Thursday, June 9, 2011

One of These Things is Not Like the Others...

"The difference between America and England is that Americans think 100 years is a long time, while the English think 100 miles is a long way." --Earle Hitchner
     It's odd I know...intellectually I always knew England and America were two different countries but in my own typical culturally myopic fashion I really thought most things would be similar if not the same.
     Now I am here and experiencing first hand which things are similar and which are VERY, very different:
     I was told this was so before I ever left the U.S. and I was absolutely incredulous. This is like saying there is not Pepsi in America. The web search for the veracity of this statement led me to several ex-patriot food web sites which underscored that certain comestibles Americans have always taken for granted are in fact not readily available in England.
     When Dear Sir arrived in Pullman last February I asked him if he had ever tasted Root Beer. He shook his head no and discussion ensued as to what product might be similar to Root Beer. Ginger Beer is probably it--but not really. And no, a Coke float is really not even close. 
     Root beer was brewed in the American colonies as a 2-12% alcohol mix by home breweries.  In the 1870's a pharmacist named Dr. Hires was turned on to a tea with 20 odd ingredients which he was loath to part. He tweaked the ingredient, and began dispensing Hires root beer concentrate which became so popular he moved on to dispensing the mixed drink, the main ingredient of which is sassafras root.
     Sassy root cannot be cultivated.the trees grow from Maine to the Ozarks in the southern USA. It needs to be dug in the springtime as the tree is just waking up.
     Sassafras is good for boosting a sluggish immune system, bringing on a hard sweat or fever, and treatment of gout, rheumatism, exczema and psoriasis. It was also used to kill head lice and other verminous infestations.
    Today's root beer is far less healthful having commercial additives and more sugar per serving than any other American soda pop, but it is quintessentially American like apple pie. We serve it up in hard frosted mugs, iced cold,  with scoops of vanilla ice cream floating in it. 
     Les, having had root beer floats for dessert thinks they are fine. I suggested we brew our own root beer and travel around to the different canal boat shows selling root beer floats throughout summer. We could become The Root Beer Float Boat! Great idea--too much work. 
     This is another cultural item, the pronunciation of which had us both in stitches.  Americans say "Gram crackers." Les pronounces it as "Gray-ham's crackers." But the box confuses him as it contains Graham cracker crumbs--not crackers. One can buy the box of crackers but I use the crumbs to make cheesecake and cookie bar crusts. 
     In England cooks use Digestive Biscuits. After sampling both I can tell you they are not close at all.

     Well, not American pickles. Who knew British pickles and American pickles were so different?? 
     I love Sweet pickles, Bread and butter pickles--which are my favorite--and banquet dills. They are fabulous in potato salads, tuna sandwiches and on hamburgers. I asked Les if he liked pickles and he threw a face and said, "No!"  Well I was totally amazed, but then he doesn't like olives either so go figure.
     We had occasion to eat hamburgers for lunch at Zoe's on the WSU campus one day last February. When our food came, Les lifted the bun and looked through the bits on his burger. Apparently in the USA burgers come dressed to the nines in things like lettuces, onion, tomato and yes! pickles. A large green dill pickle spear reclined across the girth of Dear Sir's burger.  He looked at it dubiously and asked me,
     "What is that?" The light went on in my head immediately. 
     "That is an American dill pickle. I gather pickles in your country are different, yeah?"
     "Oh yeah. English pickles are a mixture of different vegetables pickles on brine. Sometimes people add them into casseroles. I don't like them. I thought that was what you meant when you asked me if I liked pickles. What is this made of then?" Les asked curiously.
     "American pickles are made from one thing--cucumbers and only cucumbers, of different sizes. We do have a product something like your Branston Pickles but we call them pickled vegetables--not pickles."
     "I'll give this a go--" and just like that he picked up the green dill pickle spear from his burger and took a bite. "That is quite lovely, that is. Nothing like Branston pickle. I quite like it." 
     One cross cultural mystery solved and color me relieved because my potato salad and tuna sandwiches are famous and both contain AMERICAN pickles.
     In England I've found one item similar to U.S. pickles and they are tiny jars of even tinier Gherkins which the French call cornichons. I've also looked at a jar of Branston pickle in the grocery store and I've decided to weigh in with Les on those.
     My legendary chocolate Kahlua bundt cake requires amongst other esoteric ingredients, one three ounce packet of Jello Vanilla pudding and pie mix. After some research online I thought I would be quite clever and substitute Bird's English custard powder.  My Scottish friend Sally Horton warned me off.
     "Bird's custard powder is NOT anything like JELLO. I don't think the English have anything similar."  
   All righty then. It was two weeks prior to leaving for England and I borrowed a suitcase from my friend Chrisi Kincaid. I had the strangest dream that night; the suitcase was laying on my bed with the periwinkle sheets and the soft down comforter. I had just finished packing and was zipping the case shut when the phone rang. It was Chrisi checking to see if packing was going along okay.
     "How's the suitcase working Jaq? Will it hold all your clothes?"
     "I'm not taking any clothes," I replied starchly.
     "I'm a newlywed. I don't need any clothes."
     "Oh! My, well can I ask what you are taking?"
     "Boxes of Graham crackers and jars of pickles."

    Les tried to cultivate an appreciation in me for the dearness of land in England.
     "We only have a small island...we don't have loads of open space like you do in America. Land is dear in England. As a result roads are very narrow and houses are small. You wait until you come over and see for yourself."
     Well here I am and Dear Sir was right. I've never seen such narrow roads except in the Alaskan bush and those were rutted one way tracks plowed through to someones homestead.  
     The motorways in England are VERY narrow, and the roads are really lanes--literally. Toss into this the British roundabout instead of the American intersection with traffic lights for each direction and driving with a steering column and foot pedals on the right side of the car will do a Yank's head in. 
Parking half in the road and half on the sidewalk
     Add to this the chaotic fashion in which folks over here park--willy nilly any place they can squeeze in--half on and half off the side walk--and you may feel as I do: I could never get the hang of driving in England. Thank the Goddess we are traveling along the Water Road!
     In the States lanes are wide, usually very well marked, and each intersection has lights which indicate when it is your turn. When parking we are not allowed to park on the side walk and the car must be facing the same way as the direction of the traffic flow.
     Houses in England are much smaller than American homes but they are well planned, neatly kept, and every bit of space is accounted for. The same thing goes for yards. Due to the lack of space many English must choose between a bit of tarmac on which to park in front of their door, or a bit of garden space. There is not room for both and barely room for the car.
     "Give an Englishman or woman a bit of earth and they will make of it a garden," is also true.  I have seen some truly gorgeous postage stamp gardens, and hedges are a must for privacy. Long live the hedge!!

     In the nineteen forties and fifties U.S. farmers decided to do away with hedges--they supported vermin--both weeds and wildlife. Instead everything uncultivated was ripped from the ground. Land was placed under production to the very edges. Wildlife fled the fields, and weeds were carefully rooted out, cut and sprayed with herbicides annually.
     In England fields are contained with hedgerows which also hedge in private yards and gardens, public areas, and meanders along the canal sides and tow paths.
     In England's hedges I have found nettles, comfrey, lady's mantle, horsetail, feverfew, verbena, wild roses, blackberries, elderberries, hawthorn and cleavers galore. All are healthful medicinal herbs beneficial to humankind.
     In England I can harvest them from the boat or the tow path. In America I have to drive three hours northeast to a friend's land and, with his permission, pick a few nettles. The U.S. government campaign to destroy anything that cannot be marketed for money and copyrighted by a company has resulted in a loss of wildlife habitat and a means of folk accessing healthful plants for personal use.
     In England a farmer may own land, but the public has a right of way across his land and all paths are clearly gated and marked. In villages one may build on either side of the public right of way but not obstruct the public right to traverse the pathway. Such laws result in England being owned and accessed by every person--not just those who can afford land.
gate to public path across private land
     Dear Sir and I have discovered differences between us, but nothing we cannot discuss or laugh about. 
     He is truly a patient, loving, kind hearted soul, and a passionate, generous, mirthful man. He knows what--and who he loves.
     Truly I am blessed to be she who is loved by Les. He knows the same road travels back to him from my own heart.
    I'll leave you now with some of the glorious images of our journey from Cassiobury Park north west to Napton. Tomorrow night is our last in England and our honeymoon before the wedding is coming to a close.  

"your business keeps trade on the cut"
canal side home at Milton Keynes
Les walking down public path in Great Lindford Village

 Old canal warehouses on the left side of the cut in Woolverton...

... and brand new flats on the right side!
A lovely canalside cottage...

The interior of old canal wharehouses at Woolverton.
Chapel doors at Marsworth village, built 13th century, restored 19th
stained glass window, Marsworth chapel
William Walt lies under an an altar stone, buried 1583
boats of all shapes and sizes on the canals!
fishing competition at Cosgrove with LONG poles!
Horse tunnel under the canal at Cosgrove village.....
Horse's eye view....
view of the horse tunnel from the other side!
typical narrow English lane!
lovely canal bridge
open countryside...
Heron fishing the canal...
old hedges...
glorious fields...
and Cupani Sweet peas brought from Italy in teh 1500's!
Home made bread!
Les and his old arm chair which we gave away to a good home!
Lock side shops at Stoke Bruerne..
 The ice cream boat at Stoke Bruerne...
 canal side signs pointing out the tunnel ahead!
 Narrow boats mooring up for next week's festival at Stoke Bruerne...
 and NB Valerie entering the 3057 yard long Blisworth tunnel...
 the chains are there for those who fall in to hang onto...
 and comimng out the other side to Blisworth.
 The psychedelic narrow boat...
 and my favorite boater!!
 You never know waht is around the next bend...
 across the field....
or through the hedge!!
 There are witchy boats, and British witches on the cut!
Canal a la canard!
Swans a swimming...
and the interior of the 500 year old Nag's Head pub!


  1. I want more pictures of the two of you! Miss you like a fat kid misses cake!
    Love sparkala!

  2. Jaq
    Have you tried Angel delight for the Jello substitute? I had a friend over from Canada and he was looking for Jello too!! Angel delight is a flavoured dessert that you mix up and it sets like a jelly but has the consistency of a very thick custard.
    Pickles, now I love ALL pickles, and you can get some interesting ones at the farm shops along your way when you really get going on your travels. There is a fantastic one a bus ride away from Nantwich called Cheerbrooks. When I go up to see my friend I always stock up with their meat and chilli sauces to bring back to London.

    It was lovely meeting you and i will make the effort when you get back to do so again. Have a safe journey and fantastic wedding day.

  3. Hi Jaq,
    Great posting - made me smile - a lot especially about driving on the left-hand side! and I'm so glad (and proud) that you love our countryside - soon to become yours too.
    Still not sure what Jello is though!


    There you go Jaq. Suppliers in the UK

  5. Hello Spark! I miss you too and cannot wait to see you in a few days. More pics of the two of us will be forthcoming in the future...although you know I don't like having my picture taken.
    Love Mama

  6. Hi Carol,
    Thanks for the heads up about a possible substitute for Jello!

  7. Hello Carol!
    We are back in the states now but I don't feel like I returned home; I feel as though I left home behind me. I miss the gentle rocking of the boat! I look forward to meeting you and George and having a good long natter.