We have had a busy week with family in from Kentucky and tons of snuggles from grandkids that we hadn’t seen in a while.
When our family, much like yours I’m sure, gets together, the kitchen becomes the hub of activity around the house.
One night our daughters were putting together a luscious dinner and someone mentioned a measurement of an ingredient as a “dash.”
That brought on sweet memories of past cooking adventures in Aunt Bessie’s home where she usually didn’t use any sort of measuring device to fix her wonderful meals.
Soon, we were talking about “pinches,” “smidgens,” “handfuls” and the ever present “dollops.” I had heard these used many times in my life, but never really understood if these could be defined as an actual measurement.
Thanks to our trusty Google, I was able to find numerous cooking sites that listed these quantities, though there was some variation in the true amounts.
Of course, any sort of measuring device can be used. I am certain even prehistoric cooks had some way of putting ingredients in their food and, in fact, references to ancient Egyptian records cite some terms to consider.
In the land of the Pharaohs, a “ro” was translated as one-half an ounce or a “mouthful.” Their tablespoon (T or Tbsp) was between 15 and 20 milliliters (cc), where our standard is 15.
English measurements have some interesting names. For instance, a “noggin” is one-quarter of a pint. A “nipperkin” is commonly used for liquor and is one-half pint. A “tumbler” is equal to 10 ounces or two “gills.” The gill is typically a four to five ounce “teacup.”
The apothecaries (in some circles, pharmacists) used grams and drams (five cc per dram) to make it even more confusing.
We had a lively conversation about these commonly used terms, so I thought I’d share what my research turned up. If you have experiences from your own kitchens, please send them to me.
The dollop is a heaping teaspoon, which is slightly over five cc. If your grandmother was a normal size, her handful would be about one-third to one-half cup.
A pinch is the amount you can hold between your thumb and index finger or somewhere around one-eighth of a teaspoon. A smidgen has been calculated at 1/32nd of a teaspoon. There are companies that make measuring spoons of that size, but I have never seen them.
A dash in some cookbooks is equal to a pinch. A dessert spoon, which I also don’t recall seeing, holds 10 cc, or two teaspoons, and is written dsp or dstspn.
One other thing I recall hearing is “put in a ‘tad’” of this or that.
Some sources say a tad or tadbit is the same as a pinch or dash.
If you don’t have any measuring devices, which is unlikely, you can try these estimates: two TBSP is the size of a ping-pong ball; one TBSP is an ice cube or poker chip; one tsp is the size of a quarter; a cup is a baseball; a fourth of a cup is an egg and a half cup is a light bulb or tennis ball.
After reviewing these magic measurements, I am now fully prepared to put on my apron and with a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla extract, a half-cup of flour, two eggs, and a full cup of chocolate chips, whip up a batch of the tastiest cookies I know.
And, after all this hard work, I really don’t plan to share them with anyone else.
Until next time: “A pinch of patience, a dash of kindness, a spoonful of laughter and a heap of love.” – Anonymous author describing life in the kitchen.
“Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all, have fun.” – Julia Child
“A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.” – Barbara Johnson, American writer
Dr. Shelley Griffith is a retired Athens physician who writes this column for The DPA.