You’d best start practising your grateful face, folks, because Christmas is coming and the chances are that, hidden under the bed of one of your nearest and dearest, there is a pair of shark-shaped oven gloves with your name on it. Because you like cooking, right?
Once you’ve got a family reputation as “a bit of a foodie”, you may as well paint on that rictus of delight in preparation for a lifetime of carefully chosen and utterly unwanted gifts. There’s nothing like it for attracting misplaced generosity.
It’s not that novelty oven gloves aren’t both hilarious and handy but, unless someone is just starting out in the kitchen, it’s probably safe to assume that they already own something that stops them getting burned on a regular basis – and the same goes for salt and pepper mills, spice racks and baking gift sets from Boots.
Even less useful are those ridiculously specific collections of cheese knives (“Darling, how on earth did we manage without this Stilton scoop?”), or celebrity-chef-branded “flavour shakers”. Anything emblazoned with the sprawling signature of someone you once glimpsed while channel-hopping in search of Homes Under the Hammer is probably best avoided, as are most single-purpose gadgets. However much you enjoy candy floss at the fair, I’ll wager you don’t love it enough to give a whole cupboard over to a spun-sugar machine the size of a small hatchback. The same goes for chocolate fondues and £170 waffle irons touted as “the perfect present for the chef in your life”.
Desperate for a spiraliser to satisfy those courgetti cravings? Me neither, but you won’t be able to give them away at the car boot sale come January, where they’ll be jostling for position with 700 books on how to bake things in mugs (it turns out that most people can run to a cake tin). However, the real ingratitude of the greedy is – perhaps surprisingly – reserved for edible gifts. “Ready-mixed mulled-wine spices – in fact, any ready-made stuff” gets one Twitter user’s goat. “Bottles of not very good fruity vinegars from random markets” also attract ire, as do biscotti “from the garden centre”.
Even a lovingly crafted present wasn’t good enough for one correspondent, who bemoaned the way that Christmas had morphed into the “great middle-class home-made chutney exchange . . . Even in November, I have jars of it left.”
Cheap chocolate and flavoured coffees got several mentions (apparently, “crap selection boxes = yum”, while “bad mid-range faux expensive” stuff will go straight into the recycling) but flavoured oils easily scooped the paper crown for the least-appreciated gift. It is always unclear whether these large bottles prettified with herbs and spices and filled with the kind of liquid fat you would hesitate to use to grease your bike chain are intended to be edible or purely decorative. Charity shops won’t take any chances by taking them off your hands and they’re hardly the kind of thing the local homeless shelter will appreciate.
Of course, it’s the thought that counts – though that thought is scant comfort when you’re wondering how to cram a huge novelty wine glass into your tiny cupboard next to the bowls that helpfully list different pasta shapes around their rims, just in case you forget what you’re eating.
If in doubt, remember that practical beats glamorous in the kitchen; you can’t go wrong with a decent wooden chopping block or a few handsome, hard-wearing tea towels. But if, after reading this, you’re too nervous to choose anything at all for someone married to their meat cleaver, a donation to a local food bank and a Terry’s Chocolate Orange are sure to shut them up for a minute or two. Just, please, step away from that Homer Simpson talking pizza slicer.
This article appears in the 02 Dec 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Syria and the impossible war