Olde Scandinavian Cooking

by The Metric Maven

Happy Metric Day

My friend Pierre has introduced me to many interesting aspects of cooking. I’ve been interested in his recipe for bacon explosion, but apparently do not have the nerve to pursue it. Pierre began to watch a program called New Scandinavian Cooking. He could not but achieve some metric schadenfreude, and surprise, when he reported the presenting chef, Andreas Viestad, was using deciliters in his recipes!

I like Scandinavians as I grew-up around their descendants in Minnesota. They are always portrayed as sanguine, happy, and calm. I heard many Sven jokes (sorry Sven) as I grew up, and they all involved Sven as clueless and happy. I would relate one, but all those I know are probably not appropriate for this blog.

I investigated the program, and to my horror, not only did he use deciliters, but their milk was in deciliter packaging! Below you will find a 3 deciliter carton of milk. Not 300 mL, but 3 dl !

Three decilitres of milk

I have watched a considerable number of the programs. The Scandinavian cooks seem to fearlessly use grams, so where are the milliliters? I randomly looked through a number of NSC recipes and found that Scones with Red and Yellow Beets had a number of volume measures. Here is the recipe:

Why on Earth would NSC use teaspoons and tablespoons instead of milliliters? I have no idea what the measures would be for a non-English version of the program, but would it be teaspoons and tablespoons? This seems unlikely, but my non-extensive, non-exhaustive internet search offered no clue. I emailed NSC and Anders Viestad. I asked what they use in Scandinavian countries for teaspoons and tablespoons.

Anders actually replied:

Hi Randy

Since the show is airing in the US and in countries using metric, I have to use both. However, when possible I use teaspoons/tablespoons, which works in both areas.

Andreas

Apparently, teaspoons and tablespoons are used in Scandinavian countries? Sweden had a ten year plan to become metric. They procrastinated for 9 years and rushed the change. Teaspoons and tablespoons might not have been addressed. Anders apparently did not feel the need to address milliliters versus deciliters.

The logical volume measure for teaspoons (5 mL) and tablespoons (15 mL) is milliliters. Confusing teaspoons and tablespoons is always a danger, esp., when it’s abbreviated tsp and tbl. New Scandinavian Cooking is not exactly Mormons Making Coffee, but they are too close for comfort using runic metric units like deciliters. Indeed, when making Danish Meatballs, Andreas indicated that one should use 1.2 deciliters of milk rather than one-half cup. Why not 120 mL?

In one recipe I noticed Andreas used a measuring vessel which is marked in deciliters. It goes from 1 through 9 dl and then becomes 1 lit and returns to 11 deciliters at the next graduation. Apparently in Scandinavian cooking one does not need to be closer than a deciliter in volume, but grams are just fine as he uses 100 grams of butter.

Andreas makes an apple dish called “Veiled Farm Girls”, and after he puts apple halves in a baking dish, he indicates that is requires a “generous amount of sugar.” How much?: “A good fist-full” That’s even less precise than deciliters.

Andreas’ favorite bread recipe uses grams, deciliters, and teaspoons–and later tablespoons—never say milliliters apparently.

What does become obvious how Andreas often cooks. The majority of time he just guesstimates the amount of ingredients. He has a captivating smile as he vanquishes measurement in his cooking. He is far too close to the happy Sven I grew up with, but I wish I could pull him aside and try to implore him to read Naughtin’s Laws. I have a feeling he would politely read the rules and carry on like the Swedish Chef might. Well, I guess it could be worse, it could be fractional cups and fluid ounces—but it could be so much better.

Furlongs per Fortnight

By The Metric Maven

At the first university I attended, it was assigned as a “joke exercise” to compute speeds in Furlongs/Fortnight. I’m not sure what the lesson was supposed to be in this case. It was clear Furlongs per Fornight was an absurd use of units, but was it because they were not metric?—-or because they are an “inappropriate” use of medieval units. My favorite reference book, Measure for Measure has a single conversion factor entry: Furlong/Fortnight -> miles/hour [Campbell Factor] 0.00 372, and thus far I have not discovered who Campbell might be, or have been. So assuming I’ve converted correctly 1 Furlong/Fortnight is 166.31 micrometers/second or about 10 mm per minute and 600 mm per hour. For those who want to add more absurdity, and for those who are just fine with US Customary, there is the FFF system, which uses the Furlong, Firkin and Fortnight as its base units.

Of course, this is just a contrived use of units that is clearly absurd right? Clearly, one would never encounter an everyday computation this absurd. Well, then you underestimate the absurdity of our “customary units.” I often look to see what search terms are used by visitors to The Metric Maven website, and the current list looked rather prosaic, until I hit the sixth entry. It reads: “How many tablespoons are in a quarter cup?” My mind lurched to a halt taking this in. In one question we find so many adverse aspects of the current non-system of measurement it requires elaboration.

First we address the tablespoon issue. Now I hope the person asking is sure it is a tablespoon and not a teaspoon. As I’ve addressed in the past, the confusion of teaspoons and tablespoons is a perennial problem in US kitchens. It also has the downside that it has the potential to kill people. Assuming the inquisitor wants tablespoons, we might just quickly convert it to metric in milliliters. A tablespoon is 14.8 mL which I will round to 15 mL for our purposes.

We next encounter a fraction to dilute the volume of the cup for reasons which are not particularly apparent. It’s quite possible, that the person involved needs 1/4 cup of water for say a taco mix recipe or something, but has only teaspoons and tablespoons in their post-high school flat, and no US measuring cups. Well, we want a quarter cup of liquid, but only have a tablespoon. So a cup converted to metric is 236.6 mL, and we will divide this by four to obtain 59.1 mL which we will round to 60 mL. I might hear some objecting to this, but if the recipe was born of precision, it would have been in metric in the first place.

So now we have a teaspoon is 15 mL and 1/4 cup is 60 mL, we use these integer values to see that wow!–it’s 4 tablespoons in a 1/4 cup! What an interesting coincidence, but also, yeah, a complete coincidence. There is no way that these medieval units would have allowed one to readily realize this fact using them exclusively.

Now let’s look at the same problem from a metric perspective. We need 60 mL of water, milk, olive oil, whatever. Well, we can find a 15 mL measuring spoon and use four of them, or we can find a measuring cup and fill to the 50 mL graduation, then estimate another 10 mL. In the case of water, you could use a scale to measure 60 grams of water which is 60 mL using any vessel after zeroing the scale. It seems like one has a lot of options with a rational measurement system. But why bother when you can just use a search engine to find out the answer? The same type of solution was offered in the early 20th century by Fredrick Halsey, author of The Metric Fallacy. The technical device he offered up that would make the metric system unnecessary was the slide rule.

Technical innovations will not eliminate poor and non-intuitive methods of measurement expression. For instance, another question in the list of search key phrases is “how to use 1/8 inch measurement on yardstick.” Well, I have written about the absurdities of yardsticks in my essay Stickin’ it to Yardsticks. US residents might find it absurd that a person doesn’t recall common denominators, and such. What is absurd is making US residents use fractions on measuring rules at all. If they had a millimeter-only meter-stick there would be no need for fractions, or decimals. The person involved would not need to look on the internet, only understand integer addition and subtraction, and there are plenty of calculators available for that.

Thank heavens we still don’t use Roman numerals when the rest of the world uses Hindu-Arabic ones with decimals, we might rationalize using them in the age of the internet.


Tim Hunkin, a designer and maker from the UK has released his first video about The Secret Life of Components. He discusses chains, and as you will see, uses nothing but millimetres, including a mm-only ruler. He threw out all his quarter-inch US chains as he found the use of “imperial” too confusing. Note that he uses the word mil for millimetre, as is common with British engineers. In the US, the mil is a feral unit. Of course, we also use a pre-metric measurement unit called the chain to build roads in the US. I’ve written about it here.

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