30 April, 2012

Learning by Trial and Error

In November 2011, I had the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving with several American and British friends at Brian and Kellie Ingraham's house here in Glasgow. I had signed up to make a couple of apple pies and a couple of pumpkin pies. Since tinned (canned) pumpkin isn't really a Scottish staple I assumed that the challenge I would confront in making these pies was to locate and purchase cans of pumpkin. A local specialty store called Peckham's had a shelf full in stock (for all the Americans), so I had no trouble at all. The pumpkin pies came together like a breeze and then I was on to the apple pies. 

After getting the dough all set for the crust, I began to peel apples and prepare to make the filling. It was then that I realised I didn't have corn starch. Back to the store I went. After searching long and hard for corn starch and asking a store employee, I concluded that the Scottish folks must use another product entirely for thickening. Eventually I found a container of "Thickening Granules" which were white and appeared to be a suitable alternative to corn starch. Satisfied with my find I went back home and finished making the pies. Everything looked great and I was quite happy with the way the thickening granules had worked!

Thanksgiving meal was potluck style and absolutely delicious. Finally it came time for dessert (or "pudding" as desserts in general are called here)! I sampled various sweets and then decided to try a slice of my own apple pie. As I took my first bite something tasted slightly off. I couldn't quite pin it down. I asked others if the pie tasted a little funny, but everyone seemed quite happy with it and ate their pieces without complaint. As I continued to eat the rest of my piece I finally decided that it was almost as though there was a hint of gravy flavour. I thought through how I had prepared the pies and finally concluded that the only thing I had done differently was to use thickening granules instead of corn starch. 

When I arrived home later that night I pulled out the container of thickening granules and took a sniff. Sure enough, they smelled faintly of gravy! As I looked closer at the side of the container I realised that it's suggested use was primarily for thickening gravy and soups!!! I'd found the culprit! 

I have since learned that the exact equivalent for "corn starch" does exist in the UK and is called "corn flour." I was reminded of my discovery by trial and error just this past week when I made a couple more apple pies for some friends of ours using corn flour. This time I had complete success! No more "hint-o-gravy" apple pies for me! ;)