Now that Brexit is not for turning it got me thinking of all the complications that having two competing systems of measuring has done to cooking over the years. The imperial method of using inches, ounces, pounds and pints for ingredients and recipes was a given until the metric formula started to take over the world in this last few decades. Modern cooking and training had already brought this dilemma to the boil. Don’t be surprised then if our now mostly globally accepted metric units of centimetres, grams, kilos and litres, gets rejected along with the EU.
In hotel school in the eighties we had to learn recipes in dual mode but the imperial system was soon knocked out of me in France even though I still convert easily to this day. The French were absolutely dismissive of the rival imperial units as was the rest of Europe. It does not help that the UK is in a kind of halfway house anyway using both systems depending on whether it’s driving in miles or shopping in kilos for example. It’s been a long time since I heard their rainfall reported in inches.
It’s not so easy for the older generation either who were brought up on the imperial system and the metric units have bamboozled them as much as the moving from shillings or to Euros did back in the day. I have had many an argument with the merits of everything going metric but older folk are having none of it coming from an era when Ireland was very much still part colony in most regards.
In cooking specifically the Americans had to complicate the recipes even more with their cups of this, quarts of that. It does not help that some recipes mix both metric and imperial systems just to confuse the home cook even further. Luckily we have our smart phones to do the maths these days but it helps if recipes are in one system or the other. Following recipes can be complicated enough for the amateur without having to turn it into an arithmetic test.
I get asked for the quick rounded up guide to conversion often enough and I have a simple one that will not mess up your cooking too much. Keeping an ounce to twenty five grams, two pounds to a kilo and two pints to a litre will serve you well is my one sentence formula. Though one caveat is with baking where I would advise to go exact in your conversion as you are into proper chemistry and a few grams or millimetres short here and there will adversely work against your buns or pastries being a total success, but not by much.
Likewise there is no end of confusion with oven temperatures with having to navigate between gas marks, Celsius and Fahrenheit. There is also the added handicap that recipes calculated for professional ovens do not always suit the domestic one. The easy way to gauge for the oven is to just double the Celsius to get the Fahrenheit. There is very little gas oven cooking now. For lengths which are also relevant to cooking of course I round them up again with for example an inch to two centimetres has served me well over the years. In a high end kitchen you will literally be measuring cuts of fruit and vegetables which I have had to do.
In other aspects of life imperial plays its part in complicating things so don’t get me started on shoes and shirt sizes. Pounds, stones and miles were needed in their day but the world has moved on and we really need one uniform system and that should be metric across the scale except for maybe a pint of Guinness, I am happy to hold onto that one, literally. As for the rest Metric is the winner by kilometres.