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BY REG REYNOLDS

On its website, Fortnum doesn’t say exactly what those regulations are but does explain:

“We are not delivering to the EU this Christmas, but very much hope to be in a position to resume deliveries at the earliest opportunity in 2022. We have temporarily paused all shipping to the following EU countries and European countries delivered through the EU; Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden.”

There is no explanation as to why British Gibraltar is included. One can only assume it is because the shipment would pass through Spain. 

Fortnum & Mason have been in the quality food business since 1705 when Hugh Mason opened a small store in St. James Market. He also happened to be a Footman in Queen Anne’s Household and that is where he met William Fortnum a high-class builder and entrepreneur. They became partners and the business grew and expanded into international deliveries of British-made food and drink including luxury goods. I haven’t been able to discover when Fortnum started sending hampers to Gibraltar, the firm likely made some deliveries during the Crimean War (1853 – 1856) when Queen Victoria, learning of the suffering of her soldiers, ordered Fortnum “to dispatch without delay to Miss Nightingale in Scutari a huge consignment of concentrated beef tea.” 

Checking old newspapers, I did find an advertisement for Christmas Hampers for Gibraltar dated October 30, 1918. The advert reminded customers that if they wished to send hampers to Gibraltar the deadline was November 1st. Delivery by post was 34/6 or by freight (insured) 38/5 which is slightly under £2 in decimal money. The standard hamper consisted of:

  • Purée de Foie Gras
  • Real Turtle Soup
  • Salmon Cutlets
  • Pilchards in Oil
  • Currie Prawns
  • Potted Game
  • Devilled Ham
  • Petit Pois Extra
  • Patum Peperium
  • Haricots Verts
  • Apple Pudding
  • Cherries in Brandy

Mostly familiar items. Petit Pois is French for small peas and Haricots Verts are French green beans which are longer and slimmer than English ones. But what about ‘Patum Peperium’ which translates from the Latin as pepper paste. It turns out it was created by Englishman John Osborn at Paris in 1828. The main ingredients are anchovies, butter and a secret blend of spices. Osborn entered the savoury spread in French fairs and won prizes, so he decided to develop and market his product in the U.K. It became known as The Gentleman’s Relish because originally it was used extensively in gentlemen’s clubs. The paste was considered too strong for ladies, and too refined for the hoy polloi. Competitors introduced knock offs but none could compare for taste or texture as Osborn kept his combination of spices a secret. He protected the recipe until his death, and it has since passed down through the family but only one person is allowed to know the special ingredients at any one time. 

Patum Peperium is still produced tody and in 1998, to celebrate its 170th anniversary it was decided that the range would expand beyond anchovies to include an Angler’s Relish (mackerel) and a Poacher’s Relish (salmon). Patum Peperium has been part of British heritage for over 190 years now and has been enjoyed by people all over the world – it’s even been eaten by James Bond in For Your Eyes Only and was selected as one of the 10 foods that TV chef Nigella Lawson couldn’t live without.

Although Gibraltar is off the delivery list this year Fortnum & Mason are still very much in the hamper business and their website includes a wide variety for special occasions and holidays with prices ranging from £50 to £6,000. One of the lower-priced Christmas hampers is the Merrymaker which is a reasonable £75 as described by Fortnum: “Eat, drink and be merry. It is Christmas, after all. Readily waiting to make this possible is our aptly named Merrymaker’s Hamper, brimming with a trio of warming seasonal creations including our Spiced Christmas Loose Leaf Tea, Plum, Apple & Cinnamon Infusion and Christmas Green Loose-Leaf Tea. To enjoy alongside all these exceptional teas are a selection of festive essentials, including our Christmas Orange & Dark Chocolate Biscuits, Christmas Fig Preserve and famous St James Christmas Pudding. Crammed with the finest dried fruits – from Vostizza currants, Californian raisins and Turkish sultanas – it’s also infused with a well-judged serving of Pusser’s Full-Strength Navy Rum and Fortnum’s own Cognac. Round off proceedings with our melt-in-the-mouth Christmas Reindeer Noses, and things will be looking very merry indeed.

Unfortunately, Gibraltarians will be out of luck this year, unless a friend or relative brings a hamper as a gift, but there is always next year.

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