Sometimes we spend an inordinate amount of time in an attempt to save money when spending the money in the first place would save us a great deal of time. Such was the case in my recent purchase of a kitchen scale—one of those nifty little digital jobs for weighing food items in recipes. In more than fifty years of doing my own cooking and baking, I could never see the value in investing in a scale. I had a large supply of measuring cups, spoons, scoops and various gadgets that allowed me to calculate the correct quantity of flour, sugar or other ingredients. And, yes, many times I also employed a pocket calculator to convert imperial to metric or vice versa.
The other day I dug out my nearly one-hundred-year-old recipe for dark Christmas fruitcake. My mother would traditionally make it every year while Dad was away deer hunting in early November so it would have about six weeks to season and ripen in time for Christmas. When she got beyond making it herself, I would go and stay with her for the week Dad was away and make it myself in her kitchen. The first time I couldn’t find a bowl big enough to contain all the ingredients so I had to wash out a cooler, dump all the ingredients in and do the mixing with my hands.
The difficulties associated with working with such an old recipe include interpreting quantities of the listed ingredients. The recipe originally came to my mother in the fifties from a girlhood friend of hers who got it from her aunt who, with her husband owned the dairy in our small town. It called for one jar of red cherries and one jar of green cherries but gave no indication of what size the jar should be. I could take a guess at around twelve ounces each but that brought up another problem. The ingredients in the store today are now labelled in odd metric sizes like 375 g or 2 kg which always presents nearly insurmountable problems for someone like me with zero aptitude for math and conversions. Despite forty-plus years since Canada’s conversion to the metric system, I’m still thoroughly and utterly imperial. When I pass on I’ll be buried in a six-foot coffin and dropped into a six-foot pit. No metrics involved. When I buy a Christmas or Thanksgiving turkey, don’t ask me to do a quick mental calculation to convert the size from kilograms to pounds. I can’t do it, so I just eyeball the size and hope for the best. Usually I cook two turkeys just to be on the safe side and enjoy the bounty of the leftovers.
The sheet of paper with the old Christmas cake recipe on it has numerous calculations scribbled on the side of the page after my attempts to nail down the quantities in language I can understand but I’m never confident I get it right. This year, after all this time, I picked up a little President’s Choice digital scale (less than $30.00) with my groceries and I can’t begin to tell you how much I love it. And it works in imperial as well as metric. I simply put the empty bowl on the scale, hit zero then add the raisins or whatever until it shows the two pounds, one-quarter pound or whatever quantity is needed of nuts, currants or glazed fruit. No calculator, no Google, no brains required. Right up my alley. I don’t know why I waited so long. Just think of the painful hours I could have eliminated with my pocket calculator or Googling conversation charts over the years trying to adapt recipes to something I could understand. My mother would be proud. If you don’t already have a little digital countertop scale, pick one up. It’s a good investment by anyone’s measure. Believe me.
Footnote: The one scale I’ve never been able to find is something to measure butter when the wrapper has been cut away. This is further complicated by the fact that many American recipes call for one stick or two sticks of butter and in Canada butter is sold in a solid pound, unless you want to pay extra for ‘sticks’. At one time I saved the little strip along the closing flap from a Tenderflake lard package but lost it and now that I never make anything requiring lard, I’m lost without that little cardboard measuring strip. I think I’m going to have to create my own, get it laminated and put it on Etsy. I’m bound to make a fortune. Or I could simply buy a pound of lard, save the measuring strip and call it a day.
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