‘Shopping’ is often a dreaded word, guaranteed to send a chill down many people’s spines but will nevertheless crop up in most conversations this week.
For some, a festive shopping strategy will simply involve running around a grocery shop while doing an excellent impression of contestants from that old quiz show, Supermarket Sweep. Although, the upshot of this technique has the danger of resulting in a rather thoughtlessly bundled together pile of assorted presents, foods and decorations, hailing from across the world.
But is it possible to have a thoroughly ‘Northamptonshire’ Christmas, in which many of those essential festive components are sourced from the county itself?
This week, the Chron went in search of a few local makers of essential festive goodies to find out more about what this time of year means for them.
The first thought for many non-veggie food shoppers is generally the turkey. Here in Northamptonshire there are several farms which rear and stock turkey breeds specifically for the Christmas dinner tables. One farmer, who this year won a Gold Star in the Great Taste Awards for her KellyBronze turkeys, is Susan Gorst, of Moorgate Farm, in Potterspury.
Her preparation starts in June each year when she welcomes day-old chicks to the farm. From then, the hard work to rear these 500 small birds into proud, tasty turkeys begins.
Susan, who has been farming KellyBronze birds for 14 years, said: “In June they go into a ‘brooder’ which is like their mum and they are in there for about five weeks. Then they go out into the fields and woods when they are about eight weeks, they are free range.”
A lot of TLC goes into rearing the birds, according to Susan, who confesses that she plays music to the turkeys when they are inside. Music is believed to be a calming influence on both animals and humans.
She said: “The radio is on all the time. They listen to Heart Radio as there is more music on there. It is something I have always done, it is better for them than complete silence.”
But Susan has to do her best not to get too attached to these music-loving birds as, by December, they have to be killed, ready for the dinner tables of hundreds of families around Northamptonshire.
Susan said: “I have found, over the years, that people are quite concerned about where their animals come from. Most of our customers like to see the animals and see where they are being kept.”
Although most of the turkeys are sold on order, Susan always keeps a small number on stand-by to respond to customers’ last-minute panic requirements.
But planning for the season stretches far beyond the dinner table. One man who knows the meaning of Christmas planning is William Miles, of Welford Christmas Tree Farm.
He is responsible for maintaining, growing and eventually selling the 30,000 Christmas trees on his family farm.
With some trees – such as the Nordmann Fir – taking eight years to reach the correct height for sale, William has to hope that certain varieties keep on trend for customers.
He said: “The trends have changed. It used to be that a lot of people went for the Norway Spruce. Now they tend to go for needle-holding ones, like Fraser Firs.”
For William, the hard work is not just about the December selling period, but it is about the general maintenance of such a large stock of trees throughout the year.
He said: “It is a lot of pruning into the shape of the trees, different varieties require different shapes. Certain trees, like the Nordmann firs, will go really long and leggy on top. Nordmann firs now make up 65 per cent of the total number of trees that are sold and I think that is because they don’t drop needles.”
William has to ensure a full range of tree heights are available to suit different homes and businesses. These range from 2ft tall to 20ft.
He added: “This year we have sold a lot more tall trees, of 12ft and over, I think it is because of the number of people living in barn conversions.”
Although some people may consider Christmas decorations to be supermarket multi-packs of gold and red baubles, there are also plenty of craftsmen and women in the county lovingly making their own decorations by hand.
Sisters Anita Lock, from Blakesley, and Gail Baskett, from Rugby, run Doris ‘n’ Doris, which specialises in handmade folk art and sells from A Most Marvellous Place To Shop, in Abington Square, Northampton.
The range sold there includes intricate tree decorations made using origami and papier mache techniques.
Anita said: “We started it up two years ago. We had both been interested in papier mache for years as a hobby. We like using all sorts of media, I’m also a keen knitter.”
One of the more elaborate styles on sale includes a bauble made of pages from old books, each intricately folded using origami techniques.
Anita said: “I use old books and it does take quite a few hours to do; it is quite precise.
“To find the books, I go to charity shops or old refuse places and even Most Marvellous itself. I do like to recycle and upcycle old materials, I don’t throw anything away.”