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Tales of the Testers: Find That #@%! Ingredient

How hard are these to find? (Joe Yonan -- The Washington Post)

From time to time here at AWCE, we'll provide slices of recipe-testing life at The Post. We test every recipe that is published in print and online at Recipe Finder. Our testers are a small, dedicated band of volunteers. When they see upcoming titles posted via e-mail, they pounce on a first-come, first-served basis. They often will bring in their finished dishes to be photographed, which makes me (as recipe editor) appreciate them even more.

Next week's Mango Salad With Ginger-Raisin Vinaigrette looked simple enough. Mary Pat snagged it. When she began to shop for its ingredients on Friday, she couldn't find golden raisins at a Giant in Potomac. On Saturday, there were none at the Whole Foods Market on P Street NW.

By Sunday night, she was 0 for 6: at the Whole Foods in Tenleytown, at the Safeway stores near Georgetown Day High School and Chevy Chase Circle. Rodman's? Nope.

She e-wailed: "They are raisins, for heaven's sake -- not lavender crystals or even yogurt-covered/dried/mixed you-name-it variants of regular raisins, apricots, cranberries, cherries, dates or dehydrated blueberries," all of which were in great supply, mocking her.

The recipe called for the raisins to eventually be pureed in a dressing; would dark raisins have altered the taste or look of the dish? Maybe. We'd know for sure if we tested it different times with different raisins. But we needed the golden ones to start with.

After a few calls to confirm the lack of a raisin conspiracy, I found a box at SuperFresh. Mary Pat made the vinaigrette. I retested it with dark raisins (at some personal sacrifice; I am not a raisin person). Golden raisins it is.

Matters of ingredient substitution can be serious business, which we'll discuss in future Tales of the Testers. For now, I'm just curious: As non-testing recipe followers, at what point would you have
a) Thrown in the dark raisins,
b) Substituted another light-colored dried fruit, or
c) Ordered Chinese?

-- Bonnie Benwick

By The Food Section  |  May 1, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tales of the Testers  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Mary Pat Flaherty, recipes  
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Next: Time to Ramp It Up


I would go to our local grocery store and if they didn't have these, I would forget about the recipe for the time being. Then one day, I would happen upon golden raisins there or elsewhere and remember that I wanted some, but by then I wouldn't remember why...

Now, why do I have an unopened bag of potato flour, not starch, in my cupboard?

Posted by: fran426 | May 1, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

For future reference, Trader Joe's usually carries golden raisins.

Posted by: fltolson | May 1, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I would have just gone to TJs, from which I buy ungodly quantities of golden raisins (I like them on cereal).

Posted by: Lindemann777 | May 1, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

I usually have a box of golden raisins in my pantry, as they are used in my favorite Irish Soda Bread. And I've also had difficulty finding them sometimes, so when I see them, I get them. (Sometimes leading to an overstock in my pantry, forcing me to bake. Gee, darn.) But if I didn't have them, and my supermarket didn't either, I'd pout, then use the dark raisins. I figure, probably not the same, but close enough.

Posted by: GirlScoutMom | May 1, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Fran426, you may want to move that potato flour to the fridge or freezer.

Posted by: benwickb | May 1, 2009 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of finding ingredients... Can anyone suggest a store in the Arlington area that might carry gluten free oyster sauce? We're trying to prepare a Chinese meal for someone who is allergic to gluten (wheat, and wheat-derived products)

Many Thanks!

Posted by: jdrboneman | May 4, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

If I were making the recipe for some "official" purpose like recipe testing, I would have continued the search as Bonnie did. However, if I were making the recipe for personal use at this stage in my cooking life, I would probably have substituted the dark raisins when I made my shopping list! (If that's what I had on hand.) If I had to buy raisins anyway I would have made the switch at the 1st store that had no golden raisins. In the past I would have spent hours or days looking for the exact ingredient, but as I've "aged" ("matured"?) I've 1) thrown away too many expired/dried-out/spoiled ingredients to not use up what I have on hand; 2) beome bolder with my recipe experimentation, and 3) had too many experiences where the end result wasn't worth the time spent and, as a result, perhaps too easily say, "The heck with it! I'll just use something else!"

Posted by: SusanT | May 6, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

How can I find out more about being a recipe tester? Are you in need of more testers? It sounds fun and iteresting. Are there any particular requirements to qualify?

Posted by: SusanT | May 6, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Sniders has golden raisins too. They don't have a huge inventory, but you can rely on them to have the same stuff week after week.

That said, I would not have substituted. Golden raisins taste just different enough that I would have waited, especially because I am not a raisin fan to begin with.

Posted by: jweissmn | May 6, 2009 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Susan, most of our volunteer testers work in the building at the Post. It makes it easy to reimburse them for ingredients and try the samples they bring in. That said, we do have a few others who are kind enough to bring in samples, etc. Send your info to

Posted by: benwickb | May 7, 2009 12:45 AM | Report abuse

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