Baking in America

America! Land of the apple pie! The home of brownies, muffins, pancakes with maple syrup! You would have thought there would be no problems with any sort of baking here. Think again…

While unpacking some of our things, I came across an old Christmas article with recipes for mincemeat and Christmas cake, and decided that now would be a good time to get ahead and make these things, so that we can enjoy a proper taste of Christmas here later on.

So some fairly basic ingredients were required – raisins, currants, sultanas, glace cherries, mixed peel, brandy, suet and cooking apples. So I hit the shops in a fairly serious way. We have a really good selection of food shops near us, so I was spoilt for choice as to where to go – Whole Foods, Draegers, Andronicos, Oakville Grocery, Sigona’s Farmers Market as well as plain old Safeway.

First stop was Draegers, a local chain of food stores that also sells equipment and offers cooking lessons. Raisins, sultanas and currants were no problem – after all, most of the world’s raisins come from California! Brandy was also not a problem – there were about 10 varieties, in all different sizes. No sign of cherries or peel though.

Next stop was the local Safeway. Again, they had raisins, currants, sultanas, as well as dried apples, apricots, figs, pineapple and plums. But no cherries.

So it was on to Andronico’s, another local chain of food stores that started in Berkeley. They were quite helpful – cherries only appeared at the end of November though, and they didn’t sell cooking apples – the closest thing they had was Granny Smiths. Next to the shopping centre and the Sigona’s Farmers Market, a sort of greengrocers with lots of dried fruit. They had 2 types of dried cherries, as well as dried blueberries, an crystallised ginger and papaya. But no glace cherries and no peel. So on to the Oakville Grocery, just across the way. And what should I find on the counter – candied peel!! 2 huge jars of orange and lemon peel – but at a fairly steep price. So I bought a little of each, and asked about cherries. They did not sell them but they suggested I try Williams-Sonoma, a San Francisco-based cookware shop that happens to have a branch in the same centre. So round the corner to them.

Williams-Sonoma is a San Francisco institution and something of a kitchen heaven. The San Francisco store that we visited the other weekend has 4 floors of equipment, including some ridiculous stoves and lots of shiny copper pans. So I had quite high hopes of success with them. I wandered around the store, but there was no sign of the items (although they did have glace apricots!). So I asked a cashier who said they didn’t carry them, but asked me to hold on a second. She then got on the phone to her friend, who evidently basked fruit cakes herself, and asked where she got her cherries from. The answer was… Safeway!

It seems that none of these items come into the stores until Thanksgiving is well and truly out of the way. One good thing about all these holidays is that Halloween and Thanksgiving delay the onset of Christmas in the shops, so you don’t have 3 months of build-up. However, this doesn’t help me. I finally ordered cherries – along with ground almonds, another hard-to-find item – from an online catalogue. I hope they are going to arrive in the next few days.

All I need now is the suet…

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