’s Editor Jo Davison
We all want Christmas to be a time of little indulgences and fine food aplenty, but right now, every penny counts for families. We want to get the very best for our cash.
But where is the best place to spend it?
Should you play safe and buy a top brand name in the hope that it won’t let you down, or should you gamble on the lower-priced traditional specialities filling the shelves at the bargain stores? Will they be just as good?
To take some of the guesswork out of the Christmas food shop, we selected festive fare from a range of supermarkets – those renowned for their luxury products right through to the budget priced – and took it along to teams of willing tasters.
Under scrutiny were some of the favourites a Yorkshire Christmas should not be without – Christmas puddings, traditional mince pies, sherry and pork pies.
There were plenty of surprises; Heston Blumenthal’s Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding the treat foodies are so desperate to get their teeth into they are paying triple the £13.99 price tag for on eBay, could only manage a runner-up spot.
The winner was a reasonable £5 from a supermarket known for value – Morrisons.
And while Marks and Spencer, who stake their name on quality, got firsts in three of the categories, budget supermarket Aldi got a second and a third.
Equally, though, the names you’d expect to be the most expensive often weren’t; right across the board, superstores are bringing out special offers to bring your cost of Christmas down.
Who better to invite in as taste testers but the WI women from Sheffield’s newest branch, the Seven Hills WI. The hip city centre branch formed two years ago has an average age of 33 – the youngest member is 21 and the oldest 59.
But their youth in no way undermines their culinary skills.
“Most of our members are really keen cooks.
“There are some really talented bakers among us,” says WI President Lindsay Garfitt.
“We’ve done jam-making, seasonal cookery, wine-tasting and cocktail-making at our meeting; food and drink plays a big part in our lives.”
The Seven Hills WI Is currently taking new members.
Meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at St Matthew’s Church Hall on Carver Street. To find out more, go to www.shwi.co.uk
Co-op small pork and pickle pies, 2 for £1.46, Melton Mowbray small pork pie £1.12
“Not a bad pie. The pickle was a good and subtle addition, but the pastry could have done with more of a crunch” Sarah Willoughby
Tesco H. Walker farmhouse pork pie £8 per kilo (£5.28 for a half pie)
“A big pie, great for sharing, with a very traditional look. Good crisp pastry and a great peppery meat and tasty jelly” Grace Tebbutt
Aldi Crestwood crispy bake pork pies (£1.09 for two)
“Anaemic and unappetising to look at with sponge-like, thick pastry and very salty meat. The worst we tested” Vicky Porteous
Waitrose caramelised onion and apple and fig topped small pork pies (£1.49 each)
“A good idea in principle – they do look very attractive. But too much of the gooey toppings; they drown the flavour of the pork. Good pastry though” Lyndsay Garfitt
Morrisons game pie (£4.99)
“Very different in taste to a pork pie. I really like the flavour for a change. And the meat is very densely packed” Grace Tebbutt
M&S Deli Melton Mowbray pies (£1.49 each)
“Lovely. Great tasting pastry with a crunchy bottom. The meat is lean and savoury with a good peppery aftertaste. Delicious” Laura Bainbridge
First: Marks & Spencer
Co-operative Truly Irresistible 6 Buttercrust Mince Pies £1.50
“Good, buttery pastry but the pies were half-empty and what filling there was was too sweet. Maybe these are the pies to leave out for Santa...”
Tesco Finest 6 deep filled mince pies with Courvoisier cognac (£1.25 – half price)
“Good pies and pretty good value, but not enough flavour in the mincemeat” Laura Bainbridge.
Aldi 6 luxury mince pies (£1.69)
“Nice pasty, a really good filling and plenty of it – with cherries in there, too” Lynsday Garfitt.
Waitrose essentials 12 shortcrust mince pies (£2.00)
“The best for value, surprisingly. They are very deep and look a bit like apple pies, but are not full of mincemeat.
The pastry is crumbly and impossible to cut in half, but overall this is not a bad mince pie” Tamarind Randall
Morrisons ‘The Best’ 9 mini mince pie selection (£2 or 2 for £3.50)
“Variations on the theme, they look very pretty and appetising. And we like the smallness of them – very dainty. But some of the toppings work better than others and the pastry is a bit too thick” Jen Marsden
M&S 6 luxury all butter deep filled mince pies (£2.69 or 2 for £4)
“Wow – the pastry just melts in your mouth. The’s plenty of filling and it’s got a very fruity taste. Perfect” Sarah Willoughby
“Delicious” Jen Marsden
First: Marks & Spencer
Co-op classic cream sherry (75cl) £5.65
“Oh, lovely; I could drink a LOT of this” Vicky Porteous
“Smooth, sweet, easy drinking” Tamarind Randall
Tesco finest Olorosso special reserve full-flavoured sherry (£5.49/50cl)
“I quite like it, but it’s not at all what you’d expect from a fortified wine” Jen Marsden
“Expensive and it’s got a soapy aftertaste” Laura Bainbridge
Aldi Fletchers cream sherry (£4.79/75cl)
“This taste like an old-fashioned festive sherry should taste; it’s not bad for a cheapie” Julie Colleyshaw
Waitrose Amontillodo medium sherry (£6.49/75cl)
“I don’t like this at all. It tastes medicinal” Laura Bainbridge
Morrisons cream sherry (£4.99/75cl)
“Very acceptable to a non-sherry drinker. And wouldn’t it be lovely in a trifle?” Sarah Willoughby
“Fruity and full bodied – well done Morrisons” Lyndsay Garfitt
M&S rich cream sweet sherry (£7.49/75cl)
“Syrupy, buttery and delicious” Laura Bainbridge
“It tastes lovely – a lot better than it smells. It’s got a punch to it too” Tamarind Randall
Joint First: The Co-op and Marks & Spencer
We tested supermarket Christmas Puddings on residents at Thundercliffe Grange in Rotherham, one of the UK’s oldest housing co-operatives. Here are their verdicts:
Co-op Truly irresistible Christmas pudding with brandy, six months matured (454g), half price at £2.75
“Very good value, a good, old-fashioned look and there’s plenty of fruit in it, but it’s nothing special.”
Tesco Finest Christmas pudding with cider-soaked fruit and Courvoisier cognac (£4.00/907g)
“Looks-wise, this is the best. A great round shape and it’s a big pudding for the money, It has a very boozy taste with plenty of nuts and cherries too. The only fault is the texture is a bit claggy.”
Waitrose Heston Blumenthal hidden orange pudding (£13.99/1.2kg)
“This is the one people are selling on eBay because Waitrose ran out; but it’s a bit disappointing. The orange has turned to hot marmalade and makes the whole thing too sweet. Not worth the money,” said one. “I love it; it’s a real change and I’d buy it,” said another.
Morrisons 12-month matured Christmas pudding with brandy and cognac (£5.00/454g)
This pud drew the most divided of opinions.
“Almost black with a good, strong taste – almost of dark treacle. Really nutty and fruity, but collapses as you cut it.”
M&S Perfectly Matured Christmas pudding with brandy, cognac, port and stout (£4.99 – half price/907g)
“It’s very good value – twice as big as others for the same price. Very claggy and sticky – maybe it needed cooking for longer. You can taste the citrus fruit but not much else. Too sweet.”