What’s an Oz?

The Great British Bake-off and all things bake-off on the tele have inspired my grandchildren to make plateloads of psychodelic creations making Mr Kipling’s cupcakes and fondant fancies seem pale and insipid in comparison. I think encouraging any kind of cooking is a good thing because it is both creative and educational (particularly re. maths, not the pastime of choice of granddaughter 2). And, in theory, anyway baking can be a sharing or team affair with each participant happily having responsibility for one item on the recipe. And it sometimes feels less challenging to try to occupy everyone in one activity rather than overseeing multiple activities in different locations. This usually means running up and down the stairs a lot which, although good in getting your heart rate up and therefore healthy I suppose, is a bit tiring for oldies. So, all-in-all- baking seems a win-win thing to do and a popular ploy to occupy the time between arriving home from school and supper.

Granddaughter 1 mostly disdains group activities and drapes herself elegantly along the sofa with blackberry/laptop/tv. She is happy to eat the end-product of these sessions, though, and would certainly join a Choccywoccydoodah event, moulding things out of melted chocolate – but this might be a bit ambitious for toddler boy who would end up chocolate-coated, I fear. The Gang of Three, however, is super-keen about baking and visions of ever more exotic creations abound, particularly for granddaughter 2, an expert in experimentation and panache. My mind conjures up visions of a wise old gran (i.e. me) dropping time-honoured cookery pearls of wisdom to grandchildren who gaze up at her in admiration.

Everyone washes their hands, toddler boy dons plastic apron squealing in anticipation, and brandishes a wooden spoon aloft, granddaughters 2 and 3 roll up sleeves purposefully and select wooden spoons – so far so good. We look for a recipe. From the many cookery books, ancient and modern, a favourite is one my daughter had as a child and, published in the 1970s, is all in pints, pounds and ounces – Hurrah! I’ve never really got to grips with grams, let alone litres, and have fond memories of a half pound of marg and the ease of lopping off 2oz into a bowl. Pictured in my brain is a heaped tsp for 1oz of sugar and a heaped tbsp of flour ditto – simple. I do not visualise grams. Ok maybe you could say that 1kg=2lbs-ish, but the rest is hazy. It’s the same for inches and cms: a cm is a ½ inch-ish and a metre a bit more (or is it less?) than a yard. When money went decimal an elderly shopper in a supermarket asked me how much something cost ‘in real money’. I must have seemed more compos mentis in those days.

Helpfully, granddaughter 3 once got me a place on a course at her school called, alluringly, ‘Magic Maths’. She was encouraged by the promise of a MM folder and pen and, I like to think, time with her gran. The course was aimed at teaching parents and carers to understand modern maths methods and measures. And I really did try hard to remember, honest, but the spell work off very quickly. Anyway, in cooking, after more or less half a century, I tend not to measure things and do it all by ‘feel’. Not much good for teaching grandchildren, though. And these days all packets and jars are in gs or mls. How many gs is 4oz, for god’s sake? Help. ‘What’s an Oz? asks granddaughter 2, wistfully – her favourite film stars being Dorothy and Toto. We find a conversion chart – apparently 1oz=28.249523g – Help! Maybe it’s easier to have recipe in gs. The image of a wise old granny is fading fast.

Packets of ingredients are lined up and two seconds later, while my eye is off the ball – I mean bowl – turning on the oven or some such, toddler ‘I can do it by myself’ boy has emptied the entire bag of flour (i.e.1.5kg or c.3lbs) rather approximately into the bowl. Clouds of flour explode up into the air to descend silently like snow on the hills covering all surfaces including grandchildren and granny. Toddler boy whoops triumphantly while granddaughters 2 and 3 thrash about at each other with wooden spoons while have an impassioned debate fraught with allusions to justice: ‘it’s not fair, she cracked the egg last time’ (note: find a 2 egg recipe in future – toddler boy, though very keen, is not quite ready for a 3 egg recipe yet).

The Cracking of the Egg has the highest status in baking task hierarchy. Six arms thrash about like tentacles of an octopus on speed, and the egg either splats on the floor, cats circle and paws tippytoe the goo through the house, or fingers plunge into the bowl to fish out shell and then globules of sticky stuff are slurped around and into mouths and somehow hair. In the interests of returning kitchen and children to their original state before parents come back, the mixture is in the oven in about 5 minutes flat. Not much wisdom imparted here then, and the image of the wise granny now replaced by the reality of a be-floured, be-globuled and a more-than-a-bit-stressed granny.

In truth it can be a bit less, or a bit more, chaotic. But who cares? – the cakes are delicious. Hurrah for creativity and the Great British Bake-off! And who’s learned what? I have realised long since that my grandchildren know and understand far more than me about this digital and metrical world we live in and much information (e.g. lbs and ozs) from the not-so-golden olden days is outdated and obsolete and has little or no relevance in it. So it’s granny who’s on a learning curve and, although it’s difficult to keep up, even for a graduate of Magic Maths, I’m still keen to learn. Note to self: Must try harder.

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