Much as I love Christmas, I've always been of the school of thought that it shouldn't really start before December - all this Christmas-in-November business has always felt just a little premature, like eating all the chocolates from one's advent calendar and then suffering from a potent mixture of shame and gluttony. Every year it gets harder to resist though; take last Saturday morning as an example. I was already vulnerable, having forbidden myself to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol on the Sky Christmas Channel, and when the parcel of Christmas goodies arrived from Cheshire-based Posh Pickles and Preserves it really seemed a sign that I should wait no longer.
I'm an absolute sucker for festive food. I love all the flavours of Christmas and would eat them all year round if I could - sprouts, chestnuts, cinnamon, booze-steeped fruits...I honestly get excited just thinking about such things. And as if decreed by fate, the first jar out of the box was the Mulled Wine Christmas Punch Preserve, a loosely-set jam made with plums, apples, red wine, orange juice and peel, and a whole host of Christmassy spices; in short, it was my idea of heaven, and I'd like to pretend that I didn't eat a good portion of it straight from the jar with a spoon. Other Christmas treats included the Cranberry Sauce with Juniper Berries and Ruby Port, a nicely tart preserve which again was strong on festive flavours like cinnamon, cloves and ginger, and the Strawberry and Champagne Celebration Jam - like the Mulled Wine Preserve, this was an example of that rarest of things, a jam with booze that you can actually taste. I include a photograph here, not so that you may scoff at the unimaginative way in which I consumed this jam, but so that you may admire its beautiful scarlet hue.
Posh Pickles & Preserves began life in 2005 when founder Stephanie Bath was undergoing kidney dialysis, and has gone from strength to strength ever since, winning the Prince’s Trust Award for Business Success in 2006 and Outstanding Business Achievement Award in 2007. Steph clearly has a nose for an interesting flavour combination (as well as a liberal pouring arm with the booze) - I've tried her pickles before, and was particularly taken with the Bloody Mary Chutney, a winning combination of tomatoes, Bloody Mary spices (chilli, Tabasco, Worcester sauce) along with a good glug of vodka that was quite honestly made to go with cheese. Also very versatile is the bestselling Vietnamese Lemongrass and Chilli Relish, a punchy sauce that I found useful as a cooking sauce and marinade as well as a pickle; be careful though - this one is very garlicky and is therefore not recommended for potentially romantic occasions.
As well as approving of these interesting flavours, I like that neither the jams nor the chutneys are too sweet. The Sweet Mango and Cheshire Apple Chutney is not remotely cloying thanks to the inclusion of generous quantities of chilli, mustard seeds and ginger, and was very happy made into a wrap with some cold roast chicken, rocket and mayonnaise. The Raspberry Jam is satisfyingly pippy, and the Sticky Pear and Ginger Jam is well-balanced and tempered with a hint of lemon. I plan to buy a large jar of this latter item and make some kind of interesting cake with it, as I think the flavours would work perfectly.
I've always wanted to be the sort of woman who makes her own jam and chutney but, quite frankly, I'm not and never will be; luckily, Steph is, and makes these lovely things in small batch pans so that we can pretend that we did it instead. Posh Pickles also donate money to the National Kidney Federation - a charity close to Steph's heart - from the sales of their chutney, so really, it's a moral duty to purchase it if we are to consider ourselves community-minded citizens. The full range is available from their website - I suggest you have a look and treat yourself to some Christmas cheer immediately even if it is still November.
- Steph sent me some mini jars to try but was very clear that I was under no obligation to write anything nice about them (or indeed, anything at all). They really are nice though.