Hampshire Christmas makers and what they love about the festive period
PUBLISHED: 16:00 29 November 2016 | UPDATED: 16:00 29 November 2016
For most people, this is a time of year to escape work and relax with friends and family. There are those, however, whose efforts increase in a bid to make life more colourful for the rest of us. Claire Pitcher meets three Christmas makers and discover what they love about this time of year
At Wylds Farm near Liss, Sarah Sheldrake runs her small family business growing and selling the most important festive decoration of all, Christmas trees: “We’re passionate about our trees, our land, our neighbours, and want to make our seasonal crop a success for all our loyal customers year-on-year,” says Sarah.
A visit to a Christmas tree farm to pick your own tree has become a family tradition for many of us and Sarah has had many returning customers whom she has got to know over the years. They don’t just come for the trees themselves though, there’s also the not quite white-knuckle ride, bumpy tractor rides down to the plantation, as well as homemade mince pies and locally sourced gifts for sale in the Wylds shop. Then there’s face painting and children’s craft activities, wreath-making workshops and giant tobacco store bear, Kenai, who welcomes everyone to the Après Tree Bar where a mug of Glühwein can add some winter cheer to the occasion. “This year, we’re really excited about our winter walk which ends with a vintage post box for children to post their letter to Father Christmas,” she reveals.
Down on the farm, each year there are between two and four thousand trees planted during March and April. Two-year old transplants come from dedicated growers who use certified seed from sustainable sources. They’re only between 10 and 20cm in height. “The ground is prepared with a plough and power harrow just as any other crop but whereas we used to use a mechanical planter we now plant by hand to improve the trees’ chances of survival,” explains Sarah.
Nordman Fir is the most popular tree bought from the farm, “but we still prefer the traditional Norway Spruce or Blue Spruce as both trees are highly scented and if cut slightly later are as good, if not better, than the Nordman for maintaining a fresh look throughout the festive season.”
It’s an early start for Sarah and the team, which never gets easier: “I love Christmas trees and my farm, but there are mornings that it can’t get light quick enough. The most difficult part of the typical day though, can be leaving in the evening, as there’s such a lot to achieve. It’s also a rather gorgeous place to watch the sun go down, which I often do while finishing off jobs in the yard.”
However there’s nothing like bringing festive cheer: “The best part of my work are my customers; everyone is cheerful and excited when they come to the farm and it can feel like a month-long party, partly helped along a little by our log cabin Glühwein bar!”
Find out more about Christmas at Wylds Farm at wylds-farm-christmas-trees.co.uk
Sprinkled with sparkle
“We often work seven days a week so Christmas is the ideal time to recharge the batteries, hang out with the kids and bake some cookies and mince pies for Santa,” says Gareth Jones, baker and owner of Odiham Cake Company. He “took the plunge” and opened his business in 2012: “It had been a dream of mine for a long time. I initially set up from our family kitchen. Since then we have moved into a large unit in Odiham, just around the corner from where we live.” he says.
The company creates cakes for all kinds of celebrations including, of course, Christmas, and work begins early. “We start on the traditional fruit cakes in September but sponge cakes and corporate cupcakes are made to order from the end of November right up until Christmas Eve. We’re taking orders non-stop and get booked up, so our advice is to get your order in early.”
Like anything, there are trends when it comes to favourite cake flavours: “‘Christmassy’ ones like cinnamon and gingerbread are popular this year, but then so is the more traditional fruit cake. Some of our favourite flavours are chocolate and mandarin sponge, apple and cinnamon sponge, gingerbread sponge, and a light fruitcake with a mulled wine buttercream filling. Cupcakes are fashionable, as is sugar craft embellishment, whether it’s Christmas trees, snowmen or snowflakes.”
Many bakers will have started prepping their Christmas cakes, but if you haven’t, Gareth can offer a tip or two: “Always soak your fruit in a good brandy for 24 hours, this will help with a moist, flavourful cake and feed your Christmas cake by gently adding a spoonful or two of brandy over the top when cooled.”
Find out more at www.odihamcakecompany.co.uk
What the Dickens?
“I am Scrooge, Victorian England’s most miserable character,” reveals actor Mark Tillotson. “My ‘role’ is to spread misery and despair amongst the people of Hampshire. Which, may I say, is quite a task as everyone at The annual Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is so nauseatingly positive, cheerful and depressingly full of the Christmas spirit.”
Mark has played the grumpy old man since the event was first staged at the Dockyard: “I’ve always been Scrooge. Luckily I am naturally miserable, unpleasant and rude, however I am still single and still retain some of my own teeth. So if any readers are interested tell them to pop along and tip me the wink.”
This year’s Festival takes place from November 25-27 and Scrooge (unusually) is looking forward being bah humbug: “I do thoroughly enjoy being unpleasant to everyone, especially the children. After all, they deserve it don’t they?”
Other than having the pleasure of meeting Ebenezer Scrooge, there are plenty of more, light-hearted, things to keep visitors merry: “Sadly this is a Christmas wonderland with entertainment such as Christmas carol choirs, comedy shows and dancing. Unfortunately the Christmas Market is spectacular and you can get all your gifts and presents there. I’m sorry to tell you that overall it’s a pretty and incredible Christmas spectacular,” he says, begrudgingly.
But surely Mark doesn’t agree with his Dickens character’s outlook at this time of year, does he? “I think that deep down many Hampshire residents identify with Mr Scrooge. I get many letters and now even emails and texts telling me exactly what to do with Christmas.
“We’re very lucky to get to perform our shows at many events throughout the year. On average we perform at over 100 festivals throughout Europe. I can honestly say that the Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is a true highlight. It’s three days of great fun, great friends and great shows. In the words of Mr Scrooge himself, ‘Bah Humbug to Christmas!’”
Visit www.historicdockyard.co.uk/new-vfoc for more details on this year’s event.