Cooking Weights and Measures
Old fashioned cooking weights and measures like the gill, grain, scruple, and dram are seldom used today, so if the quantities called for in Grandma's dessert recipes seem unclear, simply refer to the handy kitchen measures conversion tables below.
And if you're still unsure, you can always do what Grandma did. She simply took what she called an "educated guess."
Cooking Weights and Measures
Compiled from Vintage Cookbooks (1800s)
Always Use Scales for Accurate Ingredient Weights
These kitchen measures are level, unless otherwise specified. Because of the loss or gain of moisture constantly happening in dry ingredients, exact measures are not possible.
But for home cooking and baking, these old fashioned cooking weights and measures are approximately correct.
Level, Rounding, and Heaping Spoon Measures
(Source: ©Don Bell)
- About 25 drops of any thin liquid = 1 teaspoonful
- 1 Pinch = 4-1/2 grains, or less than 1/8 teaspoonful
- 1 Saltspoonful = 1/4 teaspoonful
- 1 Scruple = 20 grains, or about 1/2 teaspoonful
- 3 Saltspoonfuls = 1 dram (drachma), or 27-1/3 grains
- 1 Teaspoonful = 4 saltspoonfuls, or 36-1/2 grains
- 4 Teaspoonfuls = 1 tablespoonful liquid
- 2 Tablespoonfuls, or 16 drams (drachmas) liquid = 1 fluid ounces
- 4 Tablespoonfuls = 1 wineglass, or 1/2 gill, or 1/4 cupful
- 2 Wineglasses = 1 gill, or 1/2 cupful
- 2 Gills = 1 coffee-cupful, or 16 tablespoonfuls, or 8 fluid ounces
- 1 Tumblerful = 1 coffee-cupful, or 1/2 pint
- 1 Goblet = 10 fluid ounces
- 2 Coffee-cupfuls = 1 pint
- 2 Pints = 1 quart
- 4 Quarts = 1 gallon
- 16 Ounces = 1 pound, or 1 pint of liquid
A set of measuring cups (with small lips), from 1 pint to 1/4 cup, will be found convenient in every kitchen, though common pitchers, bowls, glasses, teacups, wineglasses, etc., may be substituted.
When seen in historical recipes, "cts" refers to "cents" as in 5 cts oil of lemon. The difficulty is in knowing the quantity of the ingredients that could have been purchased for 5 cents even if the recipe's date of origin is known.
All you can do is experiment by approximating the quantities called for after studying similar recipes that provide standard amounts.
Old Fashioned Cooking Weights and Measures
Compiled from Vintage Cookbooks (1800s)
Equivalent Measures are level unless otherwise indicated.
- 1 tablespoonful of salt = 1 ounce
- 8 rounded tablespoonfuls of granulated sugar = 1 cupful
- 2 cupfuls of granulated sugar = 1 pound
- 1-1/2 coffee-cupfuls of granulated sugar = 1 pound
- 1 pint of granulated sugar = 1 pound
- 3-1/2 cupfuls of powdered (confectioners') sugar = 1 pound
- 2 coffee-cupfuls of powdered (confectioners') sugar = 1 pound
- 1-1/3 pints of powdered (confectioners') sugar = 1 pound
- 2-1/2 cupfuls of best brown sugar = 1 pound
- 1-3/4 coffee-cupfuls of best brown sugar = 1 pound
- 1 pint of best brown sugar = 13 ounces
- 1 square Baker's chocolate = 1 ounce
- 3 tablespoonfuls of grated chocolate = 1 ounce
- 4-1/3 cupfuls of coffee = 1 pound
- 2 teaspoonfuls of flour, heaped = 1 tablespoonful
- 4 tablespoonfuls of flour = 1 ounce
- 7 to 8 rounded tablespoonfuls of flour = 1 cupful
- 4 cupfuls of pastry or bread flour = 1 pound
- 3 coffee-cupfuls of sifted flour = 1 pound
- 1 quart of sifted flour, heaped = 1 pound
- 1 quart of unsifted flour = 1 pound 1 ounce
- 3-7/8 cupfuls of whole wheat flour = 1 pound
- 4-1/2 cupfuls of graham flour = 1 pound
- 4-1/8 cupfuls of rye flour = 1 pound
- 4-3/4 cupfuls of rolled oats = 1 pound
- 2-2/3 cupfuls of oat meal = 1 pound
- 2-2/3 cupfuls of corn meal = 1 pound
- 3-1/2 cupfuls of Indian meal = 1 quart
- 2-3/4 coffee-cupfuls of Indian meal = 1 quart
- 1 quart of sifted Indian meal = 1 pound 4 ounces
- 1 Fleischmann's® 0.6-ounce yeast cake = 1 envelope dry yeast
- 1 Fleischmann's® 2-ounce yeast cake = 3 envelopes dry yeast
- 6 tablespoonfuls of baking powder = 1/2 ounce
- 1 pinch of salt or sugar or dry ingredient = 4-1/2 grains or less than 1/8 teaspoonful
- 16 tablespoonfuls of any dry ingredient = 1 cup
- Butter the size of a walnut = 1 ounce
- Butter the size of an egg = 2 ounces
- 1 tablespoonful of soft butter, well rounded = 1 ounce
- 4 tablespoonfuls of soft butter, heaped = 1 cupful
- 1 cupful of butter, pressed down = 1/2 pound
- 2 cupfuls of butter, pressed down = 1 pound
- 1 pint of soft butter = 1 pound
- 2 cupfuls of lard = 1 pound
- 2 cupfuls of finely chopped meat = 1 pound
- 1 pint of finely chopped meat = 1 pound
- 10 ordinary-sized eggs = 1 pound
- 9 large-sized eggs = 1 pound
- 2 cupfuls of milk = 1 pound
- 1-7/8 cupfuls of rice = 1 pound
- 2 cupfuls of raisins, packed = 1 pound
- 3 cupfuls of raisins = 1 pound
- 2-1/4 cupfuls of currents = 1 pound
- 2 cupfuls of stale bread crumbs = 1 pound
- 40 small prunes = 1 pound
- 28 large prunes = 1 pound
- 75 apricot pieces = 1 pound
- 3 large bananas = one pound
Old Fashioned Yeast Cake Measures
Cake Yeast has been sold in different sizes formerly, so it's easiest to calculate the dry yeast needed based on how much flour is called for in the recipe. For instance:
- Up to 4 cups flour, use 1/4 ounce (2-1/4 teaspoons) of dry yeast
- 4-8 cups flour, use 1/2 ounce (4-1/2 teaspoons) dry yeast
- 8-12 cups flour, use 3/4 ounce (6-3/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
- 12-16 cups flour, use 1 ounce (9 teaspoons) dry yeast
How to Use Old Fashioned Cooking Weights and Measures
For cooking and baking, weights and measures conversion tables were vitally important to 19th-century cooks. They were always an important section in published cookbooks.
Many kitchens didn't have the luxury of accurate weigh scales and some didn't even have a proper set of measuring cups. So, available containers such as cups and wineglasses were used as kitchen measures, and ingredient quantities were often approximated.
The old fashioned cooking weights and measures conversion tables can help us to measure the ingredients called for in Grandma's old fashioned dessert recipes.
For example, if you know the weight of one ingredient, the weight of another can most often be guessed. For instance, if 1 cup of butter, pressed down, equals one-half pound, you could estimate that 1 cup of lard would equal the same weight — close enough for most recipes.
And if you know one measurement, another can be obtained. For instance, 2 wineglassfuls equal 1 gill, or 1/2 cup.
Yes, historical cooking weights and measures can still be of help in today's modern kitchens, especially with Grandma's recipes. After all, she maintained it's always good to have some "scruples."
Sorry about the pun! And just if you might be wondering, a scruple is 1/2 teaspoon.
Do you need additional help with cooking weights and measures? Convert-Me is a site with Calculators that convert between U.S., British, Canadian, and European kitchen units. (This page will remain open, so you can easily return to it.)
Get My FREE Recipe Ebook and Newsletter. It's My Gift to You!
Love your "Old Fashioned Desserts" Newsletter! I look forward to each issue. —Sharon, USA