I had already made two laps around Tesco, and frozen lemonade concentrate was nowhere to be found. There were bacon-flavored crisps, suspiciously cheap pork pies, and something called salad cream, but no frozen lemonade.
In the few months I had been living in London, I had spent an inordinate amount of time in the many Tescos sprinkled around the city. In part, this was because grocery stores are an excellent way to explore a new country. You can learn what people impulse buy in the checkout line, what they pick up when they are too tired to do anything but turn on the microwave, and which chocolates are worth buying. It’s fascinating.
Admittedly, I had also spent a lot of time in Tesco vainly searching for particular ingredients. On my first-ever Tesco run, just days after touching down in Heathrow, I couldn’t find eggs. I had no idea that the British do not refrigerate eggs, and so spent an embarrassing amount of time prowling the refrigerated aisles in barely concealed wonder. Sure, the Tesco was small – this was central London, after all. But how could they not have eggs? How on earth did people cook? Finally, I asked an employee who, as he kindly refrained from smirking, led me to a corner display of eggs sitting brazenly in the unrefrigerated air. Oh.
Since then, I had grown slightly more sophisticated. I confidently located eggs, knew that “squash” might refer to concentrated fruit juice, and agreed that McVities Dark Chocolate Digestives were heaven-sent. However, I had never realized how many of my recipes, culled from a childhood in the American South, drew on brand-name ingredients that proved stubbornly nationalistic. Minute Maid Lemonade concentrate. Bakers chocolate baking squares. Cool Whip. Eagle Brand milk.
On a Mission
On this particular Tesco run, I was on a mission to make my grandmother’s lemonade pie for my friend Owen’s potluck dinner that evening. In my family, if we really love you, we will prepare Grandmama’s recipes for you. Celebrations call for her coffee ice cream pie, grounded by a chocolate Rice Krispy crust that rose to fame in local cookbooks. Illness, surgery, or a new baby merits a heaping serving of Chicken Divan casserole. If you’re really special – or very much in need – we might make her homemade pizza or give you a slice of my Mamaw’s Pound Cake, a recipe so delicious that it hangs framed in my mother’s kitchen.
In London, it was laughable to even think of fitting an oven in my closet-sized flat. Consequently, my dessert repertoire was limited to frozen treats and various no-bake combinations of chocolate and peanut butter. The lemonade pie had only four ingredients: frozen lemonade concentrate, sweetened condensed milk, Cool Whip, and pre-made pie crust. How hard could it be?
Frustrated by my fruitless quest for lemonade concentrate, I decided to focus on condensed milk, figuring I could add lemon juice or zest. Having failed to spot it elsewhere, I warily headed for the “American” section. I had a love-hate relationship with this particular section of British supermarkets. Though I appreciate that the British are thoughtful enough to provide us expats a selection of goods that might remind us of home, looking at the actual selection felt uncomfortably like being on the receiving end of a backhand compliment. There were boxes upon boxes of sugary cereal, jumbo-sized Oreos, bags of stringy beef jerky, and jars of that strange peanut-butter-and-jelly swirl spread, because apparently buying them separately is just too much hassle. This, America, is what Tesco thinks we have contributed to the culinary world.
Alas, amid this cornucopia, there was no sweetened condensed milk. Given that I was now 0 for 2 on my four-ingredient pie, I decided to change strategies. Grandmama’s coffee ice cream pie had never failed me before, and one of its ingredients – Rice Krispies cereal – was already staring me in the face. My British friends would just have to taste lemonade pie when they came to America.
A Worthy Substitution
A few hours later, I was serving the ice cream pie to my friends, having just enjoyed a delicious chicken curry that Owen had slaved over. Unable to find coffee ice cream, I had instead filled the pie with Mackey’s Cookies and Cream. It proved a worthy substitution, gauging by various exclamations and rapid claims on seconds. The accents might have been different, but the reactions were the same that I had seen many times at my mother’s table, when we proffered the pie to someone new. As always, it made me smile.
It was a lovely evening, filled with British, Scottish, and Southern-tinged conversation and ridiculous YouTube videos. Though the lemon pie had stumped me, my ice cream pie had not disgraced my family’s culinary heritage, and I had somehow fallen into a happy cocoon of friendship in my new city. I couldn’t have been happier, and I like to think my grandmother would be thrilled too, knowing I was taking her pie – created in 1960s Alabama – and sharing it in a new country.
It Never Fails
The next week, my friends planned another dinner. I wanted to bring my mother’s taco soup – a never-fail crowd pleaser – and texted my mom for the recipe. Her reply:
“You’ll need powdered ranch dressing, and El Paso taco sauce. Can you find that there?”
Here we go again.