Finally, a normal Christmas after a two-year hiatus - but is it? Supermarkets have definitely gone big this year. Even the most jaded palate will be revived by some of the offerings; others might find this cloying, pastry and booze-centred excess nauseating (see Asda Irish Cream mince pies), but will turn to decadence and festive cheer in other ways. Whether a mention of Christmas is conjuring up a nativity scene in your mind, or you’re just looking forward to the shimmering lights of London; your favourite supermarket has your back to ensure you enjoy yourself. Here is my verdict on mince pies, pigs in blankets, fizz, and, of course, crisps available at this time of year.
ASDA Extra Special 6 Irish Cream Liqueur Mince Pies, £2.25:
Asda’s answer to a question nobody has ever asked comes as fat-forward pastry, deep filled with fruit with intense fleeting notes of candied orange, finished with a Baileys-flavoured sugar cream swirl. The textures don’t really work here, and this makes a strong case for ‘too much of a good thing’, even at this time of year.
Waitrose No. 1 Brown Butter Mince Pies with Cognac, £3.50:
Oh my. Forget what I said about having too much of a good thing. The pastry is crumbly and soft, melt-in-your-mouth, acting as a gateway to the perfectly sticky, sweet, and wonderfully balanced juicy fruit dancing on your palate, carrying notes of bittersweet cognac. They taste homemade — you might need to stock up on these when the adrenaline kicks in on Christmas Eve, for when you realise your yuletide log has been eaten by someone else and your trifle fell apart.
Sainsbury’s Mince Pies, Taste the Difference £2.25:
These do very little for me. The pastry-to-fruit ratio is way off, the actual pastry is crumbly and tastes of stale shortbread; but the fruit is nicely spiced and generous on flavouring. You wouldn’t say no to these if someone brought them out on your office lunch break; but you might need a cuppa to help things along.
Lidl Deluxe Luxury Mince Pies, £1.75:
Thick, buttery pastry reveals almost marzipan flavours. The fruit is a bit bland, but it can be forgiven given the generous amount of filling. Quantity is sometimes just as important as quality. Serve with a hearty dollop of brandy cream, if you like (And I do like, a lot).
Pigs in blankets
Let’s face it, it’s a good distraction from the inevitably dry turkey (or the sad centrepiece that is a nut roast), and I put them forward as a strong contender for the best part of any Christmas dinner.
LIDL Deluxe 6 Pork Chipolata Pigs in Blankets, £2.49:
They are too long, poorly wrapped in what is claimed to be streaky bacon. If I can’t eat them with a single hand, like peanuts, I’m not overly interested. Too much water added — unless you prepare them in some sort of furnace, they will come out sweaty and pappy. Nothing good to see here.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Truffle Flavoured Pigs in Blankets, £3.50:
Ho, ho, and triple ho. It left our tasting table quiet and territorial. They are appropriately seasoned with peppery nutmeg and are wonderfully herby. Tastes of sausages and bacon and truffle (the difference!). The bacon crisped up perfectly, but left the sausages sufficiently plump and not dry at all. As baby Jesus would have wanted.
Marks & Spencer 16 delish pigs in blankets, £5.50:
I don’t think choosing between heating or eating would have to be pondered if this was the only option, costing £5.50. Unlovable and bland, the ‘blanket’ being too thick and therefore stringy. Doesn’t instil happiness. Left me thinking about my overdraft options. Avoid.
Waitrose 16 Cocktail Sausages Wrapped in Bacon, £5:
At least they weren’t mutilated by Heston Blumenthal this year. Slightly floppy (it happens even to the best of supermarkets), and the notes of tarragon punched me in the face, but I came back for more. I can see myself reheating them at 2am on Boxing Day, and smothering them in instant gravy. Delectable.
Look, I know prosecco has to cut it most of the time, but Christmas is no time for restraint.
LIDL Comte de Senneval, £13.99:
This might give you a retinal migraine, and is very oak-forward, but after your third glass, it will leave you thinking that London is swinging, and life is good. Cheap thrill. Perfectly permissible.
M&S, Louis Vertay Brut, £18:
Wonderfully biscuity and light, with elegant little bubbles emanating for sufficiently long to keep it special. Cool it down, excuse yourself from any family arguments, and hide in the kitchen with the rest of the bottle. You deserve it.
Sainsbury’s Etienne Dumont Brut, £16:
I think this should be available as a bundle with a pack of Rennies. It is the illegitimate child of Echo Falls and warm prosecco purchased at 22:59 from your local off-licence during your Freshers’ week. Have a cup of tea and call it a day.
M&S Winter Berries & Sparkling Prosecco, £2
What exactly possesses supermarkets to force the worst of pairings on us? Less is more, stick to your ready salted, or reach for Monster Munch if you must, but don’t bother with these. You’d have been fed better by any other offering on the planet. It left my palate heavily acidulated and I really just wanted some crisps afterwards. Also, what exactly is a winter berry?
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, Figs in Blankets crisps £1.25:
I’ve opened COVID testing kits with more excitement. This is the equivalent of dipping your McDonald’s fries into a milkshake — I don’t want to taste sugar in my crisps, there’s plenty of stuff that I shouldn’t be having anyway. I suppose there’s a good ‘bite’ to these, but frying anything would give you that. This will divide people. And we need a referendum on it.
Waitrose Christmas Turkey & Stuffing Tortilla Chips, £1.50:
Not strictly crisps, but wait. Despite the above two unfortunate experiences, the inauspicious title was where any doubt ended. But these are wonderful. Perfect shape, they taste of Boxing Day turkey, eaten with roast potatoes. You will never have to slave by the stove and bother with the wretched bird again. Just serve these instead. Tea sorted.
My final thoughts are that these flavours are my ode to a perfectly ordinary Christmas. The ordinary of course lies in that familiar comfort blanket of food, with slight variations each year. A new John Lewis advert. A novel, revolutionary way that Nigella Lawson roasts turkey, and the renewed hope that it would mean the bird wouldn’t be as tough as old boots.
But it is also the legacy and nostalgia, etched in our losses and gains over the past two odd years. After all, life is about compromise, and Christmas can be a joyous occasion for a bloody good one.
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music and Food Editor