Hundred-Year-Old Cooking Measurement Equivalents

Source: Tried and True Cook Book, Compiled and Published by the Willing Workers of The Minneapolis Incarnation Parish (1910)
Source: Tried and True Cook Book, Compiled and Published by the Willing Workers of The Minneapolis Incarnation Parish (1910)

Cookbooks, then like now, often contained measurement equivalents – but the information in the old cookbooks sometimes leaves me scratching my head. What the heck is a gill?

61 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Cooking Measurement Equivalents

  1. I’ve never heard of gills, either — except on fish. And of course, what they thought of as a coffee cup was quite different from our large mugs. Even my automatic coffee maker marks makes that clear. If I fill it with water for 8 cups, I can fill four mugs.

    1. Your comment reminds me of my disappointment when I bought my first automatic coffee maker years ago, and discovered it didn’t actually make 12 cups of coffee. I’d purchased it specifically to make coffee for a party–and one batch of coffee wasn’t nearly enough. 🙂

  2. Now then, I’m far more comfortable with these measurements than with American ‘cups’ and so on. I have weight, measuring jugs – the whole thing – that would enable me to use one of your hundred year old recipe books with confidence. Whereas ‘cups’……. Unless I really, really want to make the dish described… I’m afraid I simply put the recipe aside. I’m nothing if not prejudiced!

    1. It’s interesting how we typically use volume (cups, etc.) to measure things in the U.S., whereas in other countries weight is generally used. The use of weight to measure ingredients is actually becoming more popular in the U.S. because it’s considered more accurate. Some recent cookbooks list both volumes and weights for recipes. My daughter has scales in her kitchen.

  3. Thanks for this info. Measurements and weights can be quite confusing especially when trying to reduce or enlarge a recipe.
    lol the gill thing is quite funny. I would have had to look that one up too.

    1. It’s always good to have these conversions in case you ever get in a situation where you want to measure ingredients and only have a coffee cup or wine glass. 🙂 Somehow this list brings back memories of trying to cook when I first got married and didn’t yet own very many kitchen tools.

  4. Hi Sheryl!
    Spring is PA is proving elusive!
    A gill is a liquid measure. Some old milk bottles (mostly cream bottles) held gills. Wikipedia says it is a quarter of a pint. Janet

    1. Hi Janet- Hopefully Spring will be here to stay very, very soon. Your comment brings back fond memories of the little glass milk bottles that the dairy in McEwensville used when I was a child (though I’m probably actually thinking of half pint bottles of milk rather than gill bottles). 🙂

    1. I think that the key word is “liquid” in the statement “four teaspoonsful equals one tablespoonful, liquid.” Perhaps the assumptions was made that when measuring a liquid each teaspoon won’t be quite full, so instead of three teaspoons to a tablespoon, they made it four for good measure. 🙂

  5. Three teaspoons to a tablespoon in my kitchen and by the markings on my measuring spoons. I had to get them out to check. And today’s serving of wine is 5 fluid ounces. Interesting!

    1. Three teaspoons to a tablespoon in my kitchen, too. 🙂 I hadn’t realized that there was an official serving size for wine – though I guess if I’d thought about it, that I probably should have realized that there was.

  6. So interesting! All I could think was how variable in size wine glasses and coffee cups can be, and what that would mean for the recipe. I have recipes from my grandmother that say things like “a piece of butter the size of a walnut”–it made sense to her!

    1. I’ve also seen recipes that say butter the size of a walnut. I guess that people must have spent a lot more time cracking walnuts back then than they typically do now, it they could picture how large a walnut was. 🙂

    1. One thing that this post has made me very clearly aware of is that my non-U.S. readers probably find the measurements in all of my recipes confusing since much of the world uses litres, mls, etc. 🙂

      1. I think that younger people from places in Ireland have made the transition reasonably well but ‘oldies’ like me have missed the boat on it and still think in pounds and ounces and the like.

  7. They still use the term or measurement gill in mixing drinks. I knew what a gill was from my bartending days. If you are at a bar and you see the bartender us a little silver cup that has two cups together. Small cup on the bottom and a larger cup on the top that he turns over to use. The larger one is a gill and the smaller one is a shot.

  8. This was fun to read. I have a very old recipe for shortcake, and the directions say bake in a moderate oven. I take that to mean 350, but I have noticed differences between my last oven and my current one, at the same temperature, by several minutes for, the finished item. It is definite guesswork. I’d never heard of a gill. Interesting regarding the serving size of a glass of wine. 🙂

    1. I also take moderate oven to mean 350 degrees. In the old days people knew that temperatures weren’t precise in their wood and coal burning stoves. Today, we have ovens with temperature gauges that give us a false sense of preciseness when really (as you found out) temperatures vary from one oven to the next.

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