G6 mentioned on a recent posting Zwetschgenkuchen http://guesswhoscoming2dinner.blogspot.com/ a problem that has faced many of us who do our own cooking and baking. This problem is seen in particular when we are talking about family/heirloom recipes. The problem is not in the taste; it's in how to duplicate that taste when we go to make the recipes ourselves. And the problem has to do with measurement.
Years back I served on the PTA board of my daughters' high school. Our big fundraising project for the year was to equip a home economics room. I was asked to give a speech at a PTA meeting in support of the project. As part of it I mentioned just how much "traditional" Jewish cooking has changed since the time of our grandmothers. One of the things I talked about was how measurements were referred to "in the olden days."
Before I got married I sat with my mom and with a set of standard measuring spoons and measuring cups. I spent hours translating "traditional" measurements into something I could make sense of. Why? Because my mom, and the women of the generation before hers, used the following measurement system.
Recipes told you to add "a bissele" or even "ah klein bissele." Sometimes they told you to add "a tropele." Sometimes you needed only "a spritz." Sometimes you were told to add "a pinch." Then there were the instructions to "add a handful," "add a small handful," "add a large handful." As G6 pointed out, sometimes the instructions said to "add a loffel (spoon)." How big or small a spoon?! My favorites were the instructions to add "a vasser glessele," "a vein glessele," or a "bronfen glessele." These "glass" measurements were further complicated because many a household used empty glass yahrzeit candle glasses to drink from. Sometimes a recipe would tell you to "add a few____" into the pot? Any idea of how many "a few" is?
To confuse matters even more, some of the recipes said to put in a "zuppen teller's" worth of an ingredient, or perhaps a "klein shussel's" worth of something. I've owned many a set of dishes over the years of my marriage, and all the bowls in the different sets held differing amounts of content.
My mom has now for decades used standard measuring cups and spoons in her baking. Even with her doing this, recipes she gives out may not always taste the same when someone else makes them. This is because of a different "unmeasurable" rule that is in place. Some of the recipes say to taste before cooking, and if necessary to "adjust the flavorings to taste." Yup, really quantifiable.
But being really honest here, some of my own recipes are in the "old style." When I'm sprinkling spices on the chicken I sprinkle until the chicken "looks right." Unless you've been standing next to me when I put on the spices this is not going to be awfully informative. And yes, I've been known to use the washing "teppel" to add water to a pot. The size of these washing teppels can vary greatly. Maybe some day I'll actually measure out how much liquid I'm talking about. Otherwise, my daughters are more than welcome to do that measurement for themselves.
My aunt a"h made the most incredible carrot cake I've ever eaten. Unfortunately none of us have been able to duplicate it exactly (although I came awfully close last year) because the recipe her kids found used the old fashioned measurements for all the ingredients. You may know what you are talking about when you say "a bissele," but do future generations a favor and pass down recipes in standard format.
My Bubi gave out recipes this way. And if you asked her how long to cook something for she would answer "until it's finished."
I always liked the instructions for dough- as much flour as it needs - supply yiddish equivalent here....
My aunt wanted her mom's (my grandmother's) knish recipe so she had her make it in front of her. As she took a "pinch" or "a bissel" of something, my aunt grabbed it from her hand and measured it. She managed to come up with a pretty close approximation of the recipe.
but she doesn't know where she put it!
My mom is pretty good with most parts of a recipe until you come to the spices. Then she goes the old fashioned way. Ask her how much of a spice to put in a dish and she'll tell you to put in enough but not too much. May be why my dad says that when I make my mom's recipes they taste okay but just not as good as moms do.
You've been eavesdropping in my mother's kitchen! And yet all the dishes manage to come out tasting and looking great.
I never use a formal recipe with measurements for anything except baked goods. I never understood how the biselle approach worked for baking (putting aside some of the flavorings like cinammon or raisons) since much of baking is chemistry and the correct amount of baking powder, yeast, etc. and ratios of dry to liquid are critical, but somehow our grandmothers did it.
Please, take this the right way, but there's a particular one of those Yiddish cooking instructions that used to have me rolling on the floor every time my aunt used it. Her English wasn't very good and she never understood the reaction she always got.
Apparently, or at least where my aunt came from, the Yiddish term for putting or dumping in an ingredient into other ingredients is 'shit arein' (spelling?) You ever hear this one before?
Not only have heard it before but remember hearing it a lot when I was younger. I asked my resident Yiddish expert about it--my mom. She told me that growing up that terminology was not only common but that you heard it much more often than the equivalent "giss arein." Her feeling is that the change to using "giss" and not "shit" anymore came about when Yiddish met English here in the States. Since the English word was clearly problematic in polite usage it affected the use of the Yiddish word.
The phrase my family used for that particular cooking style is "M'shit arein a bissel" -- One pours a little in.
Anonymous I also wondered about how the cake and dough recipes could come out right. My mom says though that you learned to use your fingers and hands to tell if the ratio of ingredients was okay. The dough felt a certain way if you had enough flour or liquid. It would pull a certain way if you got it right. I'd rather just use measuring cups.
Measuring cups won't do it for baking.
You need to use weight measurements (a good digital scale isn't that expensive), measuring by volume is too imprecise, and you're back to judging by feel.
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