You say 'tomato' . . .
The other day on Radio 4's The Food Programme, I heard Richard Erlich extolling the virtues of Julia Child's (et al.'s) Mastering the Art of French Cooking but, he said, unfortunately it is written for Americans. Quite. It is a problem -- the same problem I faced when I moved here, equipped with around 20 of my cookbooks (all written for the American market). I knew there were myriad language differences that trap Americans who've moved here, and Brits who've moved there, but I was not prepared for the very real problems these differences present to cooks.
The first dinner party I planned here was a minefield, requiring no end of ingredients known only to Americans, or the names of which were American. That shopping list included cornmeal (I was sold cornflour), shortening, graham cracker crusts, and corn syrup. This shopping trip should've taken 20 minutes; it took 45. Even still I was not properly equipped to prepare the meal I'd planned -- the ice cream which I let soften for ice cream pie turned to a mass of bubbles, and you can't make cornbread from cornflour.
Another meal disaster involved lasagne, but this time it wasn't an ingredients problem, it was the pan. My American lasagne pan (I found after I'd filled it) did not fit in my English oven! But not only were the dimensions of the ovens different, their heating was different as well. Most gas cookers here are 'directly-heated', and this creates zones of heat so that the only shelf corresponding to the set temperature is the middle one. I guess I don't need to tell you what the cookies baked on the top shelf were like.
I decided to find a solution. I looked in the new and used book shops and, although I turned up some books with a few pages of translations, these did not go into the detail I required. I wished someone would write a book about it -- after all, I couldn't be the only one who needed this. When I later found myself out of work, I decided to start researching the subject myself. My husband asked whether there were enough different terms to merit a book. I thought so but at the time, I'd only compiled 10 pages; five years on, it's grown to 110 -- and these are just the translations.
When I returned to work, I did not want to let my research drop so I arranged to work a 4-day week, giving me an extra day to continue with the book. My background in graphic art and knowledge of word processing proved invaluable: I was able to design and structure the book so that it would be 'camera-ready' (i.e., ready to print as is), just in case I could not find a publisher.
While I researched and wrote the book, I also looked into how to approach publishers, to see what would interest them. In the early stages, Bantam requested a draught and considered it for some months but then the draught came back. Later, someone at another publisher wished to pursue it but the next time I wrote, found that person had left and no one there had heard of my book. HarperCollins were then interested, to the point of requesting my biographical details, but in the end I was turned down again. There was further interest, but this too came to nothing. Although most of the publishers wrote back very kind refusals, often extending helpful advice, I occasionally found myself in a catch-22: no, they wouldn't publish it (too small a market, and I wasn't known) but could they buy a copy once it's printed?
In the end, I'd written to more than 50 publishing houses -- without success. I had to decide: abandon 5 years of research, or publish the books myself -- I chose the latter. The up side is the books will finally be printed; the down side is I pay for them. In the late 1950s, Simon & Schuster published a book by my father called Those Were The Good Old Days, and this book sold well. Later, my father self-published a similar book which did not sell well and which left him out of pocket, and with a cellar full of books. Speaking with my father the other day, I mentioned that the cost of printing the 2 books was more than I'd ever spent on a car -- that I'd always bought used cars. He said I should ask them to print the books used. You can't beat a father's advice.
-Delora Jones, Burton upon Trent