This collection of brass and copper dry and liquid measuring instruments can be traced back to Orange County, North Carolina, where they were produced between 1758-1760. The trio of cooking measures features a gallon liquid measure, a quart dry measure, and a pint dry measure, all of which are currently on display at the Orange County Historical Museum, in Hillsborough, NC. The museum is currently open to the public and contains over 2,000 Orange County artifacts from the 18th century. A few of their other interesting artifacts include silver spoons, newsprints, and cooking documentations.
Though this photo solely depicts a set of brass dry and liquid measures for cooking, we are able gain insightful information regarding the history of Orange County’s cooking practices during the 18th century by meticulously dissecting the image further. For instance, these measuring devices are made out of copper and brass, which alludes to the fact that they were made to last and perhaps to be handed down from generation to generation. By making the measuring tools out of long lasting and durable materials, it allows future generations to follow in the footsteps of their ancestors by precisely replicating the same recipes in a standardized fashion. Additionally, if one looks closely, you can see how they are all stamped with a “NC” and feature a glossy brass rim. The careful craftsmanship of the pieces demonstrates how they were most likely intended to be used by affluent households within North Carolina.
Additionally, although the United States and Britain currently use different metric systems, Americans adopted their invention of both standardized dry and liquid measuring instruments. As seen below, the two dry measures are measured in pints and quarts, which is a rather unusual manner of measuring dry ingredients, further highlighting Britain’s influence on American cooking practices. This was directly a result of Colonial British Rule prevalent within the 18th century. Since North Carolina is situated on the Atlantic Coast, it acted as a major trading port to Europe and Asia, allowing technological advancements to occur both in and out of the kitchen. Thus, the adoption of cooking techniques from the British represents America’s transition towards the development of a national cuisine.
Ultimately, the set of measuring instruments shows the importance of standardization of cooking practices within North Carolina, and more specifically Orange County. Before Britain’s creation of standard cooking measurements, most recipes were followed by using inconsistent measuring units, such as handfuls, pinches, or spoonfuls. By standardizing measurements, it enables North Carolinian recipes to be followed precisely, just as the original recipe creator had intended. Without tools like these to measure our ingredients, North Carolinian cuisine may not have been what we know it to be today!
“Dry and Liquid Measures.” DigitalNC, Hillsborough, 1758, library.digitalnc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/ncimages/id/536/rec/2.
Orange County Historical Museum. “Welcome to the Orange County Historical Museum in Hillsborough.” Orange County Historical Museum, 2017, orangenchistory.org/museum-collection
Written By: Isaac Murov