I don’t think of people from the British Empire as being of a different culture. After all, we share a common language, even if they do call chips crisps and fries chips while speaking with an accent we find so charming.
But like all other expats, they long for an occasional taste of home. There are plenty of specialty groceries right here serving up authentic favorites from around the world. The British have their local sources for comfort foods too.
We went looking for British foods after a trip to Scotland last fall – returning with a taste for shortbread, meat pies, and bangers. Three stores in our area stock the British staples that we were seeking. Goldenberry in Wilton, Penny ha’Penny in Cannondale, and UK Gourmet in Bethel all stock a wide range of foods from the British Isles and the Commonwealth beyond.
Goldenberry, in Wilton’s Stop and Shop plaza, has British foods and so much more. Attractively displayed Beatrix Potter tea sets, Belleek china, woolens, royal family souvenirs, books, and children’s clothing mix in with sweets, savories, and prepared foods. The shop, in Wilton for about a year, has been in business in various locations in Fairfield County for 29 years – 17 of those in Darien
Sweets seem to be a universal taste of home across all cultures. Any ethnic food store I’ve been in has the culture’s favorite candies. I guess a favorite childhood sweet can be transporting. All three British stores have lots of candies, biscuits (that’s cookies in American), and jams.
Goldenberry featured some fruit cordials – non-alcoholic fruit syrups meant to be sipped straight or mixed with soda water for a refreshing drink. I immediately thought of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, offering an elderflower cordial to a possible murderer.
Goldenberry owner, Deb Hecht, pointed out Flahavan’s jumbo oats and porridge oats as uniquely and typically British. She also showed me through the freezers of meat pies (steak and kidney or pork and apple), pork bangers, and bakewell tarts. British, Irish, and Welsh cheeses and butters are available along with authentic Scottish haggis.
A ready-to-bake steak and mushroom pie (left) cooked up with a golden pastry crust and a chunky full-flavored filling. Potato topped shepherd’s pie (right) made with beef was hearty and delicious, just like the ones we’d had in Scotland.
Canned goods including Heinz beans (for breakfast), HP sauce (to put on all meats), and beetroot chutney were all on display. Marmite, that most mysterious of British foods, was available in several sizes. The beloved yeast extract is spread on toast across the Commonwealth.
While we visited Goldenberry, one fellow shopper was looking for some foods to please her Australian son-in-law while another (with the proper accent) was picking up a favorite tea and some candies from home.
Deb is always on hand to guide culinary explorers through new flavors and supply the needs of expats. She carries three different brands of shortbread and was able to clearly describe the differences, each with their own virtues. Sweet and crumbly, Shortbread House of Edinburgh was our favorite.
Penny ha’Penny further north up Rt. 7 in Cannondale Crossing has been in the same antique barn for 36 years, going back to when June Havoc was the landlord. The shop has a few gifty things but is more focused on food.
There’s a large selection of biscuits (cookies), including the mysterious category of digestive, plus lots of candy. Canned goods include mushy peas, a full range of Heinz products, and lots more.
Several freezers are packed with sausages, bangers, bacon, meat pies, and kippers. Imported crumpets are a new item. I snatched a package of delicious bite size banger sausage rolls – like franks in a blanket with pork sausage instead.
When I mentioned my exploration of British food to an expat friend, he asked if I had been to UK Gourmet in Bethel. It’s a little far afield for me, but a destination for him. “They’ve got excellent Stilton,” he said. In fact they specialize in cheeses from Britain, with over 80 listed on their website. That alone makes it worth a trip.
A trip to UK Gourmet and a weekend brunch in Newtown at the British owned Dere Street Restaurant would be almost as good as a journey across the pond – no passport needed.