Mulled wine, roast chestnuts, mince pies, school fairs, Christmas markets and cosy drinks by log fires; there is plenty to enjoy at this time of year, and I have a few new things to tell you about.
The new Rock Pop Candy on Holywell Hill is a treasure trove of stocking filler sweets. If you are looking for unusual sweets from the USA or something special to decorate your Christmas cakes and biscuits, you will find them here. It’s larger than you expect, and there are lots of gift ideas too, including baking kits, funky signs, memorabilia, and the best local selection of pick and mix. A party idea for the future: they also do chocolate factory-style workshops, including making chocolate lollies and sweetie sundaes.
George St in St Albans has been revitalised this year, with the opening of Canteen, Zefino and the new Suckerpunch bar. The businesses on the street got together to organise Christmas lights to hang across the buildings, and it is a lovely place to explore, day or night. Dylan’s has opened a pop-up shop just down from their popular bar and restaurant, selling hampers, artisan cheese (mostly British), their home-made chutneys, and a great selection of beers and fizz. I spotted Hoxton and Jensen gins, Roederer Champagne and Nyetimber Classic and Rose fizz, all in lovely packaging. I picked up some Robin beers for grown-up stocking fillers. If you need a coffee break nearby while out shopping, I can recommend the frangipane mince pies in The Bakehouse, which overlooks the Christmas market, and The Pudding Stop just round the corner on Verulam Road, who are selling delicious mince pies and Christmas cakes that have been maturing through the year.
If you want a change from turkey this year, Oaklands College cookery school are holding a very special class. In the lovely converted stable block, head chef Martin West will teach you how to bone, roll and cook a three-bird roast (duck, chicken and guinea fowl) large enough to serve 12 people. The course will run on the 21st and 22nd Dec, and you will take everything home to keep in the fridge, ready to eat on Christmas Day. The price is 55 pounds and all the ingredients are included. Martin will also teach you how to make a dessert, mulled wine, and how to get everything ready for serving with your roast. That really will be a wow – and an amazing gift for yourself or for the budding chef in your family. To book your space or for further information call 01727737357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is a tradition for many local families to head to Hedges Farm Shop for their Christmas meats, and I am pleased to tell you that the roadworks have finished, although you could walk across the fields to get there, like many people I know! Hedges has had a great year, winning the Best Local Producer at the St Albans and Harpenden Food & Drink Awards and many national show competitions for their well-raised cattle. At Christmas, Hedges sell home-reared turkeys, including bronze, white and Norfolk black. If you prefer something different, they also do ribs of beef, rolled sirloin, stuffed lamb noisettes, and plenty of sausages (including gluten-free), sausage meat and bacon to make all the sausage rolls and pigs in blankets that go with. You do need to pre-order; orders can be placed online, in the shop, or on the phone (open Tues-Sat 8-5, tel: 01727 833803), as it can get very busy.