In December, we eat. Cherries, chocolate and, when forced, candy canes. But if all Christmas cakes taste the same (sultanas-currants-repeat) how do you sort the trifle from the pav? Kim Knight ranks 40 festive foods from worst to best.
40/ Candy Canes
Remember that boyfriend who never wiped the toothpaste droop, and it dried like grout, and when you cleaned your teeth it was like licking a minty gravel driveway? This is why there are still candy canes in your cupboard from last year.
"Engastration" is when you cook one animal inside another. "Turducken" is when you have watched too much Heston Blumenthal.
Reindeer cannot fly on cake alone.
37/ Oranges in your Christmas stocking
One theory states this tradition began during The Great Depression but every New Zealander knows oranges are for half-time, not Christmas.
It's a given someone in your family will one day want to roast a Christmas turkey. Let them. Resist the urge to say "I told you so" when they quietly pack the baster into the box in the garage that also contains a pasta machine, a hibachi grill and a make-your-own-mozzarella kit.
34/ Plum pudding
Contains no plums.
33/ Brandy butter aka "hard" sauce
Sauce should not require this much lateral thinking.
A traditional Swedish Christmas gingerbread. Any other year, it would have placed higher.
31/ Advent calendar chocolates
It's a marathon, not a sprint. Do a little every day. Soon, you'll be able to eat two-thirds of a box of Roses without breaking a sweat.
30/ Mince pies
A recent Twitter post by @moxieandtv asserted "pavlova sucks, trifle is a monstrosity, mince cake is Satan's own poop". Respondents cried heresy but @LeKeemster possibly had a point: "If holiday desserts were delicious they wouldn't be associated with just the holiday." Fruit mince pies are probably the most divisive of all Christmas food offerings. Enjoyment levels correlate directly to age and stage. Likes cheese and mince pies? Eighteen-year-old from Henderson. Likes fruit mince pies? Eighteen-year-old from Henderson who held on to the family brick and tile until the Auckland Unitary Plan zoned for terrace housing and apartment buildings. Now buys their groceries from Farro.
Siri, what is existential dread?
Before M&M's even learned to talk, New Zealand kids had Pebbles, the classic stocking stuffer that guarantees you won't go hungry while you ignore instructions to wait until the little hand is on the six.
Every good Christmas gift basket contains one kilogram of dry, fruit-infused bread shaped like a cupola that nobody knows how to (a) pronounce or (b) eat. This fake cake that keeps for decades (or at least three months) is best eaten as toast. In March. Pronounced pah-nee-tony, like the Soprano.
Admit it, they were boring by December 1.
"Jelly's nice on Xmas Day," said Steve Braunias who once ate at every restaurant on Lincoln Rd so indisputably knows what he's talking about.
24/ Mint jelly
Definitely nicer with lamb than icecream.
Ah, the food of the Gods and also people who can't cook but think they should contribute. (Cream, yoghurt, marshmallows. Mix. Add strawberries unless it's December 24 when you will require a second mortgage to pay for them).
22/ Smoked salmon
Breakfast, but make it expensive.
Wine, but make it expensive.
20/ Brandy snaps
There will never be another summer like the one when your limbs were lithe, your tan was perfect and your hair was like Elle Macpherson's. Global warming has screwed December which is now too humid for hair and, also, brandy snaps.
Ditto, but at least they contain chocolate.
18/ Pigs in Blankets
If you grew up in the United States, you're thinking hotdogs wrapped in pastry. If you grew up in the United Kingdom, you're thinking chipolatas wrapped in bacon. If you grew up in New Zealand, you're thinking "I bet there won't be a park, but if I have to nip down to Bunnings for another set of icicle lights, I might as well grab a Mad Butcher sausage wrapped in a slice of Tip Top sandwich white". Note: This ranking relates to Scenario Three only.
17/ Homemade fudge-limoncello-spiced nuts-etc
Is it even Christmas if Jo Seagar is not on at least one women's magazine cover?
Ridiculously overrated by generations of gastronomic scholars who should just accept that emeritus professor and food anthropologist Helen May Leach ONZM wrote that academic paper before they were even born. Australia? New Zealand? Who cares, trifle is nicer.
15/ Cookie Time Christmas Cookies
The only thing better than one biscuit is one medium-sized bucket of biscuits bought at reception from someone who has been employed via Student Job Search. Be kind. Imagine if 2020 had happened while you were a student.
14/ Marzipan icing
Smells like your grandmother's kitchen soaked in nail polish remover.
13/ Royal icing
See "candy canes" but less minty. Marginally improved with the addition of marzipan (above) and cake (below).
12/ Christmas cake
People who think glace cherries are food. People who make a cup of tea in the ad break. People who like sleeping in tents. If you plugged all these characteristics into a Venn diagram generator, the overlap would be People Who Eat Christmas Cake. Look, even if you hate the stuff, this is not the year to argue. Tradition states that for every different piece of cake you sample before the new year, you score one month's good luck - 2021 needs all the help you can give it.
11/ Buche de Noel
The Christmas Cake that makes you wish the French hadn't given up at Akaroa.
10/ Crayfish and prawns
Could probably be ranked higher, but one person's Christmas food nirvana is another person's allergic reaction and/or ethical dilemma.
The quiet Christmas achiever.
8/ Marshmallow Santas
Easter, with a face.
7/ Chocolate coins
It's possible that if your employer attempted to pay you in cheap chocolate wrapped in non-recyclable gold foil, you'd go to www.employment.govt.nz to check you were not being stiffed on holiday entitlements, sick leave and overtime - especially if you worked in retail in the lead-up to Christmas (just saying). Fortunately, your kids are too busy making tiktoks to check their basic human rights. When they ask for money this year, you know what to do!
6/ The Boxing Day barbecue
Leftovers compulsory, backyard cricket optional.
5/ Fresh cherries
Legend says we eat fresh cherries at Christmas* because the juice represents the bloody aftermath of Jesus' birth in a small cave in Central Otago. The first people to learn about this miracle were three shepherds who had been tending their giant merino flocks by night. They visited the new baby shortly afterwards, bearing gifts that included a Lotto ticket, Old Spice, and myrrh. Often depicted in art circles as the Annunciation, it was, more accurately, the second Annunciation. Colin McCahon's 1947 oil painting The Angel of the Annunciation features Mary being informed of her virgin pregnancy. McCahon controversially sets the biblical story not in Nazareth, but Nelson. Currently held in the national art collection at Te Papa, catalogue notes describe the work: "An angel floats in the foreground eating first grade Marlborough cherries, while the Nelson golf club and distinctive tawny hills provide the background." (*Not all of this is true).
4/ Jersey Bennes
The most glorious thing to come out of the ground since the Resurrection.
3/ Ham on the bone
Holidays taste like ham. If summer was a charcuterie, it would be ham. Ham is excellent hot and ham is excellent in a sandwich. Ham is not so excellent on Day 45 when the entire fridge smells like a pillowcase dipped in vinegar, but, like childbirth or Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas Special, you will have forgotten this by the time next ham season rolls around.
2/ Sherry trifle
Making Boxing Day breakfast better since forever.
1/ Scorched almonds
That long, flat rectangle. That solid, chunky rattle. That way you know exactly what's inside before you unwrap the box because chocolate scorched almonds are in the Kiwi Christmas DNA. Technically, you could eat scorched almonds every day of the year. But you don't. You wait until December. You wait until someone else buys them for you because, like flowers, or pounamu, scorched almonds should be gifted not bought. And if you're very lucky the recipient will share.