Tuesday, 30 September 2008

The Cultural Challenges of Jellied Fruit Salad

One thing I always find curious is how folks who live in North America think that the culture in England is pretty much the same as it is there. Certainly, when I immigrated to England in the late 1980's I did not anticipate there would be any culture shock at all, particularly in terms of food and eating. How wrong I was.

Even the way in which we all eat is different. As a child in Canada, I was taught to cut with my fork in my left hand and my knife in my right hand, sitting down the knife before transferring my fork to my right hand and using it to bring the food to my mouth. I can remember being admonished to "put your knife down April!". However, here in England, we hold our forks in our left hands and our knives in the right, and use the knife to help push the food on to the fork. The fork always stays in the left hand and the knife is rarely laid down. In fact, mothers here admonish their children to "use your knife and fork together". It was quite a shock when I heard myself telling my son to do that when he was little. That was when I knew I had truly been assimilated. (Apparently resistance really is futile!)

The foods we eat and they way we eat them are different too. And I'm not talking about stereotypical foods here either. It always amuses me how folks think all British people have kippers for breakfast. The truth is, I don't know many people who like kippers here and I have never, ever seen them served except once in a very posh bed and breakfast. I'm talking about things like how in England folks often pour cream on to a piece of cake, particularly if it is chocolate. This perplexed me endlessly when I first arrived here - why put cream on a cake with icing? My British husband was equally perplexed by my insistance on serving ice cream with cake. He found it very strange indeed. Eventually I managed to integrate that custom with great success amongst my family and friends but only after being on the receiving end of many puzzled looks. There are many more examples of culinary related cultural differences, not the least of which will lead me to my next recipe.

Now one of the things I love about entertaining in Canada is that buffets are often chosen as an easy, relaxed way of feeding friends and family. Here in England, they are less popular. Entertaining leans heavily towards the formal. This meant that when I arrived in England, my first experiences of entertaining were extremely stressful. "Entertaining" seemed to usually mean "dinner party". Suddenly I needed to produce three and four course meals involving last minute preparation, something I had never done before. I didn't want anyone to know how adrift I felt, nor did I want to appear foreign, so I learned to cook more and more elaborate dishes. Now I really enjoy having dinner parties, unlike the scared twenty-something I was all those years ago. The number of times I nearly had a nervous breakdown in the kitchen back then doesn't bear thinking about.

The few buffets you will attend in England contain radically different things than their counterparts in North America. Whereas in Canada and the US, you will find cold meats, cheeses, breads, devilled eggs and salads of all kinds including jellied fruit salads and marshmallow salads like ambrosia, in England you are more likely to find a lot of hot dishes, things like chicken drumsticks, pizza slices, quiche, meat pies etc. The jellied salads I love to see on a buffet caused much confusion amongst my British guests (and my husband) when I did finally serve a buffet some years ago in London. Had I placed a dessert on the main course buffet by mistake? No, I assured everyone, the jellied salad was supposed to be there. British people can be very outspoken, particularly when tradition is being messed with, and I was told by a large number of my guests that serving something jellied and sweet with the main course was extremely odd. I was very hurt, and until recently, never did a jellied salad grace a buffet of mine again.

But last Saturday I was thrilled to welcome several Canadian family members to my house for a visit and decided to serve a traditional Canadian buffet - including jellied fruit salad. This created a few minor complications. I had to get in touch with a cousin for the recipe as my recipe seems to have disappeared. When I received it, I realised that the ingredient were going to pose a bit of a challenge. Jello, the powdered gelatin dessert mix so popular in North America, has never made it across the pond. Instead we have Hartley's Jelly Cubes. I find these little rubbery cubes a bit strange and really miss the lovely technicolour Jello powders. I was worried about quantities as well. But I persevered and managed to tweak the recipe for the British market. I hope to encourage folks over here to start making it too. Perhaps it will be like the cake and ice cream tradition I've managed to bring in! Anyway, here are both recipes. If you live in England (or anywhere else this dish is not common), I urge you to give this a try, even if you do decide to serve it for dessert. It's delicious and very easy. And if you live in North America, do make this old favourite again soon - it's a yummy blast from the past.

(Just to preclude anything getting lost in translation, when I refer to fruit cocktail I mean canned chunks of fruit in syrup in a tin NOT a fruit drink.)

Jellied Salad
Makes 1 fairly large bowlful
which serves about 10 as part of a buffet
(North American version)

2 x 85 g (2 x 4 serving) pkgs jello (strawberry, raspberry and lime flavours work well)
1 large can fruit cocktail in syrup
1 cup boiling water
1 (370 ml) can evaporated milk

Dissolve the jello in the boiling water. Pour into a large bowl. Add the fruit cocktail (do not drain). Now stir in the evaporated milk. Cover and chill several hours until set.

The 21st Century Housewife’s
British Version of Jellied Salad
Serves about 10 as above

2 packages of flavoured jelly cubes (I use Hartley’s jelly)
Cold water as per package directions
2 tins of fruit salad in syrup
1 (410 ml) can evaporated milk

Place the gelatine cubes in a microwave safe bowl and add cold water as per package directions. Heat in the microwave as directed and then stir to dissolve the jelly cubes. Pour into a large bowl. Stir in one tin of fruit cocktail with its juice, but drain the second tin before you add it to the mixture. Now stir in the evaporated milk. Cover and chill several hours until set.

Spoon into individual bowls to serve or place on a buffet with a spoon and allow guests to serve themselves.
And next time someone serves something differently than you expect it or in a way that seems strange, just go with it and try it. Otherwise, you'll never know what you are missing. I even caught myself pouring cream on a piece of cake I was served the other day - I may have thought it was strange all those years ago, but today I freely admit how delicious it is!

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