flour

I've done posts on cream and milk and sugar-refining by-products and other kinds of sugar have come up in passing. Now it's flour's turn, thanks to encouragement from my friend Sandra.

I'm just going to do it as a list:

BrE AmE
plain flour             all-purpose flour
strong (bread) flour       bread flour
wholemeal whole wheat
[no such thing] cake flour
corn flour cornstarch
corn/maize meal corn flour, corn meal
self-raising flour self-rising flour
[no such thing] Wondra (instant flour)
00 flour fine flour

There's also very strong bread flour, which seems to be extra strong in Canada. I can't find a US equivalent. It has even more gluten/protein than regular bread flour.

Photo: Veganbaking.net - CC BY-SA 2.0, Link
Because bleaching flour is illegal in UK (see the link across from cake flour above), unbleached flour is mostly an American collocation.

AmE uses pastry flour more than BrE does. Sometimes in BrE that would be 00 flour--but 00 flour can also be more yellowy pasta flour. (I think I may have heard patisserie flour on Great British Bake-Off, but I'm not finding much evidence of it elsewhere.)

If you follow the link at Wondra above, you'll see it's a special kind of flour that's mostly used for making gravies and sauces. One thing to say about British gravies: they are usually considerably less thickened than typical American gravies.

For more on flour and flour (the word), here's a nice international overview

Finally, this isn't a bread post, but I must note a flour-related bread difference. Order breakfast in the UK, and you will (probably) be asked: white or brown? in reference to your toast In the US, you'd be asked white or wheat? (Actually, in both countries you may be given more options. But I"m saving those for a bread post.)

If you ever want a reason to argue that British English is superior, do skip the reasons I've already debunked (maths, herb, etc.) and go with this one. Calling one bread-made-of-wheat wheat in contrast to another bread-made-of-wheat is a bit silly. And chances are: you'll say wheat, they'll hear white and breakfast will be ruined!

Postscript (30 Jan): I've added AmE corn flour (=BrE corn meal or maize meal) to the list. Americans use this to make corn bread and corn muffins (a kind of quick bread). Whenever I make these for my English family, I get to eat the whole batch because they do not appreciate its wonderfulness. The UK increasingly has polenta cakes of various types, offered as gluten-free options. Those are like the consistency of corn bread (a bit less crumbly) but more aggressively sweetened, in my experience, by being drenched in a fruit syrup.

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Some notes from the harmless drudge:
As the deadline for my book approaches AND I go back to teaching after a glorious year of writing said book (thanks NEH!!!), you can probably expect that I'll be doing a bit less posting than in 2016. I'll set aside a bit of time per week, but less time than it usually takes me to write a post. So, either they'll be very short posts or a few weeks apart. (Though as I viciously cut [more BrE] bits out of the book, maybe they'll end up as quick posts here.)

I will be on (orig. AmE) radios a bit this spring (UK and NZ plans at the moment). I'll announce these via Twitter and Facebook, as usual, and I'm also noting forthcoming "appearances" on the Events and Media page of the blog. (The radio announcements will go up when broadcast dates are firmer.)

107 comments

  1. Plain flour is NOT the same as all-purpose flour in the US, because by law in the UK, they are required to fortify it with various chemicals including calcium carbonate, which affects so-called "plain" flour's baking characteristics.

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  2. White flour is fortified in both countries, as far as I can tell.

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  3. Wondra is a brand name, not a type of flour. The “instant” flour you refer to is Wondra Quick-Mixing flour; Wondra makes many other types of flour as well, All-Purpose being the type with which I am most familiar.

    In a lifetime of living in the US, I have never been asked “White or wheat?” I have, on rare occasions, been asked “White or whole wheat?” Usually, if I don’t specify, I’m asked “What kinda bread you want?” to which my reply is “What kind ya got?” :-)

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    1. I live in the Northeast, and I have never been asked "White or wheat?" either. But I am usually asked what kind I want - in that same phrase - and the choice is usually white, whole wheat, or rye.

      For fun, I Googled "wheat bread -whole" and the only website locations I was able to identify were Dallas and Wisconsin. And no, I didn't try to determine location by the URLs. When I searched just for "wheat bread," all the results were for "whole wheat bread."

      I think that the bread post will be much more complicated than the flour post...

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    2. I've lived many places in the western half of the U.S. and while I acknowledge that some restaurants will offer the choice of "white or whole wheat", by and large - at least in the west - the "white or wheat" choice is more common, and certainly recognizable as well as being accepted as a shortened form of "whole wheat". Of course, in the west, the usual choices are likely to be "white, wheat, or sourdough" while in the east, "white, wheat or rye" will be more common.

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    3. Interesting, AnnJ. I'm from Wisconsin originally, and have heard "white or wheat" all my life. It has a sort of rhythmic quality to it. "White or whole wheat" sounds cumbersome (and perhaps just a bit pretentious) to my ears.

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  4. My mother made gravy with cornflour — which I believe you Americans call corn starch. I use something called sauce flour which claims to be for making perfect lump free sauces

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    1. cornflour — which I believe you Americans call corn starch

      Oops! I didn't read the post properly.

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    2. Here's a link to the product.

      Click the Review tab for a description  — i.e. a rave review by the Publicity Department.

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  5. My bet would be that "very strong bread flour" would map to something like "high-gluten" (or "high-protein") flour here. King Arthur sells one, which used to be called "Sir Lancelot" but isn't any more; according to the catalog that arrived in my mailbox a few days ago, it's just "high-gluten flour" and comes in at 14% protein (vs. regular "bread flour" at 12.7% protein). Other brands are available. Often bakers will just fortify a lower-protein flour with gluten to make a stronger dough, rather than stocking a special high-protein flour just for bagels and pizza dough.

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  6. Oh, and also: BrE probably uses "pastry flour" less because UK-standard flour is made from soft (low-protein) wheat, so there is less of a need for it. US-standard flour is made from hard (high-protein) wheat. King Arthur's all-purpose is 11.7% protein, which is on the high side by US standards; most other Northern brands' AP flours are around 11%, and Southern brands are even lower (because of the civil war?). KAF's pastry flour is made from soft wheat and comes in at 8% protein.

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  7. Southern US brands such as White Lily have less gluten because such flour is better for making biscuits (US biscuits, that is). I usually just read the label to see how much protein is in flour, as one brand's bread flour might have more or less gluten than another's.
    I always interpret "wheat toast" as being an abbreviated form of "whole wheat toast," so the name's apparent absurdity doesn't bother me that much. Speaking of whole wheat, I have the impression that the British name for whole wheat flour is whole meal flour. Is that correct? And do they sell graham flour, a.k.a. whole wheat pastry flour, in the UK?
    My grandmother used to swear by Wondra flour for making gravy. " First you make a roux."

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    1. I don't have all my books with me but I recall seeing that it was the other way around: biscuits emerged as the bread of choice in the south because the local wheats were quite soft, well suited for biscuits' delicacy and quite unlike the hard wheats that grew in colder climates, which made for crustier loaves.

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  8. Oops, I see that the whole wheat/whole meal equivalence is already in the original post. Apologies.

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  9. I never knew there was so much to it! But then I don't do a lot of baking....

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  10. As I understand it, in the UK, wholemeal flour contains all of the grain, while wheatmeal has had the 'roughage' removed ... and the picturesque bread named 'granary' is actually a trademark so the word cannot be used by manufacturers of the flour mixes sold for breadmakers in the supermarkets.

    A few weeks ago I found myself reading wartime recipes from Canadian newspaper, suggesting ways of baking without flour. I suppose this may have reflected an effort to send flour to the UK during this period; nevertheless it was entertaining to see the suggestions of ground almonds and plenty of eggs for cakes. At the time, British families were allowed a few ounces of fat and one egg per person each week in the rations. Sugar was less stringently restricted, as we can make sugar from English sugarbeet, and they needed the calories to keep warm.

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    1. one egg per person each week

      Dried egg powder was available for baking — and even for making some approximation to scrambled eggs. I've heard tell that my mother was a wizard with egg powder.

      Sugar was less stringently restricted

      But sweets were rationed, and remained so through my early childhood after the war.

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    2. Sugar was restricted in the US although I don't know by how much. My mother said that her mother-in-law lived on a farm and did a lot of home-canning though so all the daughters-in-law were supposed to send her all their extra sugar ration coupons since she never had enough.

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  11. I use cornflour for gravy and sauces too, I suppose because my Mum always did.
    Diane: No, we don't have graham flour here. I've seen references to 'graham crackers' in American recipes but don't know what they are.

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    1. Graham flour is named after Sylvester Graham and is basically whole wheat flour. Wikipedia actually has a decent, if short, article about it with a couple links to old publications that will tell you far more about the science behind graham flour than you may want to know.

      According to Wikipedia, Graham himself lived in the middle of the 1800's and was a proponent of cleanliness, temperance, vegetarianism with vegan leanings, and a puritanical sexual lifestyle. Today he would very possibly have a TV show and a string of publications; as it was, like many modern food gurus advocating healthy eating, he had his own fad diet and a group of dedicated followers. He believed in a high fiber diet, that whole grain bread was more nutritious that white bread, and that spices should be avoided. His followers, as a result, ate a lot of bread made with whole wheat flour, along with lots of fruit and vegetables and very little butter and a limited amount of eggs, milk and cheese. He didn't invent the graham cracker, but due to the diet he advocated, a bland flat-bread made from graham flour became associated with his name.

      The modern commercially prepared graham cracker, however, is more flavorful than that which was used by his followers. According to both The Huffington Post and to Snopes, the modern recipe was invented by Nabisco during the 1920's when they added honey to the mix, and it uses white flour, not whole wheat.

      By all accounts modern graham crackers are similar to, but not identical with British digestive biscuits. They are dry (though they soak up very quickly in milk) and so are easily crumbled. They are packaged in stacks of small sheets that are perforated so they can be broken apart easily and given to small children one at a time as a snack, but the entire sheet can also be used. (The standard Girl Scout S'More recipe involves breaking one sheet in half to use as a top and bottom, and sandwiching half a Hersey's chocolate bar and two toasted marshmallows in between.) Because graham crackers crumble easily (very like a soda cracker) but soak up liquid well, they are used to mix with butter and then pat into a pan for the crust of various unbaked pies such as banana cream, as well as baked deserts such as cheesecake or key lime pie.

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    2. Half a chocolate bar and two marshmallows? That's quite a s'more! I've never heard of that being the "standard". It's double the normal s'more from my area. Same amount of graham cracker, though.

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    3. Maybe only one marshmallow? -- it's been a long time since I made one. I remember breaking the Hersey's bar in half though, because that makes it about the right size to fit on a couple graham crackers. This is the standard size chocolate bar, not the oversize "king size" or larger.

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  12. Oh dear...the word flour has lost its meaning...

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    1. The current meaning is, I believe, clear. Flour is a foodstuff in powdered form which is not an additive:- not a seasoning, not a sweetener, not a spice.

      In Britain and America, and in many other countries, flour signifies 'wheat flour' because that's the way we grow and cook things.

      From the OED I learn that flour and flower were once the same word. Cereal grain (often wheat, but not always) was milled to make meal, which was then bolted (in everyday modern terms sieved/sifted) to select the flower of the meal.

      The meaning shifted slightly from this to the current sense which is not narrowly dictated by the mechanics of producing the powder, and which extends beyond cereal products to take in powdered legumes, roots and seeds. But that happened a long time ago.

      That term bolted opened my eyes. It solves the problem of understanding some pre-war blues lyrics.

      • In Red Cross Store and related songs, the singer receives bolted meal in an emergency centre set up by that charity for victims of the Mississippi flood. The pianist Walter Roland, who could cram an amazing number of syllables into a line, sang

      Say you go up there early in the mornin', said he ask you: "Boy, how you feel?"
      Gettin' ready to give you a nickel's worth of rice and a, bag of that boulted meal.

      You can listen here. (click)



      • In Last Kind Words — You may have heard this string version by the Kronos Quartet (click) but I urge you to hear the original song. (click) — the obscure but enthralling Geeshie Wiley sings

      When you see me comin' look 'cross the rich man's field
      If I don't bring you flour I'll bring you bolted meal


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    2. a foodstuff in powdered form which is not an additive:- not a seasoning ....

      This seems not to work with mustard flour.

      I suppose the explanation is that mustard power is not a seasoning in itself. It becomes a seasoning when mixed into a paste.

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    3. I'm not entirely sure what mustard flour is, but I'm taking a stab in the dark and guess it's what we call dried mustard in the US. A powdery form of mustard that you can measure out by the teaspoon (or whatever you prefer to measure by) rather than the thick wet form that comes in a jar?

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    4. The OED says it's mustard seeds ground fine. I had assumed that it was a mixture of this with flour. Possibly the term is used for both, but it seems that you can make mustard without any other thickening.

      Dried mustard is a strange term. It implies that you start with mustard paste and reduce it to a powder.

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    5. I can see why it would imply that, but actually you just buy it in a little jar or tin out of the spice rack, the same as you would any other spice or dried herb. I've used recipes that specify something along the line of "half a teaspoon of dried mustard". If a recipe doesn't specify dried, I just use the regular wet kind that I'd use as a condiment.

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    6. In Britain mustard powder is sold in a different sort of container on a different shelf from the spices and herbs.

      I remember it as made of tin, but this image shows that they've changed to plastic.

      When I was a little boy culinary herbs and spices were a novelty for most of us, but mustard powder was widely sold for people who chose to mix their own condiment.

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    7. I don't know when you last bought any, David, but it's certainly sold alongside all the other mustards in my supermarket - which are by the rest of the seasonings!

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    8. I was in the supermarket today. Sure enough, mustard powder is on the same shelf as prepared mustard, next to the ketchups and sauces. The herbs and spices are half an aisle away, next to salt.

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    9. I'm puzzled by this one. I use mustard powder all the time, mixing it with a small amount of water in a little pot as required. I'm under the impression a lot of people do. You only make up the amount you need as once mixed, it doesn't keep very well.

      It's a normal kitchen staple. It is supposed to come from Norwich and is the sort illustrated in the link. It comes in a tin but now the tins have plastic lids. I've never heard of it being called anything other than either 'Mustard powder' as on the tin, as distinct I suppose from ready mixed mustard version in a jar, or 'powdered mustard' which means the same thing.

      It's bright yellow. There's also something called French mustard which is brown.

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  13. But Brown Bread is its own thing (https://newengland.com/today/food/new-england-made/bm-brown-bread-in-a-can/) or often means pumpernickel...

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    1. I was going to mention that -- brown bread had an entirely different meaning in the US, and refers to one of the rye bread varieties because they are brown. It's sort of a catch-all for light-rye, dark rye, and pumpernickel (and probably a few others that I'm missing). I don't think I'd ever include wheat or whole wheat in there though because they are too light, usually being a rather light sand/beige color. It needs to be at least a medium to darkish tan to qualify as brown bread, and most of it is far darker than that, a true brown color.

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    2. Boston Brown Bread, traditionally baked in a can in a water bath, does typically have about 1/3 graham flour, its the molasses that give it a brown color.

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    3. Interesting! I've always heard brown bread for whole wheat (in Canada). I love pumpernickel and dark rye (are they the same? I'm never sure), but I'd be surprised if I ordered brown toast and got pumpernickel.

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    4. When I read "brown bread," having lived in Massachusetts, I immediately supposed it meant the moist, slightly sweet bread that comes in a can. I had no idea why it came in a can, and I haven't seen it in Virginia, where I now live. When I brought some back from a trip to Massachusetts, my girls said, "Bread in a can? We're not eating that!"

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  14. In Northern Ireland my husband's family distinguish "soda bread", which is white, from "wheaten bread" which is soda bread made with wholemeal flour (and absolutely delicious!). Soda bread, I should explain for those unfamiliar with the term, is bread raised with sodium bicarbonate and buttermilk rather than with yeast.

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    1. Strong wholemeal flour is different from plain wholemeal flour. Strong wholemeal flour is wholemeal flour for bread making, using yeast. Plain wholemeal flour is wholemeal flour for making cakes and pies with, including the wholemeal version of soda bread.

      Self-raising flour is flour sold with the raising agent (baking powder) already in it, rather than to be added.

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  15. I'm back from Waitrose (our most up-market supermarket chain). Their flour shelves hold spelt flour, rye flour and some unusual wheat flours:
    • one for sauces although they don't call it sauce flour
    sponge flour
    Canadian & vey strong flour
    • flours with proprietary names and specialist ingredients
    • a large selection of preparations for bread makers

    The bottom shelf was full of ordinary self-raising flour. If I'd squatted down, I expect I'd have seen plain four as well.

    I'd I'd looked elsewhere, I probably would have seen India gram flour (chick pea flour). In another shop I might find potato flour or pea flour (named after what they're made from) or chapati flour (named after what you make from it).

    On the Waitrose website I see that they also do

    strong white bread flour
    strong brown bread flour
    strong wholemeal bread flour
    (the above three classed as essential Waitrose
    strong malted grain bread flour (Prince Charles's Duchy Original brand)
    super fine grade pasta flour
    rice flour
    buckwheat flour (for pancakes)

    A glance at online dictionaries reminds me of manioc flour, which seems to be of significance world wide.

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  16. I can't remember whether I've mentioned this before. Another curious difference between cooking on different sides of the Atlantic, is that we do most of our measuring by weight, whereas in the US, I get the impression it's done mainly by volume. I first discovered this when I replaced a worn out bread machine with one made in the far east but targeted at a non-UK market. Almost all the measurements were in 'cups' and even fractions of a 'cup'.

    I had to convert these into weights before I could make sense of the recipes. It wasn't that easy to discover that there is a standard 'cup' rather than that this was not just a random measurement of proportions.

    Also , when we do measure by volume such as for liquids, we tend to do so by actual volume measurements, portions of a pint, litres and mls or some mysterious things called fluid ounces. We have semi transparent jugs with the various volume measurements marked up the side. Oh, and measuring spoons come in fixed volume measured sizes here, often bundled together on a little chain.

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    1. "Cups" are pretty well defined*, being 8 fluid ounces. But "ounces" can have any of several meanings. Most of them are for weight/force or mass, and the mass kind usually refers to the Avoirdupois ounce, which is 28.349523125g. (The weight kind is that mass at 1 g.)**

      But there are also Troy ounces, at least two kinds of metric ounces, and a wide variety of deprecated units. (The Wikipedia article is pretty good.)

      For baking conversion, this article:

      https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/convert/measurements.html

      seems pretty good.

      * In theory there are also "dry cups", but they're so seldom used that nobody would expect to see them in a general context.

      ** In everyday life, I'm no more concerned by the weight-mass distinction than most primary users of metric, who also conflate the terms. (When is the last time you heard someone talk about his/her weight in Newtons? 8-) )

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    2. I think the weight/mass confusion is more of a thing in the US convention for defining units.

      When I was doing forces as part of my A-level syllabus (both maths and physics, and in maths we were still using Imperial units as well as cgs and MKS), we were told you start with units of mass, distance and time. So, for Imperial units, that is the pound mass, the foot and the second. Then you can derive a unit of force: the force needed to accelerate one pound mass at one foot per second per second is the poundal. And the work done by a force of one poundal over one foot is the foot-poundal.

      My understanding is that in the US, the pound is the unit of force, from which is derived a unit of mass called a slug, the mass that one pound force accelerates at one foot per second per second. And the unit of work is the foot-pound.

      We were then taught that weight is the force of gravity on an object, but measured in units of mass. Therefore, to get the weight, you divide the force - in poundals, dynes or Newtons - by a standard value of acceleration due to gravity.

      Certainly, my bathroom scales measures my weight in kilograms, not Newtons.

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    3. Doug

      "Cups" are pretty well defined

      To the contrary there are (at least)
      US customary cup 1/16 US gallon (236.5882365 millilitres)
      US legal cup 240 millilitres
      Imperial cup 284 ml
      Canadian cup 227.3045 millilitres
      Metric cup 250 ml
      Japanese cup 200 ml

      being 8 fluid ounces

      Emphatically not so in Britain, where the weight (mass if you want to be pedantic) of a cup of water is approx 283 grammes or ten ounces — which surely means that a cup is ten fluid ounces here.

      The problem is that while both a US customary cup and an Imperial cup measure half a pint, there is a substantial difference between an American pint and a British pint.

      More information on the Cups (unit) page of Wikipedia, which also shows the significant differences in weight (mass) between cups of water, granulated sugar, (wheat) flourand table salt.

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    4. The (American) Serious Eats site has an exhaustive/ing discussion of the merits and demerits of weight v volume in recipes. TLDR version: the author defends volume measurements for everything but baking and charcuterie: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/11/why-mass-weight-is-not-better-than-volume-cooking-recipes.html.

      But I find that baking really does work better with weights, because precision counts. I recall some years ago reading a claim that volume predominates in the US because cups were easy to buy and transport on the frontier, whereas scales were expensive and fiddly. Plausible, but suspiciously Just So-ish.

      Anyway, I've been converting my favorite recipes to weights over the years. King Arthur Flour has a handy conversion chart for many ingredients - of course, the conversion ratios for flour are keyed to King Arthur's own products, which are a bit unusual even in the United States. (The company's "Baker's Catalog" has made them a big favorite among baking aficionados across the US, even though they're from Vermont and their products reflect a pretty strong regional character.)

      http://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/ingredient-weight-chart.html


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    5. I mean, the author themselves agrees with you that measuring by weight is better in baking, do they not? They're arguing against it for smaller amounts and amounts where precision is less important.

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    6. That "But" in the second graf really should be an "And." My copyeditor would be Displeased.

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    7. I grew up cooking/baking in the American measuring tradition (being American), but in my adult life I now strongly prefer recipes that measure by weight, for two main reasons:

      - The clean up
      Baking's the best example here, but I find that being able to measure and place things directly into a bowl/plate on a scale almost always results in fewer bowls and measuring cups to wash.

      And it's so much better for sticky substances like honey, which often have to be combined with something else (i.e. instead of measuring honey into a 1/4 cup measure, then having to scrape out that honey and add it to the work bowl with other ingredients, being able to squeeze the honey directly into the work bowl is so much more satisfying and fast.)

      - Ease of purchasing in stores
      American recipes call for things like "3 cups grated cheese" or "1 cup dried coconut flakes ." But when I'm at the store, all these things are sold by weight. My favorite grocery store has a great bulk section, but everything is measured by weight. If I want to buy "1 cup coconut flakes," unless I either have a measuring cup handy (unlikely, at the grocery store!) or can accurately eyeball 1 cup, it's very hard to get that amount. Whereas if a recipes specified things like "100g/3.5 oz coconut flakes," I would just measure that out on the scale until I got what I needed.

      (I know, for a lot of recipes it doesn't matter if you go a little over or under what's specified. But some things are expensive, and you don't want to buy any more than necessary, and for other things like coconut flakes I don't use them very much so have no need to buy any extra whatsoever.)

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    8. David,

      Part of the issue is that an ounce is a measure of weight, and a fluid ounce is a measure of volume, "approximately .03 liters." So a US cup is not a measure of volume equivalent to water which would weigh 8 ounces, but rather a measure of volume based on a multiple of a smaller unit of volume.

      The unifying factor becomes "A pint's a pound the world around" (at sea level). One US fluid pint weighs one US pound, at sea level.

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    9. A pint is most decidedly not a pound here. Nor was it a pound in large swathes of the world around — Australia, South Africa, Canada etc — before they went metric. Insofar as people in these countries remember the pint, they remember the imperial pint of twenty fluid ounces.

      In Britain draft beer is still measured exclusively in pints, and it's legal to sell milk in pints. Our pints, not yours.

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    10. I was taught: A pint of pure water weights a pound and a quarter.

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    11. Incidentally, to further complicate matters, the fluid ounce is different in the US and the UK, something to do with the temperature at which the volume is defined. According to Wikipedia, the US fluid ounce is about 29.57ml and the UK 28.41ml.

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    12. The difference in British and American fluid ounces is interesting (well, to some of us), but makes very little difference to kitchen results. Even the much greater difference between British and American cups may have limited effect. If every ingredient is added in a consistently greater — or consistently smaller — measure, then the mixture is the same; there's just more of it or less. The argument against cups is different.

      Consider two ingredients which are frequently combined. According to the Wikipedia cup (unit) page:

      • an American cup of granulated sugar = 190 grams or 6.7 fluid ounces

      • an American cup of wheat flour = 120-140 grams or 4.2-5 fluid ounces
      [The relatively wide range points up the necessity of knowing which flour you're using. Wholemeal/wholewheat flour, for example, presumably takes up more space for its weight.]

      These ingredients are generally combined with a liquid. We know that an American cup of water = 8 American fluid ounces or c27 grams, and I expect an American cup of milk is not very different in weight (mass).

      The differences between capacity-measured and weight-measured liquids is not a problem, since recipes use capacity measures. (And cooks often just add liquid until the mixture looks and feels right.) But the discrepancy between capacity-measure and weight-measures of dry ingredients means that you can have two significantly different mixtures when you measure by cups and when you measure by scales. hence Christian Johnson's observation that you get better results from scales in baking where accuracy really matters.

      [The argument against American cups could be deployed equally against British (imperial) cups.]

      That said, my mother was an excellent baker and used neither cups nor scales — she just used her eyesight. She could recognise how much sugar or flour on a tablespoon or how big a lump of butter/margarine could count as an ounce. It didn't matter whether it was and ounce, so long as it was consistent from bake to bake. And she added liquid ingredients until the mixture was right. It worked for her because she used one type of mixture for pastry (OK, she sometimes made flaky pastry, but the mix of ingredients was the same as for shortcrust), and relatively few, relatively similar mixtures for cakes.

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    13. The WIkipedia page isn't comparing US cups to US fluid ounces, it's comparing US cups to US ounces.

      I agree that folk who bake frequently should weigh, because an equal volume of flour can contain really different amounts depending on aeration. I just think it's an interesting point.

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    14. I was just looking through a recipe book I bought in Texas a couple of years ago and was amused to find a recipe calling for 3/4 cup of celery. Do you have to cut the stalks to the height of the cup? It also says, Mushrooms, 1/2 cup, and seeing how there is a type of mushroom called a cup, surely that's ambiguous. :-)

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    15. I tend to estimate a stalk of celery as equaling a cup, and I don't measure it any more than I measure onions when I chop them. Cookbooks are now written for people who have never cooked, and so they now list measurements for everything. A few decades ago they used to list a stalk of celery, or half a large onion because they assumed you knew how to cook, now they give everything in cup or spoon measurements, or by weight (depending on where you live). In the same way, recipes from the 1960s and '70s would list a pinch or a dash, now they say a sixteenth or an eighth of a teaspoon.

      Measuring matters more in baking than in other cooking. If you're making a cake, your flour to other ingredients matter, in a soup -- well, not the same way. More celery if you like celery, less (or none) if you really hate celery. Even the salt is to taste.

      Delete
    16. Indeed, I was trying another recipe from the same book and it required an eighth of a teaspoon of black pepper. So how many twists of the pepper grinder is that? But at least it didn't give the onions and green pepper in cups.

      Delete
  17. So here's a random question: I thought Corn was called Maize over in Britain. Why is corn starch called corn flour then?

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    1. That is something I've often wondered.

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    2. I would say: corn is sometimes called maize in Britain. Usually in more technical/agricultural language.

      In everyday speech, we're familiar enough with the "corn" in (Kellogg's) cornflakes, corn on the cob/sweetcorn, cornmeal, etc., that corn is used as the everyday word for both wheat and maize.

      Logical? Naaah.

      I suspect cornflour/-starch was also originally an American product imported into the U.K., so it kept its "corn" as cornflakes have.

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    3. Probably borrowed from US (which is where UK would have got(ten) it from). There is some evidence in OED that it was called 'maize flour' earlier, but I see 'corn flour' in the (orig. AmE) supermarkets now.

      Delete
    4. Incidentally, the 'earlier' evidence is pre-1850. It looks like 'corn flour' might have been brought over with the Great Exhibition of 1851 in Crystal Palace.

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    5. Yes, Lynne. I drafted a post which got swallowed into the ether as I tried to Preview it. (Possibly because Blogger was busy publishing your posts.)

      It's a good bet that the name was changed from some original coining.

      One of my suggestions was that we adopted the product for America — for which you say there is some evidence. Marketing men
      [They weren't called that then, but they were almost certainly men]
      might well have decided to change the word starch because potential buyers associated the term exclusively with laundry, not cooking.

      My other suggestion was that it was initially named maize flour here but renamed by the 'marketing' people as sounding too foreign or strange.

      Before that I wrote that Indian corn isn't always called 'maize' here. When eaten by humans it's called corn on the cob — or, if not on the cob, sweet corn. So the American use of the word corn is familiar to us in certain circumstances.

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    6. As to corn flakes, I may have mentioned this before. Back in the sixties, I heard my grandfather (born 1900) refer to them as wheat flakes. He knew that the correct name for corn was wheat, at least where he grew up in the south of England, so gave them their proper name.

      In the eighties, I saw a news item in the Daily Telegraph about an American food fad. It claimed they were making corn flakes with a blue variant of wheat. I suspect this is a double error. Not only did the reporter (or maybe sub-editor) think corn flakes were made with wheat, but I think this was actually referring to blue corn chips, which I have seen in the US.

      Delete
  18. In BrE at least, 'corn' is the usual word for the local main cereal crop, whatever it is. We talk about 'cornfields' when we mean fields of wheat in England and, according to a couple of dictionaries, oats in Scotland. Settlers may have come up with the original name of Indian corn when they saw it was the chief cereal crop of the indigenous North Americans. Somewhere along the way it lost its modifier in most contexts - I believe nowadays Indian corn refers only to decorative corn (flint corn).

    In Britain, as, I suspect, in the US, 'maize' is mainly an agricultural term. In everyday contexts 'corn' is sufficient identification in 'corn on the cob', 'cornflour' and 'popcorn'. If we grow maize in our gardens we call it 'sweetcorn', which distinguishes it from the corn in the cornfields, and the seed companies call the seeds 'sweetcorn', as we do the same kernels sold for cooking.

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    Replies
    1. Somewhere along the way it lost its modifier in most contexts

      One context where I find the modifier Indian useful is...
      ... this blog.

      When talking about the choice between the words corn and maize, it's handy to have a neutral term.

      You didn't mention barley, but there's a song about John Barleycorn.

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    2. I'm pretty sure barley would be called corn in a GB district where it was the staple cereal crop. Googling that, I find that barley is the main cereal crop in Scotland; but, according to NFUS (National Farmers' Union Scotland) 35% is malted and 55% is for animal feed, so it is the most widely grown but not really the staple. When the word corn was initially used the staple was probably oats, but maybe no longer since wheat now occupies an area four times as large.

      I suppose the corn in barleycorn could be the same word as that in peppercorn, meaning an individual hard seed (grain, kernel) rather than the plants collectively. It certainly was when barleycorn meant a length. We don't, so far as I know, have wheatcorn, oatcorn, ryecorn. Acorn has different etymology.

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    3. British farmers would recognise wheat, oats, barley and rye as "corn", although naturally they would refer to the specific crop where clarification was needed. In recent years, maize has been added to the crops one might expect to see on a British farm - always called maize, as it is for animal, rather than human consumption (the latter is called corn-on-the-cob). My brother always laughs when he sees people have stolen cobs from the edge of the field, as no matter how long you cook them for, they will not tenderise!

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    4. To clarify, - I wish one could edit one's posts - maize, I think, also comes under the heading of a corn crop.

      Delete
    5. In my urban southern-Irish idiolect, "corn" is always in the US sense. I am aware that historically "corn" meant whatever local cereal, but that's something to worry about when reading older books, not in current speech or, say, journalism.

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    6. Keith

      I suppose the corn in barleycorn could be the same word as that in peppercorn, meaning an individual hard seed (grain, kernel) rather than the plants collectively.

      The song is about the plant

      Oh there were three men came out of the west
      Their fortunes for to try,
      And these three men made a solemn vow:
      John Barleycorn should die.
      They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in,
      Throwed clods upon his head.
      Then these three men made a solemn vow:
      John Barleycorn was dead.

      They let him lie for a very long time
      Till the rain from heaven did fall.
      Then little Sir John he raised up his head
      And he soon amazed them all.
      They let him lie till the long midsummer
      Till he looked both pale and wan.
      Then little Sir John growed a long, long beard
      And so became a man.

      They hired men with the scythes so sharp
      To cut him off down by the knee.
      They rolled him and tied him around by the waist,
      Served him most barbarously.
      They hired men with the sharp pitchforks
      Who pierced him to the heart.
      But the loader, he served him far worse than that
      For he bound him to the cart.

      They rode him around and around the field
      Till they came into a barn,
      And there they made a solemn mow
      Of poor John Barleycorn.
      They hired men with the crab-tree sticks
      Who cut him skin from bone
      But the miller, he served him far worse than that
      For he ground him between two stones.

      Here's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
      And brandy in a glass.
      And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
      Proved the stronger man at last.
      For the hunter, he can't hunt the fox
      Nor so loudly blow his horn,
      And the tinker, he can't mend his kettles or his pots
      Without a little bit of John Barleycorn.

      Here's my favourite rendition (click). By no means the most musical of performances, but a prime example of a folk song embedded in the life of a rural community. Their final verses are:

      He'll make a maid dance around this rom
      Stark naked as ever she was born
      He'll make a parson pawn his books
      For a little John Barleycorn

      He'll turn your gold into silver
      Your silver into brass
      He'll make a man become a fool
      And a fool become an ass

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    7. The song is about the plant? I don't think so...

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    8. It culminates in the power of beer, but originates in the barley plant and what farmers do to it.

      If you remove all the verses that apply to the physical plant, then the song dissolves into nothing in particular.

      Delete
    9. British old fogies like me are always on the look-out for on-screen anachronisms, whether in clothes, speech or modes of transport [Routemaster buses are the classic!]. This confusion about fields of corn may explain why two recent TV drama series set in and just after WW2 had fields of maize - in one, the Women's Institute gathered in the crop by hand; in the other, a man hid among the tall stalks of maize. The script may have specified a field of corn, but when the production team are all twenty- or thirty-something, maize may have better suited their 'vision' for the scene. Firstly, maize was not grown in the UK at at that time, and secondly, I believe that other corns such as wheat were actually shorter in height in those days. We need the taller varieties for mechanical harvesting.

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    10. Oh dear! I wonder if anybody called them on it?

      Actually, I thought that modern varieties of wheat, etc, had shorter stalks because there was less demand for straw.

      Does anybody know when maize first started to be grown in this country. I have a vague memory of school geography lessons (and I gave up geography in 1966) being told that it was coming closer at a certain rate (can't remember what) each year and would reach the UK in our lifetimes, which it duly did, I think some time in the 1970s or 1980s.

      Delete
    11. Forgive the lack of question-marks.... poor proof-reading on my part, and one cannot edit, so one's mistakes are left for all too see!

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    12. Mrs Redboots: "Actually, I thought that modern varieties of wheat, etc, had shorter stalks...."

      Definitely correct in most places. (I'm sure there are exceptions.) Stalks take energy to grow and that energy can be more profitably expended (for the farmer) if it is used to grow the grain rather than the stalk. (For the plant, greater height is a way of competing for sunlight, so there is selection for taller grasses that is fought by intentional selection by seed breeders.)

      Note that it is my understanding that rice has been cultivated for _longer_ stalks, since the advantages of long stalks for harvesting in a rice paddy are greater than the advantages of short stalks for more grain production.

      I can remember when wheat and barley fields all had stalks waist high or higher and also when the new short-stalk varietals were introduced. It's fairly recent (for values of "recent" that seem reasonable to a man of a certain age. 8-) )

      Delete
  19. Dru: About 30 years ago I sent for a recipe booklet from Quaker Oats. As it had been written for Americans, for the British market it came with a leaflet explaining that the American 'cup' was 8 fl.oz., and giving approximate weight equivalents for tablespoons of butter etc.

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  20. Anonymous in New Jersey31 January, 2017 05:27

    Corn flour is AmE for corn meal? I've never heard of it before. It's always been cornmeal for me and mine. And I'm fairly certain it was cornmeal or corn meal at the supermarket last night, as well. I feel as if I've missed something.

    – AiNJ

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    Replies
    1. Read again. Corn meal is something for which there is no British term because we don't use it. And so the shops don't sell it. If you want to cook American recipes with it here, try Italian polenta meal.

      Corn flour is our British term for what you call corn starch.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous in New Jersey31 January, 2017 13:19

      I did read it again (and again and again) before posting. Lynn's chart still calls "corn flour" AmE for "maize meal" or "corn meal". The BrE "corn flour" as the equivalent of AmE "corn starch" is a separate thing.

      Oh, and, as I am in the U.S., I have never had difficulty finding cornmeal to make my polenta!

      – AiNJ

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    3. I've added 'corn meal' as a US possibility, though I'd expect it might be a rougher ground than corn flour. Packages with both names come up if you search for it at Evilmart.
      https://www.walmart.com/c/kp/corn-flour

      Delete
    4. Anonymous in New Jersey01 February, 2017 02:05

      Now that I've checked out the link, I feel as if I were lying when I typed, "I've never heard of it before" because I have; it's something a friend used when she was attempting to teach me to make what we on the American continents tend to call tortillas (rather than what Europeans might call tortillas). I'd completely forgotten that stuff existed, possibly because I thought of it as extremely-finely-ground-cornmeal rather than by what it was called on the packet.

      – AiNJ

      P.S. Sorry that I misspelled your name earlier. I noticed it straight away after publishing, but there's no editing when one's Anonymous in New Jersey.

      Delete
    5. Ah, that makes sense -- but to go back to the addendum to your original post, Lynne, I'd be very surprised to see a corn muffin or cornbread recipe that called for "corn flour."

      Indeed, because I'm slightly sick and procrastinating, I did a quick search of "cornmeal" "corn meal" "corn flour" and "cornflour" (the compounds in quotes) on Allrecipes.com (a leading US recipe site). 535 recipes for cornmeal, 34 for corn meal, 34 for corn flour (odd coincidence - they're completely different recipes) and 0 for cornflour. None of the "corn flour" recipes are for cornbread or corn muffins. Conversely, there are 424 recipes for "cornbread" but a quick sample showed none calling for "corn flour."

      To me, the texture of a finely milled masa harina/corn flour wouldn't be quite right for cornbread, which I usually associate with being pretty grainy (in the Texas version I like, from my mother; Northern recipes I've seen mix in too much all-purpose flour.)

      Delete
  21. I agree with AiNJ regarding the term "corn flour" listed in the chart as American English. I'm American, 56 years old, studied food science in college and have been baking most of my life. I have never heard of corn flour. What is it?

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    Replies
    1. And another one. American, baking for most of my 48 years, half-Texan and still haven't heard of it. The closest thing I can think of might be Masa Harina, but then again that's a pretty recent thing in most of the US - Texas and the Southwest notwithstanding.

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    2. Oh and now I see that Lynne updated her post, which is why the sudden interest in clown flour. Yes, never seen it - it's cornmeal for making bf muffins, e.g. here:

      http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/organic-yellow-cornmeal-24-oz

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    3. Curse you autocorrect! But "clown flour" is too funny to delete....

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    4. American corn flour might be the same as that bolted meal that the blues singers referred to.

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    5. Yes, masa harina! I have some in my kitchen right now but have never called it corn flour. It is definitely a flour made from corn but I've only heard it called by its Spanish name since it's most often used to make Mexican/Mexican-style foods. I really don't believe "corn flour" is a common term in American English.

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    6. Please my reply to AINJ in the thread above.

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    7. I wonder whether the confusion is caused by a change in the opposition between meal and flour.

      Once upon a time it was clear:
      Meal was produced by milling <
      Flour was produced by bolting/sieving/sifting meal.

      Meal was coarse, brown, and used for gruel and porridge.
      Flour was fine, white or nearly white, and used for bread and cakes.

      Since those simple days, English-speaking culture have discovered — by inventing new machinery or by copying other cultures — many more variants:

      • grinding to different gradations of fineness
      • processing and/or reintroducing the removed germ of the grain
      • processing and/or reintroducing the removed husk of the grain

      One set of processes results in grains that are
      • between coarse and fine
      • white (or nearly while) like flour

      In Scotland, any preparation short of flour was called meal. We all speak of oatmeal to this day, but Scots spoke of (and perhaps still speak of) pinmeal oats and several other varieties of meal.

      Elsewhere the use of meal is sporadic. You Americans speak of corn meal, which I take to be coarsely ground then sifted (or equivalent).

      When we do the same with wheat we call it semolina. This was a fairly general term, but has been largely reduced to a particular grade of fineness which we use to make milk puddings. A different grade of fineness is the Arab couscous. Jewish cookery uses a variety of grades and calls them all matzo meal.

      Bakers devised something with the powdery property of flour but incorporating all three components of the wheat grain. In Britain, the term wholemeal is used since it shares some characteristics with meal in the old sense. In America you disregard this similarity and call it wholewheat.

      If my analysis is right, uncommon American corn flour is a finer product of grinding and sifting (or whatever) than the more usual corn meal. If you carry the processes further, so as to produce a fine white powder, that's what you call corn starch and we call corn flour.

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    8. If you carry the processes further, so as to produce a fine white powder, that's what you call corn starch and we call corn flour.

      I now learn that corn starch is made by a different process, involving solution and evaporation. Still, the principle of gradation between meal and flour remains valid.

      Calling it corn starch more accurately reflects how it's made, but calling it corn flour made it more acceptable to the British market. It conveyed to the original customers that it was not a laundry product but something that could be used like flour — only better — to make sauces and blancmanges.

      Delete
  22. There is a book "These Ruins are Inhabited" by Muriel Beadle, in which she describes attempting to cook a Thanksgiving meal in 1950s Oxford. I seem to remember a line approximating to "It was impossible to get cor nmeal, the hopefully bought box of corn flour turning out to be corn starch". But I have not read it for twenty years, at least.

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  23. The Canadian side: in this case, we're with the American side of the chart, except for "cornmeal", which is the term I hear used (I think I'd understand corn flour, but I wouldn't use it myself). Maybe it's regional though.

    As for the bread divide, "white or brown" is common, as is "white or whole wheat", but I agree with the commenters who think "white or wheat" sounds odd.

    Joining onto the graham cracker discussion, they're common here in Canada too, though I rarely hear "graham flour" -- I would still say "graham cracker" even if referring to the crushed up kind for a pie crust, and let context do the work. (Side note: the person putting half a Hershey bar and 2 whole marshmallows bdtween the graham crackers in their s'mores must have a real mess on their hands! I've never seen a s'more that isn't already dripping over with 2 bricks of chocolate and a single marshmallow :P)

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous in New Jersey31 January, 2017 18:36

      Most AmE speakers, so far, who have disputed the idea that chimed in since Lynne's edit have disputed the idea that we use the term "corn flour" rather than"corn meal". Many had never even heard of corn flour before this post. (I knew it as a name for "corn starch" due to an ill-fated international cooking incident some years ago.)

      – AiNJ

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    2. Laura - it takes some effort to find Graham crackers in the UK. A very acceptable substitute for use in s'mores are small chocolate digestive biscuits (i.e. already chocolate-coated on one side), chocolate side in, and a grilled marshmallow from the barbeque. My daughter's friends thought they were terrific.

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  24. I can answer some of the questions people have asked.

    1. Wheat stalks were much longer and thinner (i.e. stalkier) until about 50 years ago. One used to see it rippling across fields in the wind.

    2. Maize was unknown in Britain until the 1970s. It could not then be grown this far north. I travelled with friends in Southern Europe in 1966. Although I grew up in rural England, none of us had seen maize before. We assumed that as it looked big and exotic, it must be tobacco! A few years after that, one began occasionally to see it grown to be mashed up whole to make silage.

    Some years ago, I can remember seeing an American illustrated children's book of Bible stories. Where the disciples were accused of eating grains of corn on the sabbath, they were shown walking through a field of maize. Whoever illustrated the book clearly had not realised that maize was unknown in the Old World pre-Columbus. 'Corn' in the Bible, in C17 English, and really in modern British English, means wheat the basic ingredient of bread, as it does in the words "Fair waived the golden corn in Canaan's pleasant land".

    3. If corn meal in US speech means maize flour and you want to buy maize flour in Britain, it might be worth trying looking either for mealie flour from a shop specialising in food for South Africans away from home, or as David Crosbie suggests, polenta, which I think is an Italian flour made from maize.

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    Replies
    1. Yes - my father used to plant up the field known as The Valley with wheat so that he could point to it and say "The valleys also shall stand so thick with corn that they shall laugh and sing!" (He can't do it now - the valley has been designated Downland Pasture and a Site of Special Scientific Interest so it has to be kept in grass).

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    2. Watched the film Into the Woods recently and in that the baker has to find "the hair as gold as corn". He was using a corn cob for the comparison.

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    3. Well, it's an adaption of an American musical that premiered off-Broadway in the 1980s, so that's almost certainly the way it was intended.

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    4. However, Into the Woods is based on European folk tales - mostly from the Grimms - and Sondheim does seem to be something of an Anglophile. I've seen two London stagings, but can't remember if any cereals were produced on stage.

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    5. In fact, the resolution of act one requires it to be corn on the cob because SPOILER Rapunzel's hair is no good, so they have to use the corn silk in the spell.

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    6. Well, wheat ears have hairs as well, as far as I can tell from images. Haven't looked closely at a wheat field recently.

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  25. I haven't heard "fine flour" for 00 flour here in the States. I've only seen it marketed as 00 flour, and usually only sold in Italian groceries for pizza-making purposes. (And now I'm craving pizza!)

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  26. Although cheap brands of flour are still bleached in the US, most premium brands are not--including cake flour. http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/unbleached-cake-flour

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  27. High grade Moroccan hashish is also known as "00" ("zero zero"*). I have been told this refers to the mesh used to seive (boult?) the marijuana in making it. They are graded 3, 2, 1, 0 and, for the very finest (smallest apertures), 00. I'm guessing (as usual) that 00 flour is so designated for the same reason.

    Btw, the version of John Barleycorn I'm familiar with is Traffic's (YouTube, 6'39").
    * صفر صفر

    ReplyDelete

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)