When Andy Williams sang that it’s the most wonderful time of the year, I assume he was talking about Christmas sandwich season. As the days grow shorter and the jumpers thicker, the meal deal gets a festive upgrade. Pushed to the back of the shelves are the limp ploughman’s and soggy falafel wraps, replaced instead with turkey and the trimmings, pigs in blankets and stuffing, and some enviable veggie alternatives. If you’re looking to bring a little festive cheer to the sad desk lunch, there’s no easier way to do it.
But a spectre haunts the chiller cabinet, floating among the Innocent smoothies and that mystifying single boiled egg in a plastic pot. This Ghost of Christmas (Sandwich) Present is red and wobbly, smearing itself across every vaguely Christmassy sandwich it finds. I’m talking, of course, about cranberry sauce, a condiment used to signpost festive offerings, regardless of whether it tastes nice. No one is safe. Not Boots sandwiches. Not Greggs pasties. Not posh Pret toasties.
While I’ve spent the past five years of my life loosening myself from the meal deal’s claw-like grip, I’m willing to make an exception for the Christmas offerings. But a peruse of my local supermarket this year showed that every option comes smothered with cranberry, from turkey to falafel (yes, even at Christmas, some shops can’t think of a more imaginative veggie option than falafel). It’s not looking better at the fancier establishments, either. On paper, Costa’s vegan p’gs and blankets panini sounds like my dream dish. You’ve got fake sausages and bacon, stuffing, cheese, mayo… great! But then a slick of cranberry sauce. Criminal.
In theory, you’d think the infallible formula of “bread + Christmas dinner + more bread” would be impossible to ruin. But cranberry sauce gives it a damn good try. Including just one thick, sweet layer of the stuff overpowers the already strong flavours that should shine on their own. Call me old fashioned, but rarely do I tuck into a nice, savoury sarnie, enjoying the different tastes and textures, and think, “You know what would make this better? Jam.”
To be clear, I’m not wholly anti-cranberry. There are places it’s appropriate: with vodka or, at a push, on top of some brie. I’m not even anti-cranberry sauce when it comes to Christmas dinner, in a splodge on the side of my plate for the items that suit it. But when it’s smeared over a sandwich, nothing else stands a chance.
I can see why sandwich makers turn to cranberry sauce so regularly. Whether it’s turkey or a veggie alternative, a festive sandwich can be a pretty dry affair. But surely there must be a better moist-maker. Gravy? Mayonnaise? Gravy-mayonnaise? (Sounds heinous; actually pretty good). Hell, I’m even pro-butter in this situation, although I can accept that that’s not very Christmassy. Big Cranberry’s dominance is mostly frustrating because the options get better and more varied every year (especially for non-meat eaters), but the red stuff just seems to be inescapable. This year, I’ll be begging Santa that we’re released from its grasp.