Metric System Mayhem

Finally, South Africa ignores America’s rebellious tendencies and uses the metric system. Really America, we lost the measurement war and instead of bickering over why America is “behind” in math, maybe we should focus more energy on rising global citizens who can decipher the metric system. Sorry end of my rant, but it is really frustrating to be unable to read nutrition labels, estimate distance, or in a health context be unable to read a basic indicator like BMI (which was a pain during my time in Botswana). The metric culture extends to baking and I have a nifty scrapper/converter I got at Dis-Chem to help me decipher the math. Nevertheless mistakes happen and I have a story to close with.

This Thanksgiving, I crashed the Education Cohort’s gathering in the Battlefields (I will explain KZN’s ambiguous geographic classifications another time) about 2 hours from the site. One of the older volunteers has established connections with the local hotel and coordinated a wonderful feast. Anyways it was a lovely first outing away from Amajuba and this party crasher’s contributions was finding the cranberry sauce in the Scotland Pick N Pay’s menagerie of canned fruits and helping with the pumpkin pie.

The host PCV did not have a wealth of baking experience and was relieved when I wanted a baking fix. Since this was in a nice hotel, we had a state of the art kitchen including a food processor to puree produce. Using BBC recipes as our guide, the plan was to make 3 pies (1 pumpkin and 2 butternut as we could only find one fresh pumpkin) for the PCV party of almost 20 and the regular hotel guests. Anyways things were going well, I made my first pie crust (with real butter since that was what the hotel used) which was far from aesthetically pleasing but it held the filling so task accomplished!  Meanwhile the host pureed the pumpkin and once we found a good spice balance we got ready to add the milk.

The host adds the required amount and the mixture with a vibrant saffron hue gradually mutes to a pastel peach. Now the Engineer loves pumpkin pie and he finds any excuse to bake one (I am willing to bet we are the only family in Albuquerque who observes Martin Luther King Day with pumpkin pie). I had enough pumpkin pie…expertise if you will, to realize something is off. I gently encourage the host to recheck the recipe and she finds out we were supposed to use a 1/3 of the milk we poured. Curse you metric system.

Oops. With about 20 Americans craving an authentic pumpkin pie, the stakes were high.

Thankfully the head chef (a no-nonsense amaZulu woman) who has seen her share of kitchen blunders figures out a solution. She comes up with an idea to keep a 1/3 of the current mixture and prepare the butternut puree as the filling. It takes another hour to season the butternut but we find the right consistency and put the pies in the oven. As completed my kitchen duty by supporting the food processor as it created whipped cream, I was worried that the butternut would throw the taste off.

In the end, my anxiety was misplaced (typical) and the other PCVs appreciated the taste of home with the whipped cream. You could definitely taste the butternut but it did not distracted wholesome sensation from pumpkin pie. Honestly in British Spheres of influence, pumpkin describes any type of squash (not just Jack o’ Lantern material) so including butternut put a South African flare to the meal.

Most important, it made for a delightful breakfast the next morning (my favorite way to enjoy pumpkin pie).

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