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Missing America at Thanksgiving and always
Last uploaded : Tuesday 31st Dec 2013 at 23:41
Contributed by : Carol Gould



As Thanksgiving approaches each year -- and July 4th and Memorial Day -- homesickness can manifest itself in many ways. Despite living in Britain for thirty-seven years I still wake up missing Phillies games, the Mummers Parade and those gorgeous, bulging packets of fresh fruit -- with free banana! -- sold by Korean street traders on every pavement. I miss my mother's sweet potato pie made with a dash of orange juice (look out for Oprah Winfrey's character in 'The Butler' mentioning this) with marshmallow crust on top.

The major manifestation for me, I must confess, is FOOD!

Let’s start with chocolate sorbet. In 1976 when I arrived it was rare to find any kind of sorbet available in restaurants. But by 1986 one would be offered ‘lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant’ and in 1996 ‘lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant’ and in 2006 ‘lemon, raspberry or blackcurrant.’ Back home chocolate sorbet is plentiful and is even available in Haagen Dasz tubs. When I asked at the Haagen Dasz restaurant in Leicester Square for chocolate sorbet they told me ‘there’s no call for it.’ (What exactly does that mean? ) Indeed there is a legend -- perhaps an urban myth -- that after World War I young widows would fill the seats of the Fountain restaurant at Fortnum and Mason’s so the Italian chef decided to create a dish to cheer them up. He produced -- you guessed it ! -- chocolate sorbet. It was a sensation and appeared on the Fountain menu until the 1990s. So it was invented here but can you find it anywhere?

Now let’s go on to Yo-kan. This is a divine dessert available in every Japanese restaurant in the United States and I would expect in Canada, too. It is a small loaf of sweet red bean paste with chestnuts in the middle, cut into slices and eaten with a toothpick. It IS available to buy at the Japanese sweet-market in Piccadilly but why is it NEVER on the menu at ANY of the multitude of Japanese eateries anywhere in the UK? Who wants green tea ice cream? Who wants gooey cake? I just want Yo-kan, as I would get in New York, LA, DC or Philly. My late mother used to ask me to go out and get her a large box of Yo-kan as a special treat.

Let’s move now to things that some will say are borderline absurd but which dominate my every waking thought at least three days a week. Because I know my home town best I will stick to local specialities: I yearn for a hot turkey sandwich drowning in giblet gravy with mashed potatoes and green beans accompanied by one of those tiny little paper cups of cranberry sauce as served by the ancient waitresses at the Midtown Diner in Philly or at At Little Pete’s. I salivate as I write…

Has anyone reading this ever been able to find a knish in the UK? If so I stand corrected but I have tried to find one for thirty-seven years -- even in Golders Green -- without success. There used to be a knish place in DC and as soon as I dumped my suitcases I‘d head for it. Of course, if you come from Philly you will yearn every day for a cheesesteak from Geno’s or Pat’s. The steaks with sauce and onions at a childhood haunt called Rex Pizza were exquisite; why can one not find anything like this in London or elsewhere in the UK?

Another thing I miss so much that at times it could drive me to insanity is cherrystone clams. People here say ‘But clams are clams!’ however if you have never tasted a New Jersey cherrystone with that gorgeous hot seafood sauce and oyster crackers you haven’t lived.

Let’s go on to silly stuff. My highly educated, erudite colleague at ITV, John Rosenberg, a native of Brooklyn, used to walk into my office each October holding out his palm and without any words being exchanged I knew what he wanted: candy corn, sent by my sister from home.

Notwithstanding American-style venues like Subway offering what could be described as a hoagie or submarine, there is nothing like a made-from-scratch one. Has anyone living here ever been able to find traditional griddle cakes? I am afraid I threw a tantrum in Ed’s Easy Diner when I was given what they explained were pre-packaged cold rubber things listed on the menu as ‘pancakes.’

These are the other goodies for which I yearn : huge rare roast been sandwiches on rye; New England and Manhattan Clam Chowder; grits; scrapple with hash browns and Hebrew National hot dogs. Finally, why do British Chinese restaurants discriminate against single people? If you want a set meal it’s ‘minimum for 2.’ Why does one have to ask three times in a British eatery for a glass of water? Why in a country surrounded by water is a lobster so damned expensive? ($20 in the USA, $70 here.)

Let’s end on a laugh: in Mayfair there is a waffle restaurant. They serve hot dogs so I suggested they get French’s mustard, as American DNA is such that you just can’t eat a ’dog without French‘s. Next time I passed by they told me they had had a French’s crate in but had poured the mustard down the drain and put FRENCH mustard into the yellow tubs as the original stuff ‘tasted horrible.’ Go figure -- maybe we are indeed separated by more than just an ocean !

***************************************************Carol Gould is the author of ‘Spitfire Girls’ and ‘Don’t Tread on me -- anti-Americanism Abroad’ and has appeared on BBC ‘Any Questions?;’ ‘Woman’s Hour’ and the Jeremy Vine Show.


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