“America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language” as George Bernard Shaw once said. A friend discovered this when she returned to the States after 14 years in London. She had to relearn how to order lunch, as in US sandwich shops, they call an egg mayonnaise on brown bread sandwich, egg salad on wholewheat. By contrast when she first ordered egg salad on wholewheat in London, she got a sandwich containing sliced egg with lettuce, tomato and cucumber.
Different names for ingredients
I bought the vegan cookbook, Appetite for Reduction, and was surprised how many ingredients were unfamiliar. Sure I know arugula is rocket, cilantro, coriander, garbanzos, chickpeas and minced scallions, diced spring onions but I had to Google cremini mushrooms, Vidalia onions and Sriracha sauce. You can guess what celery ribs and all-purpose flour (plain) means in this recipe for Chicken wings, but Kosher salt? It’s not Jewish; it refers to the larger grains, and absence of additives.
Different names for equipment
If you want to make a pecan pie on the other side of the pond, you’ll need a pie shell (flan case). A skillet is a frying pan, a broiler or Salamander is a grill and a loaf pan for making pound cakes is a loaf tin. A Dutch oven is a cast iron casserole dish and a kettle is usually something you make popcorn in, rather than boil water.
Americans measure ingredients by volume
In most countries, we weigh ingredients. Our American cousins measure most ingredients by volume. When recipes call for ‘one firmly packed cup of ground beef’ or ‘two cups of minced onions’, how do they know how much meat to buy or how many onions to chop? In How to Eat, British cookery writer, Nigella Lawson, comments : ‘I never seem to come up with the same weight of flour per cup measurement twice’. So for accuracy when baking US recipes, she weighs flour, assuming one cup to be 140g. The American Chicken wings recipe tells me to use 1/2 stick of butter. Half a stick of butter is four tablespoons or 55g and rest assured, I shall weigh it, not spoon it. I’m a messy cook but don’t want to be a buttery one.
Convert, then weigh
None of these challenges will stop me surfing for inspiration or experimenting with such intriguing recipes as Old-fashioned green tomato mincemeat which calls, annoyingly, for three quarts of tomatoes. The answer could be this new book called 'How do you measure up?' Or you could try convert-me.com or startcooking.com. Meanwhile US cooks trying British recipes will find recipesecrets.net helpful.
What challenges have you faced as a UK cook converting US recipes or vice-versa? Got any tips? Lovefood.com would love to know.
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