How does a cook measure .83 of a cup?

How does a cook measure .83 of a cup? By Bob Karolevitz "What's two-thirds of one-and-a-fourth cups?" Phyllis wanted to know.

Obviously the recipe she was using was more of a mathematical problem than a culinary one.

"I don't know off the top of my head," I muttered. "First we have to find the lowest common denominator," which is something I learned about a long time ago.

"Did we lose that thing again?" she giggled � and of course she was kidding.

Well, frankly, there is nothing funny about fractions. If I could do arithmetic, I wouldn't have to keep writing!

Anyway, we proceeded to tackle what seemed like an unsolvable problem. We got out pencil and paper, which is what we have to do when we figure something as tough as that.

We argued about what was the lowest common denominator � and I wished I was back in grade school where we were taught such things. (Phyllis, incidentally, is no mathematical genius either.)

We finally settled on 12, and then we couldn't remember what to take times what. Thank goodness we were alone so that nobody else could see the trouble we were having.

After what seemed like an hour or two, we agreed that the answer was probably 15/19ths of a cup.

"But I don't have anything to measure 19ths with," Phyllis complained. "They don't make cups or spoons except in fourths, halves and wholes.

"Then maybe we should figure it in decimals," I suggested in my most algebraic tone. "Two-thirds is something like .666 � if you don't carry it out further � and 1 1/4 cups is 1.25."

"All we have to do is multiply one by the other, and � Zingo! � you'll know just how much plain milk and evaporated milk to use in your pumpkin pie."

The answer was easy. It was .83.

"How in the world will I measure out .83 of a cup?" my confused wife asked. "Decimals are for NASA and engineers with slide rules, or whatever they use these days. Those dots and numbers just don't work in the kitchen."

I've got to admit that she had me there.

"Why don't you do like your mother did?" I then said. "She just used a pinch of this and a pinch of that, and she never had a failure."

By this time I was getting angry at all recipe-writers who had one-third or two-thirds of anything in their cooking formulae.

"Well, here's another one for you," Phyllis interrupted. "I want to make a half batch of Grandma Helen's Butter Cream Frosting, and that calls for one-half of three-fourths of a cup of vegetable shortening. What's one half of three-fourths?"

That's all it took.

"Figure it out yourself," I growled as I stomped out of the kitchen. After all, cooking is not my thing, and I guess fractions aren't either.

Suffice to say, Phyllis did her usual by-guess and by-gosh thing, and both the pumpkin pie and the cake frosting turned out just fine. We could have skipped all those aggravating calculations, but the experience left me a little shaken.

I recalled with a slight shudder that I had to take freshman algebra to get my degree after I came back from World War II. Maybe I should just go to class with seven-year-old grandson Sam and start all over.

I wonder if he knows what two-thirds of one-and-a-fourth cups is?

© 2000 Robert F. Karolevitz

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