Delia Smith’s new book, “How to cheat at cooking”, was published on 15 February, and it is ALL METRIC! Not an ounce, pint, cup or Fahrenheit is to be found between the covers of this latest volume, targeted as it is at busy people who like cooking but don’t have time for elaborate preparation.
It is 5 years since the doyenne of tv cooks last published, and in the intervening period, Delia (or more probably her publisher) appears to have accepted that imperial conversions of every metric ingredient are no longer necessary or desirable. The only arguably non-metric measures given are teaspoons and tablespoons, but as these are now standardised at 5 ml and 15 ml respectively, this is perhaps forgivable. So, well done, Delia! (Examples of her recipes can be seen at this link).
Whether to give recipes in dual metric/imperial units (and if so, which should be primary) has been a difficult issue for publishers for many years. The argument used to be that older cooks would not understand grams and millilitres (obviously, anybody over 50 is unable to learn anything new) and in any case their kitchen scales would be imperial. Then it was argued that even younger people, despite doing “home economics” exclusively in metric at school, really prefer to use the same traditional units as their parents and grandparents. Neither argument proved to be valid – but there was a potentially more weighty argument: the American market.
As the British and the Americans (not to mention Australians, Irish and others) share a common language, it is convenient for publishers if they can produce a single edition of a book for sale in all English-speaking markets. Thus even though publishers find it economic to produce cookery books in minority languages like Danish or Slovak (population ca. 5 million in each case), they have used this argument to resist producing metric-only editions for the British/Australian market and US customary editions for the American market. (This is rather like the threadbare arguments used in the recent controversy about separate metric and US customary packaging for the EU and USA markets).
In reality the argument was always somewhat shaky. Leaving aside the separate culinary tastes and traditions of the national populations, European recipes tend to measure liquid ingredients by volume (in ml) but dry ingredients by weight (in grams) whereas American recipes tend to measure both liquid and dry ingredients by volume (hence “cups” of flour). The American pint (473 ml) is of course smaller than the imperial pint (568 ml).
Problems also arise over how to convert. If the starting point is a traditional imperial recipe, do you convert 1 lb to 450 g or round it up to 500 g? Similarly, should a pint be converted to 570 ml, or rounded up to 600 ml – or down to 500 ml? Note that too much rounding can throw out the relative proportions of ingredients – e.g. if you round dry ingredients up and liquid ingredients down, your cake may dry out and burn.
Undoubtedly, the best answer is to forget about imperial/US customary units, re-measure your recipe in the correct proportions and publish it exclusively in metric units. This appears to be what Delia has done. Congratulations!
Many celebrity cooks, women’s magazines and cookery sections of newspapers have actually preceded Delia in going metric-only. Let us hope that, with Delia’s splendid example in mind, the remaining imperial holdouts will also soon fall into line.