Let’s hear it for Fannie Farmer

“How much cheese is a handful? How much more or less is a cupful? What is the capacity of a glass, a tumbler, or a soup ladle? What is the difference between a suspicion and a pinch? How much more is a good pinch? How much wine is a little, how many olives a few? When a book says a tin of chopped almonds or pomegranate juice what are you supposed to understand by that?”

Elizabeth David (1913-1992)

‘Spices, Salt & Aromatics in the English Kitchen’

 Tilly: Such a sensible and practical cook – all Elizabeth David’s books are a treasure. But some of these protestations are silly. A handful is as much as you hand can hold, whether cheese or herbs. A cupful is what it says – regardless of the size of the cup, though they usually hold 250 ml as a standard – just use the same cup to measure the ingredients in the recipe. A suspicion depends on how suspicious you are … I am VERY suspicious when it comes to garlic, chilli, fresh black pepper and herbs. Ditto pinch – pinches need to be healthy rather than meagre. Technically, a pinch is as much as can be held between forefinger and thumb. Never seen a tin of chopped almonds … and most recipes never include enough almonds as far as I am concerned, Pomegranate juice is however much you want to add – judge by eye or taste or texture/thickness, just like mother and grandmother did.

Why am I celebrating Fannie Farmer? Fannie Farmer standardized cooking weights and measures here in the U.S.

Tilly: another sensible and practical lady. My sister-in-law conjures great meals by slinging in a cup of this, that and anything else.

In 1896, she published her first cookbook “The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook”, it was this historic publication that included precise measurements.  Until then family cooks, mothers and whoever else happen to be venturing into cooking used every day utensils.

Tilly: Most cooks then used eye and taste — how they wanted a dish to look and taste. They knew what ingredients were needed and chucked them in. Soufflés required a little more finesse … everyone knew that pastry was half fat to flour, cakes were measured by the weight of two or three eggs.

Some of you may have seen hand written recipe that included tea cupful, morning coffee cup, and we are not even going to discuss the pinches, dashes and smidgens. Which is why when reading cookbooks before Fannie Farmers book in 1896 you might have read this; “Your results will vary”

Tilly: if you use the same measuring utensil, whether a teacup or morning coffee cup or ladle, the dish will work. A small ladle will produce a smaller dish …

Now, what has this have to do with the rest of this blog? Easy, I sent a recipe to Tilly who lives in the U.K., England to some of you and if you’re following sports it is GBR. Ok, that last one might be a bit snarky.

Tilly: And your point is?

We spent several emails discussing the weights and measures of both of our respected countries.  What I think we tried to do and failed was to convert the other to their standard of measurements.

Tilly: Nah – we Brits can work with whatever measurements are given – Imperial, Metric, cups, hands. What I moaned about was the precision of 1.876543 ozs. Daft – who will measure in a domestic kitchen to that requirement? What’s wrong with 1.5 or 1.75 or 2 ozs? Or the equivalent in grammes?

I felt obliged to convert the recipe for Tilly since she had no idea what a cup of this or a tablespoon of that was.

Tilly: An absurd notion – of course I know what cup measurments are and who knows, we may have had tablespoons before you did … some great cooks in some great homes in times past.

I don’t mind telling y’all what a pain in the, well you know where.

Tilly: I hope it really, really hurt!

If that was not enough, I soon realized that in the aforementioned country they had no idea what a Boston Butt was.

Tilly: Tosh – we know perfectly well what a Boston Butt is and why they are so named. These economical cuts were packed into “butts”, or barrels. People in Boston cut the shoulders in a way that became the usual way to cut up a pig, and called it “Boston butt”.

So back to research, y’all are not going to believe this but in Tilly’s hometown a Boston Butt is called “pork hand”. Now, mind ya, I have seen many a Boston Butt, and there ain’t no hand on the thing.

Tilly: That’s because a Boston Butt is a pork shoulder – and always has been. Quite a cheap cut, tender, good flavour and ideal for slow cooking.  The only hands involved are those preparing for cooking and the handsful of herbs and other goodies.

My kindness in converting this recipe hit another roadblock.

Tilly: Not a good idea to drive while writing recipes.

I discovered there are no Fahrenheit’s in that country as well, so back to my research.

Tilly: There are a great many ovens that still work in Farenheit. Most cookbooks give conversions to Centrigrate or the convenient hot, medium or cool oven temperatures. Maybe you wasted all that research time?

I had enough of my kindness and have decided to convert Tilly and her fellow countrymen and women to the American standard of weights and measures.

Tilly: Whilst we appreciate your thoughtfulness, there is no need. American cook books abound here, most British cookbooks give a variety of measures – ounces or grammes, tablespoons, cups … we’re very versatile.

I am starting with Tilly and her family so until that happens when sharing a recipe you need to convert use the link below.

Tilly: Start away – but we are in advance of you! But I am sure your conversion chart will not go to waste. I am sure a goodly number of American cooks will find it useful.I’m off to chuck a (large) wineglassful of red biddy into sauce for this evening’s meal. I shall add a handful of mixed (fresh) herbs, several pinches of delicious and aromatic spices and then maybe more wine. Garlic was added to the stock and other vital ingredients earlier on.No ‘butts’ allowed. It smells delicious.

Oven Temperatures

Celcius          Farenheit       Gas Mark       Description

110                 225                 ¼                     cool

130                 250                 ½                     cool

140                 275                 1                      very low

150                 300                 2                      very low

170                 325                 3                      low

180                 350                 4                      moderate

190                 375                 5                      moderate/hoy

200                 400                 6                      hot

220                 425                 7                      hot

230                 455                 8                      very hot


For those of you who do not want to listen to either Olive or Tilly see the link below.

Olive and Tilly

Conversion Calculator


Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2022 Yvonne Oots


  • Cristie

    My paternal grandmother didn’t own a measuring cup or measuring spoons. I watched her make biscuits a million times, but her handful, pinch, or dash certainly weren’t the same ones I used!!! Trying to make her biscuits was something I was determined to do, but never accomplished. 😢

    • Olive

      Sorry you could never accomplish her method. My grandmother didn’t own proper measuring cups or spoons either. Dashes, smidgens and a coffee cup. Not a mug , but a regular coffee cup. She taught me so much.

  • Cat Connor

    As someone who was raised with metric and imperial (and I have my mother’s and grandmother’s old cookbooks) it makes no difference to me if the recipe is imperial, American (which differs slightly again) metric, or cups, splash, whatever. And I know how to set my oven regardless of the recipe origin. It’s simply how I was raised. I’m the generation that was raised with everything. 🙂 Makes it a lot easier when I bake.
    Generation Jones is clearly the best generation.

    • Olive

      I was raised on smidgens, pinches, and a coffee cup for measuring. Sometimes it was a wood stove and other times it was a regular stove. I do believe you on Generation Jones, being the best.

  • Jerry Bell

    I cannot believe that just the other day my kids “misplaced” my measurement utensils. You ladies are quite timely here. Reason tells me that the measurements sited in a recipe can be foold with, but it is so good to have authorities in cooking agreeing with how things can be measured on the fly, so to speak. That is not to say you ladies ever agree wholeheartedly. Where would the fun be with that? But even with your disagreements the two of you always seem to agree that good food is good food.

        • Olive

          Tilly, why are you challenging me to a fight? Doesn’t 1776 and 1812 ring a bell with you Brits…
          So get your PROPER measuring cup and listen to Fannie Farmer.

          • Tilly

            Oh, for goodness’ sake, Olive … you know as well as I do that it was not an invitation to fight – and your blessed measuring cups are avilable everywhere in the UK, as are measuring spoons. What part of ‘American cookbooks abound here’ and ‘we’re very versatile’ didn’t you read or remember?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!