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The British Are Here

Satisfy that craving for treacle, Weetabix or haggis


Hey Mom, what's a treacle and can you make some treacle fudge?" "What's a jacket potato?" These are some of the questions I fielded from my youngest child as he read the magical and very British Harry Potter books. The translation for a jacket potato is a baked potato. Treacle is a syrupy by-product created during sugar refining and a product not typically found on American grocery store shelves. Dark ­ or black ­ treacle is similar in taste, but thinner than molasses, while light treacle, which is also known as golden syrup, tastes and looks like a light corn syrup and wildflower honey mixture. Treacle sponge pudding, treacle toffee, and treacle tarts are so popular in Great Britain that treacle is a common descriptive term. Whereas Americans might use the simile "as thick as molasses," British authors, including J.K. Rowling, employ the term "treacle-thick."

If you're looking for clarity about British food or desire a specific UK product ­ or if you need some treacle to make some Harry Potter treacle tarts for Halloween ­ you only need to go as far as Dilworth.

Cathy Jones started C.C.A. British Foods two years ago with two fellow Brit expats. The name is a combination of their first initials. Jones, a native of Oxford, England, is a jeweler by trade and came to Charlotte after her mother married an American and moved here. Originally the plans for the business emphasized mail order. Soon, however, Jones realized that 7,000 British expatriots and probably even more Anglophiles were living in the Charlotte area, and they would find it a "hard go" not to have an available supply of Heinz's baked beans and the other basic necessities of the British kitchen. That realization worked nicely with another one: Jones was ruining her eyes doing jewelry repair work and the jewelry business can be dangerous. Thus last May, Jones, in a solo venture, opened a larger, fully stocked shop in Dilworth's Park Square Shopping Center. (The same strip as Rheinland Haus and Ru San's.)

Other English food items can be equally puzzling. Have you ever wondered what those bashed neeps were that accompanied the haggis you tried on your last trip to St. Andrews in Scotland? As George Bernard Shaw once remarked, England and America are two countries divided by a common language. Toad in the Hole has neither toads nor holes, but it does have sausages and an egg batter. Spotted Dick Pudding is a favorite sponge cake and raisin dessert, which is currently under consideration of a name change by a British grocery store chain since it is thought that some customers shy away from buying it because of its name. The new name being considered is Spotted Richard Pudding. Pudding, in the UK, is not the food item Jello makes. Pudding is typically a steamed cake, such as plum, or sticky toffee or Christmas pudding.

The majority of her customers are from parts of the English speaking world: the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, the US, and some from the islands. C.C.A., marked by a large Union Jack waving in front, is filled with rows of items waiting to be discovered by those unfamiliar with British food and a welcomed delight for expats and Anglophiles.

Although the British are not known for any outstanding qualities of their food, I must say that I love the food in Great Britain. I enjoy going to pubs to have some farmhouse cheddar with a mighty pint of the best bitter and exploring the great food halls of London.

British cuisine is more than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips, and steak and kidney pie. A full English breakfast sometimes offers the savory Indian kedgeree and no meal would be complete without condiments such as mint sauces, Indian chutneys, mustards, HP sauce. England produces wonderfully rich cheeses such as Stilton, farmhouse cheddars, and Cheshire, plus some of the most extraordinary dairy products in the world.

You can find many of these products at Jones' shop. The freezer and refrigerated compartments are filled with steak and kidney pies, shepherd's pies, chicken curry pastries, meat birdies, pork and beef bangers, Irish back bacon (rashers), Stilton, Caerphilly, and cheddar cheeses, clotted and double cream, freshly made scones, crumpets and smoked Scottish kippers. Note the Irish bangers are from Ireland since that country is allowed to export meat products, but the British bangers are from this continent. C.C.A. also has a frozen Scottish haggis on hand, although I'm not sure if the ceremonial sword you need to slice it is sold as well.

You can find McVities digestives and a variety of biscuits and crackers and cans of microwavable Treacle Pudding and Spotted Dick Pudding. Weetabix, a cereal, is more expensive than the Canadian Weetabix found in local grocery stores, but Jones notes the products are not the same, saying, "The British Weetabix is much better."

Teas fill an entire section as do the chocolates and candies or confectioneries. Of course, there are the Heinz baked beans, which should be properly heated and served on toast. These seemed somewhat anemic to my taste. I do however appreciate how Heinz identifies vegetarian products on their British line of foods.

You will find an assortment of tinned (canned) and powdered soups, curry pastes, Indian sauces and chutneys. The British take marmalade quite seriously and C.C.A. has at least five kinds. Of course, Jones carries Marmite, but she also has vegamite, too. A Welshman might consider the jar of cockles, even if they are from the Netherlands, and there's pickled walnuts and Heinz Salad Cream.

New to the shop are the British and Scottish beers. Some are even kept in a refrigerated case for the Yanks. C.C.A. has Old Speckled Hen Ale, Blue Bird Bitter, St. Andrew's Lager, IPA Greenking and more. Jones also carries an Elderberry cordial. If customers want a specific item, she is happy to order it by the case. However, if it is a product which she feels others will enjoy she typically sells the rest of the case in the shop.

By the end of October, C.C.A. will have most of the holiday goods in the shop. Jones says, "I'll have puddings, chocolates, mince pies, and crackers. Anything that people could imagine." She also creates holiday baskets. In addition to food items, C.C.A. sells Pears soap, a curious assortment of "chemist" items, as well as flags, decals, polo shirts, and tea pots from the UK.

With the first Harry Potter movie premiering in November, now is the time to explore the magical properties of treacle tarts and other British specialties. Comfort food, after all, is an international language.

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