THE OLD saying that "anyone who can read can cook" relies for its validity on a uniform system of measurements for all printed recipes.
In Great Britain and the rest of Europe, weight is used in place of volume for the measurement of dry ingredients. A recipe in Europe might call for the equivalent of three pounds of cooking apples instead of nine cups. Even though measurement of dry ingredients by weight is far more precise than measurement by volume, this system has not been adopted in the United States. A pound of flour is always the same amount; but a cup of flour, depending on whether it has been sifted or not and how compact it is in the measuring cup, can vary up to 50 percent in actual weight. That can have a devastating effect on a receipe.
Though we have fully rejected the idea of measuring dry ingredients by weight in home kitchens, we seem to have a brief fascination with metrics. In order to determine how important metric measuring might become in American kitchens, I polled a number of leading manufacturers of cooking equipment as well as cookbook and gastronomic magazine publishers. There was a general consensus that the metric system was in a holding pattern just off the Atlantic coast, with no change expected until the end of the century. So most of the measuring instruments available in good cooking-equipment stores during the past 10 years are still very functional.
Measuring Dry Ingredients
For measures of dry ingredients I recommend the Foley measuring cups and spoons. They are strong, sturdy and made of stainless steel. There are measures that hold 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup plus long-handled spoons for 1/4 teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon. They can be stored close at hand or their own rack. The stainless steel will not interact with any foods, and the bowls can be bent all the way back to the handles without having them snap off.
A set usually sells for about $10.
An non-essential but inexpensive and convenient dry measure is the All-in-One Plastic Slide Measure. This is a plastic scoop into which is set a hoelike sliding barrier to block off the desired volume. Set the slide for the quantity, dip the scoop into the ingredients, then level it off with the back of a knife. The large end measures tablespoons and fractional cups to 1/2 cup. The handle section measures from 1/4 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. I keep one of these in each of my dry ingredient storage canisters.
The cost: $1.25 cents each.
When it comes to liquid measuring equipment, the Pyrex measuring cup is the national standard. Available as a trio of 4, 2 and 1 cup volumes, they are the finest liquid measures. Made of Corning's familiar oven-proof glass, they can also be used in the oven for melting butter or chocolate. One tip: Before measuring honey, molasses, or syrup, grease the cup lightly with vegetable oil or butter. Then every last drop will pour out.
One cup is $1.49; 1 pint, $1.99; 1 quart, $2.59.
The reason for the distinction between liquid and dry measuring equipment is simple. On a liquid measuring cup, the largest line of measurement is some distance below the edge of the container. That is an essential element in the design. Without the extra space, part of the contents of a full measure would spill out as soon as the container was moved. The dry measure is most accurate when the ingredient is poured or sifted into the container in a heaping mound above the rim. The ingredients is then leveled off with the back of a knife. The largest line of measurement on the dry ingredient measure is, therefore, on the very rim of the container. CAPTION: Picture, no caption