Cookbooks. I love them. Each book tells its own story between the covers. Will I unlock the secrets to a smooth gravy? Figure how to make biscuits that are feather-light? Or perhaps read how to make a mayonnaise without it separating in the process? I collect them and read them like novels.
In my opinion, the vintage cookbooks are in a class of their own. Often, their recipes have a short list of whole food ingredients, providing a nostalgic look into the past. But sometimes, my vintage cookbooks can confuse me. The reason? Old-fashioned cooking measurements. Current cooking measurements popular in the United States include teaspoon, tablespoon, cup, quart, and their partial measurements, such as: 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, and 3/4. And let’s not forget about temperatures. Just what is a slow oven?
Vintage cookbooks may include terms such as peck and gill. But friends, take heart, you can still try out recipes from these books. You just have to armed with modern equivalent to those heirloom terms.
Fortunately, several of my cookbooks dating from the 1930s – 1960s have guides listing old terms and their modern equivalent. The same is true for oven temperatures.
While modern cookbooks list an exact temperature for baking, vintage terms are slightly mysterious. Here is a clarifying guide to baking:
Vintage Term equals Modern Temperature Range
- Very Slow Oven = 200 – 250F
- Slow Oven = 250 – 350F
- Moderate Oven = 350 – 400F
- Quick or Hot Oven = 400 – 450F
- Very Hot Oven = 450 – 500F
Measurement terms can also be confusing. Homemakers used what they had on hand to measure out ingredients and some quantities are no longer commonly used or the term has just fallen out of favor.
Vintage Term equals Modern Measurements
- wineglass = 1/4 C.
- jigger = 1.5 fluid ounces
- gill = 1/2 C.
- teacup = scant 3/4 C. (scant refers to being slightly less than the quantity listed)
- peck = 8 quarts
- dessert spoon = 2 teaspoons
- spoonful = 1 tablespoon, mounded
- salt spoon = 1/4 teaspoon
- dash = 1/8 teaspoon
- pinch = 1/16 teaspoon (or what will fit between thumb and finger when pinched together)
- saucer = 1 cup, slightly mounded
- butter the size of an egg = 1/4 C.
- butter the size of a walnut = 2 tablespoons
So while this is not a complete list of vintage baking measurements, it covers the more commonly used terms.
Don’t be afraid to make baked goods or meals from vintage books. Now that you have a list of the modern equivalents, you can take the mystery out of the old recipes. I encourage you to discover meals enjoyed by your grandparents and great grandparents. Wonderful, whole food dishes are at your fingertips using modern equipment.