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Rediscover cooking and baking this summer

Measuring cups and spoons, and digital temperature gauges take the guesswork out of modern cooking and baking

I thought back in time as I drove by the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center recently.

I had reached the rolling hills near Washburn, N.D., on my way to the North Dakota 4-H Camp.

Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark and their crew built Fort Mandan in the Washburn area in November 1804. The two-year Corps of Discovery Expedition had been commissioned by Thomas Jefferson to find a direct waterway to the Pacific Coast between 1804 and 1806.

Although the explorers brought seven tons of non-perishable foods with them, including sugar, beans, lard, flour, salt and coffee, these explorers had to live off the land, according to food history writer Tori Avery. In North Dakota, buffalo and deer were abundant, and each man ate an estimated nine pounds of meat per day at times.

The men took turns cooking and became fairly adept at creating meals from whatever they hunted or gathered. Sometimes their inventiveness prevented them from starvation. For example, a cooked flour and berry concoction is credited with saving them in 1805.

When I reached the 4-H camp, we had our own “Corps of Discovery” in the culinary sense. Our group included 20 kids, one-third of them boys, who were about to learn skills for life.

When I distributed their cooking kits and aprons, they looked at me and said, “Do we get to keep all this?” Thanks to grants and sponsorships, my answer was “yes.” Their kits included measuring cups and spoons, a can opener, spatula, mixing spoon and other items all packed in a reusable lunch bag.

These were definitely items that Lewis and Clark’s expedition did not have. Earlier generations relied on guesswork for measurements, and sometimes you just ate to stay alive regardless of the quality of the food.

At 4-H camp, we spent time teaching our budding chefs how to use their equipment to measure and create recipes that they could prepare by themselves or with a little help when they returned home.

Early measurements were not precise. In one of my antique cookbooks, a recipe calls for “butter the size of an egg.” Other cookbooks used “teacupfuls” as a measure for flour.

In early times, when you were ready to place your creation in the oven, of course, no digital temperature gauge was on the stove. You placed your hand in the oven and counted how long you could hold it in the oven to get an approximation of temperature.

Measuring spoons weren’t patented until about 1900 by cookbook author Fannie Farmer, nearly 100 years after Lewis and Clark’s expedition. She developed metal measuring spoons with a swivel design that could be folded together.

According to Fannie, “Correct measurements are absolutely necessary to ensure the best results. Good judgment, with experience, has taught some to measure by sight; but the majority need definite guides.”

Accurate measurements help you recreate your recipe, provide consistent reactions of the ingredients with each other and ensure consistent nutritional content of the recipe. Visit The Family Table on the NDSU website and click on “Invite Kids in the Kitchen.” You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate the content.

Here’s a kid-friendly favourite that can be used to make an easy gift. See ‘Give the gift of joy with a quick bread mix’ on the NDSU website for a printable copy with gift tags.

By the way, summer is a great time to explore historical sites and be inspired.


Peanut Butter Bread Mix

  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar, packed
  • 1-1/4 c. all-purpose white flour
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Layer ingredients in a clean quart-sized wide-mouth jar. To give as a gift mix, cover the jar tightly with a lid, decorate if desired and attach a copy of the recipe card.

Peanut Butter Bread Recipe Card

  • 1 jar Peanut Butter Bread Mix
  • 1 c. creamy peanut butter (not natural)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. non-fat milk
  • 1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt, non-fat
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°. Spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, brown sugar, white and whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine peanut butter, eggs, milk, Greek yogurt and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, gently folding ingredients together. Mix just until combined; the batter may be lumpy. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for 48 to 52 minutes.

Check the bread 10 to 15 minutes before the timer goes off, and if the bread is browning too much, place aluminum foil on top and continue baking for duration of time. Allow bread to cool for 10 minutes, remove from pan and place on cooling rack.

Makes 16 servings. Each serving has 200 calories, 9 grams (g) fat, 7 g protein, 25 g carbohydrate, 1 g fibre and 210 milligrams sodium.

This fun recipe also makes a great gift, as a prepared mix.
photo: NDSU

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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