Other than in very precise baking, what matters in getting a dish “right” is the quantity of an ingredient relative to others in the dish, not that there is one-eighth or one-sixteenth of a teaspoon of it.

I do not mean that measurement itself is unimportant. We know of the incompetent boiler’s antithesis, she who “did not measure at all.” She scooped the flour for making pasta dough in the palm of her hand. She only used pinches of this and that. The mother of a man I met on a flight made chocolate cake and egg noodles using thin, dark, little tin cups. “They had no measurements on them,” he told me, his head bowed reverently. “She knew.”

A Measured Approach, from the Eat column, NY Times Magazine, 2/15/2015

My niece had once tried to get a recipe from my mother for a luxion (noodle) kugel. She started out by saying, “Foist you tek a gless flour”. No cups or tablespoons – and the “gless” she used was an old Welch jelly glass that she had for years. And you always taste. Maybe a little more salt. A little more pepper. But always came exactly as it did before.

I’m a bit more of a chemist which is probably why I favored baking. My measurements were always exact – even when teaching my daughter, I showed her the precise way to measure flour, or how to carefully test for doneness in a cake, or the way to knead the dough then judge the crumb in a roughly sliced piece of freshly baked bread. Recipes were architectural rules to be followed – when ignored, you risked the failure of collapse. Or worse, an unsatisfied guest.

In these later years I’ve become more flexible in spirit rather than bone. I add a bit more or a bit less, or leave it in the oven for a few more minutes than the prescribed time. Maybe I add a touch more sweetness or bite. Or even a fingersnip more of salt. Maybe something doesn’t work. And that’s ok – there’s always the opportunity to make it again. There can be a bit of forgiveness in cooking and baking – even the small failures can be overlooked when you share a meal that was made with your own hand.

And nothing tastes sweeter, lasts longer, or is enjoyed more.

in the kitchenAt the Kitchen
Vladimir Makovsky
1913
(click on illustration for artwork page)

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