“And to top it all”, she wailed, “when I emptied the last tin of fruit cocktail into the bowl, it wasn’t fruit cocktail. It was cooked carrots.”
Tehran, Iran, early 1970s. I was pretty sure I knew how that could have happened. I’d been in a favourite shop that week, and saw proprietor and minion sitting on the floor amid towers of unidentified tins, selecting labels from a pile between them. Labels announced fruit and vegetables from Dole, Del Monte, several Chinese manufacturers, New Zealand, and Europe. The men would pick up a tin, find a label that fit, and glue it on. “How do you know what’s in the tin?” I had asked. “It’s easy,” one replied: “just read the label”.
But this was no time for amusement. My friend was distressed. She was newly arrived and British. It was confusing enough to be plopped into a strange country. It was even more confusing to face the turbulent mixture of cultures and classes that represented people from her native land. She was trying to fit in and not knowing if she was succeeding. She longed for her own nondescript semi-detached house on a nondescript street in an English town, with neighbours she understood. This feeling occurred frequently in wives of husbands who had acquired lucrative overseas jobs for the government. She had invited women to “luncheon”, had burned the crumble in her fickle unintelligible oven, and fruit cocktail was her make-do for afters. By the time her first visitor arrived she was a wreck.
What she didn’t know, until she opened the door, was that people who live most of their lives overseas are accustomed to ambiguity, and accept any sudden quirk as a Given. They make friends easily and quickly, and are relaxed and supportive. Her guests, true to form, were delighted to meet each other. Later, as the unusual dessert was served, there was laughter and amusement. Each had her own story to tell. “You never know what to expect in Iran,” they told her, and all agreed. In this lonely country far from all that was familiar, she had found friends.
In Iran, my Make-Do Spectacular was Crab Casserole. Guests were astounded that I’d found tinned crab somewhere in the city. I hadn’t. It was tuna. But since the recipe said “crab casserole” that’s what it remained. It’s only now, these many years later, that I suddenly wondered what the original actually tasted like. So here, in honour of Sisters’ Day – the first Sunday in August, is my sister Anne’s Crab casserole recipe.
Add them in a bowl to 1 cup cooked cooled rice, 2 tins (cans) shrimp. (I used 200 gms +, cooked peeled prawns ), 1 tin of white crab meat, 2 tins condensed cream of mushroom soup (see HINT*), a small onion finely chopped, and 4 ozs grated mature cheddar (sharp cheese). Save some of the cheese for the top of casserole. Mix well. Put in a greased casserole dish. Bake at 375 degrees, mod. hot for an hour. Serves 6 – 8.
Note: Woops! I added twice as much cheese as the recipe instructed. Ooh, it was handsome!
*HINT. A good substitute for one tin of condensed soup is a white sauce made with 3 tablespoons butter, 3 tablespoons plain flour, cooked gently stirring until it doesn’t smell raw. Then slowly add 8 ozs (1 cup) milk or other liquid (for example, juice from the sautéed mushrooms. Stir until thickened, about the same consistency as tinned condensed soup. Add more liquid if necessary.