Tuesday, December 3, 2013

You have been weighed, you have been measured....

Well, not exactly, but I love that movie!  If you are like me, you find it almost impossible to bake a cake or make bread without proper measuring cups & spoons.  But we are certain that this plastic, aluminum and silicone devices did not exist to our 19th century ancestors. Or did they?

When we encounter original recipes- it can go something like this- add butter the size of a hens egg to a tea cup of milk.   Really.... a hens egg....really!

Graduated Tin Measures
Standard measures were not common until Fanny Farmer published here lovely book in 1869. I do thank her for this revolutionary thought of standard measures, but what did our ancestors do before? Measuring cups were around, in a since.

Liquids could be measured in tin cups. Cups, Pints, Quarts. Cups could be bought in graduated sets like these or cups had rings around them to designate the amount of liquid (very similar to today's modern measuring cups).

These tin measuring cups are still available for purchase from many sutlers & tinsmiths. Occasionally you can find an "original". I do try to prevent people from using originals, but some of these tine cups were used up until the 1950s for bulk orders, so some may still be safe to use.  Make sure they are clean & rust free, if they are tin keep a light coat of oil on them to keep rust away.  You can also buy tin reproductions from Old Sturbridge Village .

Dry goods, such as flour, sugar, indian meal, etc. were most likely measured in pounds rather than cups. Just as modern bakers recommend, weighing ingredients gives a better product. Miss Beecher gives an illustration for Balances for Cake.
Miss Beechers Domestic Receipt-book, 1871. 
Balances would have one side for the good to be measured and another pan for the weight to be placed. Weighing loose dry goods, such as flour, helps to give a more exact measurement rather than packing flour into a cup to be mixed which can result in too much flour- and dry baked goods.
Pan Balance with weights 

Measuring small amounts- teaspoons & tablespoons may have been a bit more tricky. It seems that spoons of different sizes were used before the standardized measures.
Apothecary spoon of Horn

 This seems to be the only "measuring spoon" I can find so far. ( I did not search the globe) It is horn, used to measure goods at an apothecary. Such spoons would have been handy in the kitchen- and who is to say they weren't? I did manage to find a company that reproduces a spoon similar to this in copper as well- find it here.  This company has lots of other cool 19th Century copper gadgets as well!

By the turn of the century it seems that many cooks were buying into the standard measuring system. Standard measuring cups & spoons were more readily available, and cookery books, such as Fanny Farmer began publishing their receipts using this new system.
Measuring spoons c. 1900. 

For more on period measurments & conversions please read "When a cup is not a cup?" by V. Mescher- I keep this chart on my wall for constant reference!

What I Do

If I am going to an event where I know I will be baking or need a specific amounts of an ingredient I pre- measure at home!! Yes, this saves the hassle of trying to find a "proper" measuring cups & spoons. I package the items in bags or boxes and then its hassle-free baking as well! I  have an absent mind at times, and if I am interpreting to the public while cooking, I often for get if that was my third or fourth cup of sugar! 

I have also measured out a few of my spoons, cups & bottles that I use. For instance I have a small white tea-cup that holds one gill (half- cup) it is perfect!! I use it all the time!! 

So, get whether or not you can afford the wonderful reproduction tin ware or not- you can still get accurate measures for your foodstuffs at events! Experiment at home with your supplies on hand & see which ones are "standard" cups or tumblers, teaspoons are gills. 

As always- Happy cooking!! 

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