Everyone knows Santa isn’t that great at stuffing stockings. If stale drugstore candy canes, waxy Chapstick, tired wintergreen Lifesavers, and useless toy nutcrackers sound familiar, come along for an international stocking stuffer makeover.
Let's start in England, home of Scrooge, and also of weird pre-packaged puddings. I microwaved three choice products according to the instructions. (Steaming them is more traditional, but you wanted convenience, right?)
The famous Heinz Spotted Dick, a crumbly, salty fruitcake, features an initial waft of gasoline scent upon opening the can. That may compel you to read the ingredient list. Do not do so unless you want to learn that one can has seven grams of transfats. Put this one in the stocking of someone naughty.
FOX’s Christmas Toffee Pudding is very moist with a gooey sauce on the top once you invert it onto your plate. It’s pretty much a pile of burnt raisins in toffee syrup.
My recommendation is Walkers Plum Pudding. Yes, it’s essentially just mashed up breadcrumbs with loads of raisins and sugar, but there’s also candied citrus peel and an impressive selection of spices. I pinpointed clove and ginger before I read the ingredients, which also include coriander, cinnamon, fennel and cardamom. Mysteriously, it contains no plums. But then again, Spotted Dick contains no…well, never mind.
Ready to run away from the English gut-stone puddings, but not ready to venture away from the Commonwealth yet? Put some delicious chocolate bar selections from Australia and Canada in your stocking.
Violet Crumble is a fine honeycomb interior with a nice European-style chocolate coating from Down Under. The traditional way to eat this candy is to shatter it into pieces before opening.
Smashing it over Uncle Todd’s head on Christmas morning is not out of the question, so long as you then make it up to him by putting Canada’s Coffee Crisp in his stocking. It's wafer upon wafer stuck together with airy, coffee-flavored filling and coated in chocolate. This bar deserves its own review, so stay tuned for that in 2015.
Before we move on, don’t forget some Canadian maple candy, eh. It’s 100% pure crystalized maple syrup with a fine, melt-in-your mouth texture. And it's formed into adorable, little maple leaves.
As a bonus, though they're not manufactured in Australia (they’re made in NY), I’m including some Choward’s Violet Mints because Aussies love perfume-flavored candy. They actually taste like violet soap. (Note: If you put these in your stocking, everything will be lightly violet-scented, including your breath after eating one.)
Katjes Salzige Heringe might be a nice stocking-stuffer surprise for your sister who is too busy texting about her new pajamas to pick up on a pretty obvious cognate. I popped two of these German “salty herrings" into my mouth and it was an assault -- with baby diaper undertones.
IKEA…er, Sweden, offers a similar, but slightly more mellow version. Godis Lakrits looks like normal black licorice, but you’ll still get a grimace-inducing salty surprise on Christmas morning.
The Germans make it up to us with the traditional marzipan pig. Thought to give good luck for the new year, one of these will give your taste buds good luck right now, especially if you’re trying to get rid of a lingering salt licorice aftertaste.
Next up we swing through the Middle East for some fresh sliced, marbled halvah, a confection made of tahini and sugar. It has a flaky texture and nutty flavor. If you don’t have an Arabic, Turkish, or Jewish deli nearby, look for fresh halvah in the cheese section of a specialty food shop.
Another tasty treat is the sweet/sour tamarind ball: sour tamarind pulp mashed up with granulated sugar and rolled into bite-size balls. I tried a Thai version this time, but you can also find them in Caribbean and Indian shops -- sometimes with added spice.
Speaking of India, I picked up a couple of what they call “mouth fresheners” for Grandpa Phil’s stocking. (No offense, Gramps, but Grandma used to put a mini-bottle of Listerine in your stocking for a reason.)
Kasshi makes a nifty divided container with five distinct combinations of fennel, sugar, sesame, turmeric, coconut, cardamom, coriander, and jequirity leaves. This container smells like a street corner in Chennai: busy and spicy and a little intimidating.
If Grandpa’s mouth is not fresh enough, dose his stocking with some Shah’s Tulsi Vati Mouth Freshening Delicacy. They taste sour and sugary, via an impressive combination of rose petal paste, basil, sugar, cumin, coriander, and salt. Tic Tacs are boring as all get-out, in comparison to these subcontinental fresheners.
Let's get back to our home continent and warm up on a cold winter’s morning. Put some Abuelita in Mom’s stocking. These Mexican hot chocolate tablets melt into milk to make a cinnamon-chocolate delight. And if you’re still chilly, drop some Tabasco Jelly Bellys into Dad’s stocking. They're bolstered with actual Tobasco Brand pepper paste from Louisiana.
One thing is certain -- nobody will be bored with these globally sourced stocking stuffers. Santa, you’ve been served.