Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Suet, treacle and some other things

Canadians who have acquired British cookbooks may sometimes need to know equivalent ingredients or measurements. Here's a site that offers quite a bit of information, although not an answer to the question that still stumps me: what in a Canadian grocery store can equate to shredded suet for making mincemeats, dumplings, pastries and puddings? The suet offered by grocers in Victoria when I asked included bird suet (studded with birdseed!) and chunks of fat pared from beef cuts.

The official word on suet as sold in England is that it is made by grating the hard white fat which surrounds the kidneys, although there is also a vegetarian version, which according to the label is made of hydrogenated vegetable oil, wheat flour, sunflower oil, pectin and sugar. Lard and shortening are the wrong consistency: too soft and greasy. I haven't experimented to see if they actually work in the finished product, though. I did find mention that hard coconut fat might be the answer. Further experimentation clearly needed in this area. Stay tuned.

Or apparently I can order vegetable suet through A Bit of Home, which happily is based in Toronto so no issues with customs, GST and duty. Everything from self-raising flour to jelly cubes to PG Tips pyramid teabags. Disappointing not to see Cornish Wafers, or Mackerel in brine which are - besides the cheese, the yogurt, the stunning produce selection, the extravagant selections of cream, of marmalade and of sugar - among the things I miss most about living in London.

I must make a return visit to the lonely little UK shelf in Market on Yates, which stocks a similar selection to A Bit of Home. I scored a 500g jar of Marmite there last year for around $18 - which is still cheaper and easier than flying over and slogging back with it in the overwrought luggage.

In The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You, Paul Farley painted a memorable portrait of black treacle, loosely equivalent to molasses in North America (I'm happy to see that Treacle also appears in New British Poetry):

Funny to think you can still buy it now,
a throwback, like shoe polish or the sardine key.
When you lever the lid it opens with a sigh
and you're face-to-face with history.
By that I mean the unstable pitch black
you're careful not to spill, like mercury

that doesn't give any reflection back,
that gets between the cracks of everything
and holds together the sandstone and bricks
of our museums and art galleries...


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