Measurements and Conversions

Butter the size of a walnut (#339), ginger the size of a thimble (#734), and lemon salt the size of ½ a pea (#1568) are all measurements used by Molokhovets that are redolent of another era. She broke off dough the size of a chicken’s egg or of a wild apple (#1294, 1847) and, according to the circumstances, rolled it out to the thickness of a finger (#1658), the blunt edge of a knife (#1667), or of 2 silver ruble coins (#1866). This kind of measurement based on familiar comparisons worked well for an experienced cook in Molokhovets’ society, as does the modern American usage of #2 cans or a packet of dried onion soup mix. Once such a frame of reference is lost, however, it becomes difficult or impossible to reproduce the recipe. Butter the size of an egg may not be precise enough for modern standards, but it is still understandable, and in most cases a little butter more or less will not unduly affect the outcome of the recipe. More of a problem is her habit of calling for a “5 kopeck roll” or “half a French roll”; even knowing that a 5 kopeck roll weighed about 180 grams, or ⅖ of a U.S. pound, we can only speculate how much bread was represented by a 3 kopeck or a 1 kopeck roll. Were the prices strictly proportional to the amount of bread or was an inferior grade of flour used in the cheaper roll? I was unable to determine, but the search for the answer seems as elusive as the task the cook or historian a century hence will face when trying to reproduce an American recipe based on “ingredients” composed of commercial products long since vanished from the scene. Fortunately, such culturally bound directions are exceptional for Molokhovets, who was ahead of her time in trying to provide precise, accurate measurements for most of her recipes.