This article will be in two parts as the subject is worthy of a little background and depth as well as comparisons. The next issue will cover the simplicity of metrics. Both issues will then have room for titbits and other subjects of interest for the metric and non-metric reader. – editor
Leave it to the French!
History has all to do with it. You can thank the French Revolution of 1789 for introducing the metric system to the rest of Europe. In 1824 the English revolutionised their measuring system and officially introduced the metric system to the general public.
The American revolution against the English was in 1776 – 84 years before the 1824 act was introduced in England and did not benefit from the standardisation of the common measures. This explains why cups and liquid measures differ.
Canada and Australia later developed their own subtle variation (an Australian tablespoon is 4 teaspoons, one teaspoon more than the US tablespoon).
National pride and traditional animosities between countries contributed to a selective close minded attitude concerning change in certain areas. Certainly less of a problem in an era when communication and travel to countries was limited by the cost and time. Travel to other countries often took months, if not years in some cases.
Today, the world is smaller; communication is instant and travel is measured in hours.
This article would not be necessary at all had I intended to reach one public singly – the English, American, European or other reader. But this is not the case. I have lived on both sides of the Atlantic and have friends from all over the world.
I am familiar with the frustrations of dealing with cup measurements and all the little rules that one must remember; a cup of flour, sifted? not sifted? scooped or spooned?
And measuring butter! Either remembering to fill a large measure with water then dropping in the butter until it reaches a certain mark or trying to get cold butter to co-operate into a cup making sure there were no air pockets…it’s troublesome.
Or wondering about the sense of a quart of strawberries or a pint when either is better used for measuring liquids. Big strawberries leave more air pockets! I tried this experiment once. The weighed difference between a quart of large strawberries and a quart of small was about a forth more using small berries.
Then there is the frustration of having an English recipe book, but American measuring cups (or the other way around).
A cup is not a cup, you know. There are tea cups, English coffee cups (demitasse – 1/3 American cup), breakfast cups.
The American 1/2 pint (1 cup) measuring cup is 8 fluid ounces or 2/5 of a British pint. An American pint is 16 fluid ounces, the British Imperial and Canadian are 20 fluid ounces.
An English teacup is 1/4 of a pint or one half of an American cup. I won’t go into the German and Spanish cups, I think the picture is clear.
Ah, but…does it not matter as long as one uses the same measures for everything?
Well, consider a baking recipe (not originating from your own country) calls for 3 cups of this and 1 of that, plus 1 teaspoon of baking powder. Which cup is meant?
If the Englishwoman trying an American recipe uses her tea cup then the baking powder will be too much. English usually measure butter by ounces, the Americans mostly, but not always in increments of cups (or tablespoons).
Fortunately, my mother taught me early on about the metric system. She baked from her German baking book which was of course in grams and kilo measures and liters (litres) for liquids.
Weighing out what one required for a recipe was a quick procedure. No matter what reciprocal you placed on the scale, you could set it at zero and then measure your butter if you wished it so or simply onto the tray of the scales.
I learned to use a large sieve (one multi-purpose utensil as opposed to a sifter just for sifting) placed on top of my mixing bowl to weigh the flour in. I could then sift directly onto a working surface or into another bowl.
We never had to worry about a cup of sifted once or twice flour, or if the flour should be scooped or spooned into the cup for accurate measurement. No, no. No thank you. Far too much bother!
Then there is the frustration of having an English recipe book, but American measuring cups. A cup is not a cup, you know.
An Australian tablespoon is 4 teaspoons; one teaspoon more than the US tablespoon.
A pinch means with well opened fingers (thumb, index and middle finger), that which can be held between them. Not such a wee amount that one needs a magnifying glass to find it! A small pinch uses thumb and forefinger.
Pinch = about1/8 teaspoon
Small pinch = about 1/16th
Dozen – Very old measure said to be based on 12 months (which even the most illiterate could recite) as a unit of measure. A Baker’s dozen is 13. From Old Latin dudecim, duo two +decim tenth or dozenth.