Does it measure up?

Some American friends who are considering a move to France were passing through Carcassonne so we invited them to lunch. The idea was to incorporate local products in a traditional menu to make the meal as French as possible. We solicited ideas from the neighbors and while there was quite a range of suggestions for starters and the main course, the same dessert kept popping up: Tarte Tatin. I’d always thought of this as an apple version of a pineapple upside down cake—caramelize the apples in butter and sugar, add a crust, bake and flip. Finding the Granny Smiths was easy enough since several stalls at the market had them including two vendors selling directly from their orchards. Choosing a recipe was more of a challenge given that we were presented with words like “the best…unmissable…fast and easy…classic.” Bill found one that he liked and upon closer examination it said to add in environ ½ verre à moutarde of sugar. How much is a “mustard glass” let alone “about half” of it?

One of those same neighbors who thought that the Tarte Tatin would make a good dessert also had the answer about that mustard glass. There’s a condiment maker here called Amora that in the 1950s started decorating their jars of mustard with cartoon characters to increase sales and to encourage the reuse (and consequently collecting) of these as drinking glasses. In the US I remember a variety of products being marketed like that including pimento cheese, jelly, and Sau-Sea shrimp cocktail or some were packed inside powdered detergent. It turns out that ½ verre à moutarde of sugar is around 75 grams or less than half a cup.

Before moving to France we were prepared to “go metric” by buying measuring cups, spoons, retractable tapes, pitchers, and shot glasses all marked with grams, milliliters, centimeters, etc. Once we arrived and saw that most recipes specify a weight rather than a quantity, we got a kitchen scale and soon thereafter a bathroom scale to see the impact in kilograms of all those baguettes we were eating 😮

Mustard glass from Unilever website

So, if this vintage recipe used a classic measuring method, might there be others we’d never heard of? Thanks to a magazine called Maxi (link below) we now know the equivalents of a coffee spoon, a soup spoon, a kitchen bowl, a yogurt pot, and a knob of butter. If it says to bake something in a “hot oven” that means Thermostat T 7 which is 210°C or 410 °F. And I thought we would just be translating between English and French!

Historical note: In 1975 the United States passed the Metric Conversion Act that was to transition the country to the units of measure used in most of the rest of the world. It was a voluntary procedure and it would seem that it was never fully adopted.

Maxi magazine:

10 thoughts on “Does it measure up?

  1. What a small world!
    We went to the local farmers market in West Chester, PA yesterday and bought a bunch of fresh apples. My wife, Sylvie is in the kitchen right now making a Tarte Tatin. By the way, I MUCH prefer this to an American Apple Pie – ESPECIALLY Tarte Tatin ave Crème Fraîche!! I hope yours turned out delicious and you throughly enjoyed it…
    We plan on leaving the ‘États-Unis’ in August. We would love to meet and have a libation when we visit Carcassomne!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Sean and Sylvie! Bill did a wonderful job on the Tarte Tatin, I can assure you 😋 It will be great to meet up with you this summer here in Carcassonne. When you know your plans please use the Contact Us tab (under the About This Blog tab) to send us a private message and we’ll go from there!


  2. These rebels in the US seemingly will NEVER go metric. If I did a lot of baking, I would probably try, but for now, Publix is my bakery!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Wendy! We’ve enjoyed many a fine pie (plus cookies, bread, etc.) from Publix so you’ve made a good choice…until you move here, that is! Happy to hear from you 😍


  3. Way to go, Bill!

    Bob, that website may come in handy if we ever cook in France again. I had looked forward to renting a gite so I could cook with good French ingredients. I knew using an induction cook top might be a challenge, but that turned out to be nothing. The real challenge was figuring out how to find 350F/180C on the oven dial. I had to learn that that is not the French way. Instead of setting a temperature, I had to choose from something like “roast” or “pastry” and others I’ve forgotten. There might have been a setting for convection cooking. In a way it was like cooking with a wood stove–both of them somewhat mysterious.

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  4. I really think you should have taken your guests to the creperie that you took your sisters to when we visited! Perhaps you want to keep that special place to yourselves and not publicize it too much so you can always have a table available! I remember how delicious both the savory and the dessert crepes were!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What, and miss out on Bill’s home cooking? You’re right, Mary, that crêperie does still serve delicious food although they’ve had a change of ownership so it’s not the same front-of-house “theater” as before.

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