Wednesday, November 25, 2009
A True Measure
How precise do we need to be? When I was little, I would sit on a tall stool and carefully watch every move Grandmama made as she baked. She always told me the secret to baking was chemistry - you had to measure your ingredients precisely. Then I noticed that her cups of flour (always Redband) were heaping cups. That is the cup was full with a mound on top. When she added the vanilla, she always used the bottle cap to measure it. When I asked why, she said it measured out to be a 1/2 teaspoon. When it came to salt - she just sprinkled some in her palm, pinched it between her thumb and forefinger, and threw it in. I asked her if that was "a pinch". She replied, "No, a dash." I was confused. Whatever - the magic worked and the cake came out perfect, every time.
When I started baking and really paying attention to techniques, two things struck me as odd. First, everything I read emphatically said to level off your dry ingredients to ensure that you have the exact amount. (Heaping was nowhere to be found.) Second, I could never find the definition of a "pinch" or a "dash". I followed the directions in recipes precisely, but my baked goods just never were quite as good as Grandmama's. (Aunt Kat would have told me I wasn't holding my nose right - her answer when anything went wrong.)
The position of my nose aside, there had to be more to this. I pulled down my book of recipes hand written by Grandmama, certainly this would reveal all. To no avail - they were loaded with pinches and dashes and a new one - "smidgens". Word to the wise, don't ask too many questions. I started doing research. Seems a "dash" equals 1/8 of a teaspoon - who knew? But a "pinch" equals 1/16 of a teaspoon. (I want to know who measured that one.) Bottom line - a "smidgen" is 1/32 of a teaspoon. (I think the Princeton dictionary had it correct when they described it as "a scarcely detectable amount.")
One day I found measuring spoons that actually measured out a dash, a pinch, and a smidgen. I knew I was set. No recipe could get ahead of me now. Everything was going well until the afternoon I was baking and saw that the next ingredient was a "dab" of butter. When I went to look this one up the only definition I could find was "a small quantity of something moist." Gee whiz - thanks. I think it is a conspiracy.
A Sterling Adventure
In looking for a salt spoon to give me 8 and a complete set, I found myself lost in the myriad of place and serving pieces of sterling silver. I had no idea there were so many and not a clue as to what to do with most of them. (And, as for my salt spoons, I only have them because I found 7 in an antique store and if you have ever seen salt spoons that go with salt cellars, you would know why I could not resist them.) Anyway, I decided that I would do some research and every day add a very short blog entry (to my usual one) devoted to one of these interesting, but rather obscure pieces of silver. You may have these pieces and use them daily. If so, I envy you because I so love sterling flatware. But, if you are like me, we'll find the journey a little interesting, and who knows, you may recognize that bizarre piece of sterling you found while cleaning out Great Aunt Sara Jane's house after her unfortunate passing at the age of 97.