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Trials of culinary confusion

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: November 16, 2011 7:00 p.m.

With the approach of “the holidays,” I am planning my annual cooking and entertaining frenzy. Now, I love to cook but I was not prepared for the level of confusion I experienced in the kitchen and grocery stores when we first moved here.
Before I moved here from England I knew I would have to adapt from metric to imperial measurements – I would be setting the oven to Fahrenheit temperatures rather than Celsius and measuring in ounces rather than grams. I was also very proud that I already knew to broil meat rather than grill it and that I should ask guests if they were hungry rather than the British “peckish.”
However, I really was woefully unprepared, and my early days of wandering the aisles of the local grocery stores like a bunny rabbit in the headlights (which is what the British say instead of deer) now make me smile. It was not just a case of looking for familiar ingredients but trying to choose new household brands, which – being a creature of habit – I hadn’t thought about for years.
It was a huge cultural shock (but a very good one) when I first went food shopping in America. In England, grocery stores are usually much, much smaller and more crowded. The fact that Americans don’t have to pay to use a shopping cart (which we call shopping trolleys) and that the staff is so friendly and helpful here astounded me.
You can be handicapped or heavily pregnant in England and still not get assistance with packing your shopping bags or taking them to the car. Also, the prices are much, much cheaper in the U.S.
I soon learned to cope with the “produce” section (labeled the “green grocer” in the land of my birth) and found out that if I wanted an aubergine I would have to find an eggplant, that courgettes are called zucchini and that Americans have green and lima beans, not runner and broad beans.
However, I naively thought that with a conversion table from metric to imperial, I could easily use my beloved English recipes over here. Oh, if only it was that easy.
Soon after emigrating, I wanted to buy the ingredients to bake some English cakes and biscuits, which I already knew Americans call cookies. American stores offer what seems to my English eyes to be a vast amount of packet mixes to make cakes, which seem to be a much more ingrained part of the U.S. cooking culture.
This is OK of course, but I like to bake from scratch. So off I went with my shopping list: I wanted plain flour and corn flour – and correctly guessed that all-purpose flour and corn starch were close enough equivalents. Then could I find desiccated coconut? Nope, it is called shredded coconut, and black treacle is called molasses. Then the nearest thing I could find to golden syrup is corn syrup.
And American sugar is a whole other story – the British always use “icing” sugar, whereas Americans call it powdered or confectioner’s sugar. Also, English recipes often call for caster sugar in baking, which is pretty rare in Savannah. My head was reeling even before I began my baking marathon.
However, I have had great fun discovering some wonderful local chefs and their recipes – Nathalie Dupree, Libbie Summers and Damon Lee Fowler have become firm favorites.
But absolutely nobody prepared me for cups. “What the Dickens is a cup?” I thought. “Is it just some random drinking vessel – how can that be precise?”
Even after I bought American measuring jugs, I felt it was not quite accurate enough. For someone that had always painstakingly measured ingredients to the nearest millimeter, casually measuring a cup and chucking it into my cake batter mix was a big cultural shift.
Anyway, this is my third Thanksgiving and American Christmas, so I am looking forward to preparing Fowler’s roast turkey and Dupree’s dressing.
God bless America and happy Thanksgiving!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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