As I’ve mentioned before here, I am very susceptible to a fine hamper. And it’s not just the wicker ones, with several china (and they do have to be china) plates strapped inside their lid, folded red napkins, chequered table cloth, a battery of corkscrews, cheese and bread knives and a dinky salt and pepper mill. But I also love the baskets crammed with all manner of exotic cans, packets and bottles nestling amongst straw or heaven forbid those infuriating polystyrene chips that the moment the basket/box is open my natural static electricity tendencies causes them to leap out of the box and adhere to every available surface. I’ve had this fascination with hampers as long as I can remember; from my first doll sized hampers to the fine specimens I have today. And I have to admit to owning more than one.
Many years ago I received a couple of hampers from my then employers with a heartfelt handwritten note from the chairman thanking me for some arduous task I’d completed. And I was just beside myself. To be honest the scarily lurid green basket immediately became the property to one of my more appreciative neighbours and the goodies therein were occasionally curious and ill advised, but it was a hamper and a lucky dip and just filled me with a strange joy.
Each year when the purveyors of such wicker goodies start plying their wares, I do take a particular fascination in their extensive catalogue and pour over them making the choice of which I’d like to receive most for myself. So last week when both the elegant Harvey Nichols’ and Fortnum and Mason Christmas hamper catalogues plopped on to my doormat much studying was needed and virtual hampers were constructed.
In the pale blue corner there is Fortnum & Mason, they have a stylish slightly remiscent of flock wallpaper fronted catalogue the iconic F&M stencilled on to the exterior of their wicker hampers. They have classic baskets stuffed with sides of smoked salmon, oozy cheeses and cooked hams. They have names like
But just in case you are wondering how much extravagant food one can fill a single hamper with, the Snow Queen seems to be an array of white hampers just oozing with glamorous items. As well as every epicurean delight you can possibly think of - (think foie gras en croûte for 25, truffles both Champagne laced and chocolate dusted and also rooted out by an obliging dog (I hear pigs are so passé) from around Perigold, Beluga caviar, lashings of bubbly, Snow Queen vodka (naturally) huge meringues and even chocolate mice), there are softer treats. There are cashmere doodads to envelop every part of a snow queen, from slippers to robes, wraps, scarves, gloves and even a hot water bottle cover. There are silver picture frames, candlesticks, plump satin cushions, Champagne flutes, a
I must admit the thought of a Snow Queen always seemed a little alluring, I know she’s the baddie but she gets to swan around in fabulous fur trimmed hats and cloaks tended by minions, permanently surrounded by snowflakes and sat regally in her chic white sleigh whilst plying young boys with Turkish Delight (oh no that might be white witch cavorting around Narnia in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) and then swooping off to her icy palace near the North Pole. The bad ones always get the best lairs!
Such an indulgent, extravagant, aspirational and entirely unattainable hamper it may but I bet whoever put it all together had a ball. Hmmm I wonder if hamper consultants need a new recruit.
Then in the black and white corner we have Harvey Nichols. Firstly Harvey Nix doesn’t favour the large wicker basket, fastened with leather strap as Fortnum’s do. Not that these are not really lovely but I do ponder as to what the serial hamper receiver would do with all that wicker. Maybe there’s one to take the cat to the vet, one to house all those food magazines they haven’t brought themselves to recycle yet or of course replenished with picnic sweetmeats and hoisted to the nearest grassy knoll. But if you truly did receive one every year, and frankly I am enormously jealous, what would you do with them all? My town is very aggressive with recycling, we have the paper, cardboard, glass, cans, plastic and food waste collected, but no one has ever mentioned what to do with a surplus of wicker baskets. Maybe Harvey Nix considered that or more likely wanted to continue their sleek photographic image theme onto the packaging and eschewed the basket, instead a glossy box adorned with ladies feasting on spaghetti or old Italian men looking a little grumpy will protect the enticing goodies therein.
This time the hampers (some say boxes) are called Epicurean, Connoisseur again, Fashionista, Festive, Contemporary, Indulgence and their top prize – the Ultimate at £2,500. I actually read the Harvey Nix catalogue first so was thinking of the wild excess that is until I turned the pages of the F&M booklet.
The Ultimate is not chock full of cashmere and crystal fripperies but instead has every distinctively designed packet, tin and box you can think of. There's the infamous image of the pig's snout on the mushroom and truffle sauce, the large operatic diva on the pandorinos, the chocolate besmirched boy on the coasters, the beach bums on some biscuits and my favourite the Baci woman on placemats, cups and sweet treats. There are also some rather fetching Peugeot salt and pepper mills, the obligatory Champagne flutes with some fabulous Krug rosé to christen them with, a spice grinder, truffle slicer and a rather splendid Wusthof knife block set. For the full list, click here. Though out of the twenty four hampers I am not sure if this is what I would plump for, if pushed to select a favourite as for example I has some wonderful knifes already and how many knife blocks does one very compact kitchen need? No I’d picked 'Indulgence' – not just because I love the name but as I’m fully knifed-up but don’t yet possess the espresso cup and saucer set that frankly every coffee hater needs. And there still an abundance of little goodies to admire, and I do so adore their packaging – I know it shouldn’t matter but it just does!
To compare the hampers from Fortnum and Mason with those from Harvey Nichols is almost not possible as they are just so different, but if I was selecting my own ingredients for my perfect hamper – The Diva let’s call it, I would have a mixture from both. In the Fortnum’s one you have the making of a full gourmet meal, I’d want the foie gras en croûte and the fresh white truffle of course, the Beluga just because and the smoked salmon. I would have to have the sublime truffly cheese Boschetto al Tartufo and the crab terrine. Now Harvey Nichols speciality is all the great store cupboard ingredients to accompany the above so I’d want plenty of risotto rice, aged Balsamic vinegars, the aforementioned mushroom and truffle sauce, white truffle oil, lemon oil and all the other wonderful little condiments they do so very well in their fifth floor gourmand paradise. Maybe the espresso cups, though Baci di Dama is my favourite image so I’d maybe just have all of those. I’d have the olive wood cheese board to top with the cheeses and any sundry cheese knives they have. As the moths have been merrily making my cashmere their personal playground perhaps I fill the corners of my hamper not filled with some ginger chocolates, macaroons and pink
I realise not many probably share my fascination for 'hamper porn', but they make me very happy and I just can't help but be drawn to those shiny catalogues, hmmmm hampers!