A Little Cup of Something

My mother’s Pyrex 508 one-cup measuring cup has been loved. The once-red writing has faded to white, and the 1/4 cup measure mark on the glass has completely disappeared. You can still see the 1-cup mark pretty clearly, and have a hint of the 2/3. But I use the cup anyway because I’ve been using it for 35 years. I’ve measured milk for pancakes, oil for brownies, and water for our favorite cake: white with chocolate frosting.

When I was in second grade, my mother started teaching me how to cook. She showed me how to loosely spoon flour into a dry measuring cup and drag a knife blade across the top to get the exact amount. I learned how to beat egg whites, but not overbeat them, into a meringue. I learned how to fry chicken livers and bacon, and how to make the perfect pancake, waiting to flip until the bubbles on top had popped. And, I learned how to measure liquid in her cup. We’d bend down next to the glass at eye level, peering inside to make sure I had the right amount.

She taught me that you have to pack brown sugar when measuring it, but not confectioner’s sugar. I learned when to use margarine and when to use Crisco. Measuring Crisco—how satisfying! We’d put that brilliant white lard into one of her Tupperware measuring cups and pack out any air bubbles, listening for the tiny satisfying sound when the air released.

My mother laughed at me the first time I tried to make brownies on my own. She was off in another room, and not long after I read in the directions, “Fold the mixture by hand,” she found me in the kitchen with my hands covered in the thick, sweet batter, stirring it with great enthusiasm. She thought that was so funny. I remember getting angry. I said, “If Duncan Hines didn’t want me to use my hands, then they should have been more specific!”

I safely store my mom’s Pyrex cup with its D-shaped handle in my baking tools drawer. It’s there along with a cheap two-cup measure I bought, because my sister ended up with the Pyrex 516. Even though it’s impractical, as often as I can, I pull out the 508. I use it every time I need less than a cup of something. I use it when I make my son D’s favorite Annie’s Shells and Cheese, even though I have to estimate the ¼ cup mark for the milk. If it comes out a little soupy, at least we made it together.