Mathematics

# How Long is a Piece of String

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How Long is a Piece of String?

My English daughter in law sent me a recipe for Summer Berry Yoghurt Ice Cream. She adapted it from the internet, adding cream as a refinement. I wanted to publish it in our family newsletter, the Dight Times, a monthly full colour twelve page magazine that I send to my
far-flung family around the world by email, to keep us all in touch. But the quantities she gave were in grams, something I don't relate to. I don't use grams, Americans don't use them, only trendy Brits and Europeans do.

500 grams of mixed summer berries: I'm thinking 1 kilo = 2.2 lb so 500 grams is presumably around about a pound of fruit?

150 grams of sugar is - 4 ounces? (It's a bit more than that, but a pound of fruit is a bit less than 500 grams.)

500 grams of Yoghurt is - a large tub? Would that be a pint?

My idea of a 'large' tub of double cream is half a pint because it's more expensive and fattening than a 4 oz tub. My grasp of math is so subjective.

Angela is an accountant, so I replied to thank her for the yummy recipe, said I would put it in the next issue, but asked for numerical guidance. I could translate the recipe into French or Spanish, and might even put it to music, but I can't calculate the figures. I told her that I once spent a whole afternoon trying to calculate how much sugar to add to a batch of jam when I was using a few more ounces of fruit than it said in the recipe. The proportions of sugar to fruit are crucial to achieve a good setting jelly. Peter (her husband) worked it out in the end. I think he was about 8 at the time (he's now 45). In all that time my sums have not improved.

Everybody here in America uses 'cups' to measure ingredients, which are unknown in Europe. It has driven me quietly mad all my life when trying to adapt American recipes, imagining a 'cup of syrup', when you can't put it in a cup because English syrup is too thick, and how big is a cup anyway? A demi-tasse? a tea cup? a coffee mug? I discovered that here there are sets of measuring cups of specific sizes, and that syrup (made from sugar in England) is made here from maple trees and it's runny anyway. Thick golden syrup is so uncooperative by the tablespoonful (particularly in cold weather).

My mind is too literal. I once had an exam question in a mock 'O' level science exam that completely unnerved me. It asked us to describe an experiment to calculate the volume of air in a laboratory. I wrote "First close all the doors and windows..." They should have asked us to "describe an experiment in a laboratory to calculate the volume of air", then I would have twigged that they had a glass stopper in mind, displacing its own volume in a measuring glass of water. Why couldn't they say that? I barked up entirely the wrong tree and totally lost confidence in my ability to interpret examination questions.

How long is a piece of string? Today on the news they announced that Jupiter is 600 million kilometres away from Earth. Now how the hell did they measure that?

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