It had seemed like a good idea when Twilight Sparkle suggested it: a cookbook would be the perfect addition to their apple stall. A little bit of Ponyville history from one of its oldest residents in celebration of the Founding of the town.
No, the problem hadn't been in the idea.
She'd managed to convince Applejack that it was a good idea. It wasn't as though the other ponies would be able to match Granny Smith's skill in the kitchen, and even if they did try the recipes, they'd still need to get their apples from somewhere. And once she'd persuaded Applejack, she'd thought the rest would be easy. Talk to Granny Smith, write down her recipes and some of her memories and all would be well.
She'd been wrong.
Twilight Sparkle spent several days at Sweet Apple Acres, interviewing Granny Smith about everything from selecting the best apples to varieties that were better for pies or cakes or cider. And then they'd started on the recipes.
Twilight herself wasn't the best cook, so she didn't see the problems at first. It was only when she sat down with a cookery manual to work the recipes into an appropriate format that she ran into problems. And then she ran to find Applejack.
"Whoa, where's the fire?" Applejack drawled as she deftly deflected Twilight Sparkle before she ran into the side of the barn.
"These- these notes are all useless. They're not proper recipes at all. Proper recipes use teaspoons and temperatures, not 'butter the size of a walnut' or 'mix until it feels right' or 'bake in a warm oven'!" Twilight wailed. "How does anypony even figure that out? Is it a big walnut? A small walnut? Shelled? Unshelled? How can anyone cook like this?"
"Calm down, sugarcube," Applejack replied. "We can fix this easily. Let's go talk to Granny Smith and see if she can help us. And if she can't, I have another idea." She just stood there waiting until Twilight Sparkle calmed down.
"Sorry, it's just-"
"I know, you like to have all your apples in a row." Applejack smiled at her friend. "But there's no reason to upset Granny Smith over it." Not that much upset Granny Smith. "All we need to do is get her to demonstrate her measurements using teaspoons and things. We must have some somewhere."
"If not, I brought some with me." Twilight Sparkle liked to be prepared.
Twilight Sparkle followed Applejack into the cozy house, where they found Granny Smith dozing in her rocking chair. It took a few minutes of incoherent mumbling before she woke up enough to understand what they wanted but once she did, she was only too happy to oblige. She grabbed an old cracked teacup from the cupboard and a spoon of uncertain origin from the drawer and got to work.
Twilight looked on in horror. This was worse than she'd thought. Even the measurements she'd thought were accurate, weren't. "But-" Words failing her, she pointed mutely at the measuring implements she'd brought from Ponyville.
"I don't hold truck with those newfangled devices." Granny Smith glared at the display on the table. "This cup has been my measuring cup for longer than either of you has been alive. How could I ever tell how much flour I was adding with one of those?"
"But not everyone is going to have a teacup like yours in their house, Granny Smith," Applejack said tactfully. She looked from Granny Smith to Twilight Sparkle and back again. She knew neither one was going to budge, but she had an idea. "Okay. Granny, put that bowl aside and we'll start again. You can use your cup but before you add anything to the bowl, we're going to pour it into one of Twilight's measuring cups."
Granny Smith looked dubiously at her granddaughter, but Twilight Sparkle almost bounced.
"That will work perfectly. In fact, we don't even have to make anything. We can just go through the list of measurements and you can show me how much each one is." Of course, give Twilight Sparkle the chance to collect data and she'd be happy.
"Not make anything? What's the point of measuring if you don't make anything?" Granny Smith glared at both of them as she fetched a new bowl from the cupboard.
Twilight Sparkle and Applejack each involuntarily took a step back.
"Well, if you wanted to make something, I'm sure we'd enjoy it," Twilight offered shakily.
"Good." Granny Smith cleared her workspace. "Bring over those things and let's get to work. We start with flour." She scooped it with her cup and waited tolerantly as Twilight Sparkle poured it into her own cups to get the measurements. They continued on through sugar, leavening and apple juice...and then they came to the apples. "I don't know how you're going to measure these. They won't fit in your cups."
Twilight Sparkle blinked. She hadn't thought of that. "Maybe cut apples - but no, you wouldn't know how many apples you needed at the start. But all apples are different sizes. How do you figure out how many apples to cut up so you get the same amount in the cake every time?"
"You don't." Applejack replied with a grin. "But it doesn't really matter if you've got a little more apple than last time, or a little less, or if the slices are long or short. So in this case you do estimate. Three big apples or four little ones and you've still got a good cake."
Twilight Sparkle dutifully wrote this down, though she resolved to go out and measure some apples later on. She did mutter to herself a bit about pinches and sprinkles when they got to the cinnamon, but even she could see that the amounts were too small to measure easily.
The rest of the preparations went relatively smoothly or at least as smoothly as could be expected, with Twilight Sparkle obsessively measuring the size of the pan and the amount of batter that went into it, and Granny Smith growing increasingly grumpy with Twilight's interruptions. The crowning moment was when Twilight Sparkle produced an unexpected thermometer the moment Granny Smith said that the oven was the proper temperature.
It took some doing to convince Twilight Sparkle that baking times were approximate, depending on the temperature, humidity and oven, but when the cake came out of the oven, golden brown and smelling deliciously applely, she finally gave in.
Once Granny Smith had had some cake and cider and fallen back asleep in her rocking chair, Applejack nudged Twilight Sparkle. "If we missed anything, come to me. I don't think we want to bother Granny Smith again." This afternoon had been stressful enough without a repeat. "She taught me most of her recipes."
Twilight Sparkle looked at her friend. "And you didn't think of this before now?" She sighed. The afternoon had been stressful for her too. "Maybe we should try to make a cake with my measurements - just to make sure I got everything right. I never knew cooking was so- so inexact."
"There are some bits that are and some that are awfully exact," Applejack replied. "We don't need to know the exact amount of apples, but if you double the baking soda, it makes the cake taste bitter. And I always worry that that cup of Granny's is going to break. If it did, she might know how much flour to add, but I wouldn't."
Twilight Sparkle grinned. "Now you will."
It took days and weeks of careful research before Twilight Sparkle was confident that the recipes worked. Maybe they weren't quite as good as when Granny Smith or Applejack baked them, but they were close enough.
Granny Smith's Sweet Apple Acres Cookery Book was a grand success, though judging by the lines at the stall, most of the ponies in Ponyville bought it, stuck it on a shelf and forgot about it. Twilight Sparkle was one of those ponies, having decided that cooking was not for her.
And when that cup did break, six months later during a bunny stampede, Applejack was all prepared. But so was Granny Smith, who opened a cupboard to display a whole row of identical cups just waiting to be used for measuring flour and sugar.