Sunday, August 31, 2014

Real-World Math: Bushels of Fun

Author's Note: I started writing this yesterday (Saturday), but by the time I returned home, there wasn't time to finish it and clean it up. I worked on it this morning, but all references to "today" were really yesterday.

There are four pecks in a bushel. I know this because my mother loved me a bushel and a peck. She'd tell me this all the time in song. Okay, so I was never sure what a "peck" was. Something chickens do, right? And those little kisses on the cheek, too. So four pecks would be two kisses on each check. One extra would make a bushel and a peck. At least, it would to a six-year-old.

Seriously, I knew what a bushel was -- it was a large basket that you could fill with fruit or other farm produce. In particular, tomatoes, which I'll get back to.

Now, in this day of metric measure, you may ask how many liters of tomatoes are in a bushel? Or should it be kilograms?

The answer is: who cares? The more important question is "how many jars of sauce will it make?" The answer to which is, about 18, if you're lucky. Not overly precise and not very scientific but quite an accurate estimate. Then again, maybe it is scientific since this is empirical evidence: we got an average of 18 jars per bushel. That's correct: I said "average". It wasn't precisely the same for each bushel. How could it be? (And do we really know?)

Today was Tomato Jarring Day aka Sauce Day. We started with five bushels of tomatoes. When everything was cut, boiled, strained, and boiled again, we had put 90 jars of sauce to bed, wrapped in blankets. We could do the math on this and convert it, if we wanted to:

One bushel is 35.293 liters, although the decimal portion would be silly because there's no way to know that we had precisely 1.0 bushels. Let's call it 35.3 liters. That makes five bushels equal to 176.5 liters.

In the end, we filled 90 one-quart jars with sauce. Ninety quarts is about 85.2 liters. So 176.5 liters of tomatoes created 85.2 liters of tomato sauce? Wow! That's odd! Half of the tomatoes disappeared? Was there that much skin and garbage and rot that we tossed aside? Nah, couldn't be. It's just that we're comparing two different quantities ... with the same units.

That Metric System sure is complicated and confusing in Real Life, aint it! (And don't get me started that "metric" means a standard of measurement, so metric measure means . . . you get the picture).

Converting it to metric does nothing for me. It's very scientific, but not particularly practical for us non-scientists who just want to think about the next couple years' worth of pasta-based meals. (And chicken parm, of course.)

But moving on from this. I am kidding, of course, but not by much. There are those who will insist that there is inherent beauty in the metric system's sets of ten this and then that all connected in a unified theory of scientific terms that apply to no one's life outside of academia and rocket science. Yes, rocket science is important and I'm all for it! But I -- and just about everyone I know -- will never participate in it. Get me the Moon, and I might change my tune!

Speaking of tunes...

There was much Beauty in my mother's singing. And she wasn't alone and Bushel and a Peck was hardly a one-in-a-million tune. I knew the words to Five-Foot-Two, Eyes of Blue before I was three-feet tall! No one will ever sing "157 point 5 Centimeters, Eyes of Wavelength 475 Nanometers"

To quote something that I think I read in one of my grandmother's Readers Digests several decades ago: "Who would walk a million kilometers for one of your thermometers?" Not Al Jolson. (Or Fred Mertz, either!). Or the Proclaimers. Or Venessa Carlton. Or ... you get the picture. Or, rather, the song.

Feet, inches, yards, miles... we know what they are, and what they are are musical and memorable. They're all different? They're all beautiful, like the rolling hills across the countryside. Imagine every mountain was the same size. Would you still climb one because it was there, if it was like the one next to it? Would you fly halfway around the world to climb one?

I'll take the ten miles of smiles or even ten feet of sleet, over meters of liters or liters of meters. I'll even take bushels of pecks 'til I'm filled to the gills. All 297.89 of them. Now, excuse me, it's time for some pasta; we needed four pounds to feed everyone.

No comments: