23 November 2006

How to Make A Pumpkin Pie in London

Every year we Americans take great pride in bringing a little bit of America's traditions back to our international colleagues in the London office. Last year we brought in pumpkin pie for everyone to try. This year, we went all out and had a Thanksgiving potluck.

Please note: Two American customs are being introduced here: Thanksgiving and the concept of "potluck''

With a little help from a caterer who brought in 2 turkeys with mash and gravy we put on the potluck to end all potlucks. Everyone did really well bringing in yummy food. There was stuffing, green veggies, salad, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie...
The pumpkin pie was made by yours truly.

Now, I say this, and all you 'Merican think - yeah, pumpkin pie - easypeasy. The thing that all you 'Mericans might not realize is that it's not just a simple matter of popping down to the shop to pick up the ingredients for a traditional American meal in London. Most of our grocery shops are pint-sized, catering to city living of eating out most nights and cooking-in only on occasion.

To make a pumpkin pie, or any American 'specialty' food in London, you have to really be COMMITTED to your cause.

My quest began 2 days ago when I had the momentary clarity of thought to ask to borrow 2 pie plates from my fellow Americans in the office. Next stop was the Internet. Everyone said, "THE RECIPE IS ON THE BACK OF THE CAN." Um, yes. But if you aren't 100% sure you will have the can you need to have a back up plan. In London, you are never 100% sure until the can is in your hand.

Even if you go to the same grocery store every night and see the same things on the shelves every night, you can guarantee that the ONE NIGHT you want to buy it, it will be out. That's the beauty of only stocking shelves for a 6-12 hour turnaround.

With two recipes printed out and two pie plates stored in my laptop bag, I headed out early after work last night to the "big" Tesco Metro near my office for the ingredients. I had already planned on trekking up to the deli in Hampstead that sells "American" foods for the canned pumpkin, but figured I should check in the Tesco Metro just in case.

I managed to secure the following at Tesco Metro: Ginger, Cinnamon and evaporated milk. No pie crusts, no canned pumpkin.
One long tube ride and a 10 minute walk later and I was at Rosslyn Deli in Hampstead. This shop is known by Americans all over London for its back room filled with little tastes of home. Here I did manage to secure the LAST TWO cans of Libby's Pumpkin Pie filling. I noted that there wasn't any evaporated milk in the deli. Condensed, yes. Evaporated, no. Good thing I made that purchase earlier. Still no pie crusts.
On my walk down the hill to my house (no buses of course, why would there be a bus when I am carrying 2 grocery bags full of cans and a laptop bag filled with pyrex pie dishes in 3 inch heels?) I passed a Budgens grocery, which is fairly good sized, and decide to check on the extra ingredients that I was still missing.

At Budgens I manage to secure: eggs, sugar (thought I had some but just in case), ground cloves. They had pie crusts but they were small and dodgy. I had a recipe for easy pie crust. Looks like that was the way I was going to have to go.

After another 7 minutes walking (now with an additional bag), I finally climb the stairs to my flat and am ready to make the pies. Immediately, I encounter 2 stumbling blocks:
1) I have only olive oil no vegetable oil for the crusts.
2) The baking directions are all in farenheit and my oven operates in Celsius.

"Can I use olive oil?" I ask Erin who had come over to provide moral support.
"Um, sure. If you want your pies to taste like olives."

Point taken.

Another trip to Tesco downstairs and I manage to find some sunflower oil located on a bottom shelf in the back. Because OF COURSE a Tesco wouldn't bother to have anything as exotic as vegetable oil. Back upstairs a quick perusal of the Joy of Cooking (the bible!) and I learn the exact degree conversion and the baking can begin.

The baking was actually the easiest part. Pies = Done!

I'd tell you about the Tube ride in to the office this morning while carrying 2 pumpkin pies but I don't really have the energy or sanity to repeat it. Suffice to say, there is absolutely NO WAY to ride the Tube without being jostled and run into by other people.

I'd also mention that the first thing I did this morning when I left the house was to trip on the stairs and slam the pies together, but like I said, I don't really have the energy or the sanity to repeat it.

However, in the end, the pies made it to the office in almost one piece and they were a big hit thanks to JBro's spiced whipping cream. The potluck is over, the turkey digesting and the whole of the office is now desperately trying to keep awake after the potluck extravaganza.

In true American style I am already wondering if there are any leftovers in the kitchen...

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!!


carolyn says said...

last year i made the mistake of thinking it would be easy to find pumpkin pie ingredents in southeast london, i was so so wrong. i did not have your gumption though, my guests made do with an autumn fruit tart and they kept their yaps shut if they were disappointed

Elizabeth said...

I just had to thank you!
Having now made about 6 pumpkin pies over here, and now proposing to try one in Greece..Ha-ha!
And don't even ask me how the attempted "poompkin torte" went over in France. Yeah, we don't talk about that.

You've highlighted the lovely, nitty gritty of living over here for my friends back home.

They can now picture the same for "quick trip to the craft store to get dowel rods" or "asking for caulk for the bathroom tiles with a Wisconsin accent."
And don't even ask me about getting to IKEA. 2 buses, 2 trains, and a tram. We don't talk about that either.

I love London, though. Even with its pumpkin deficit.