Reference on Measurements

Since this book is on American cooking I prefer to stick with the standard “American” measurements, despite the metric system slowly taking over.

Most of us still use those measurements and most likely will keep using them for the foreseeable future, this is the system most of the old cook books we get our recipes use and I see no reason to change it. Our system can be confusing but it doesn’t have to be, one of the most confusing parts of our system is that the term ounce is used in what seems different contexts, as a weight measure, it is 1/16th of a pound and a volume measure it is 1/128th of a gallon. It is based on 1 fluid oz of water weighing one ounce, (The metric system is based on one cubic centimetre weighing a gram. The exact standards of both are slightly different, because of density of water at varying temperatures and degree of purity, but this is close enough for our uses) a standard US gallon is 231 cubic inches.


To add to confusion there is another system that uses gallons in the United States; it is what is called dry gallons, this was used in the past for grain and other similar commodities and dates from the 15th Century, it is not used on commerce today but was to some extent in the 19th Century. This system is sometimes called the Winchester System because it had it’s origins in southern England around the town of Winchester. This is not the same as the Imperial System, formally used in Great Britain; this system uses a gallon of 277 cubic inches. There were other systems that used gallons of slightly different sizes, but we need not worry out them because none of the others are used to any extent today.

Despite it being considered a system for liquids, we also use it for dry items like sugar, salt and flour in cooking. The standards are as follows:


1 fluid ounce = 2 tablespoons = 6 teaspoons
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
1 cup = 16 tablespoons = 48 teaspoons= 8 fluid ounces
1 pint = 2 cups = 32 tablespoons= 16 fluid ounces
1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups = 64 tablespoons= 32 fluid ounces
1 gallon = 4 quarts = 8 pints = 16 cups = 128 fluid ounces
1 peck =2 gallons
1 bushel= 4 pecks= 8 gallons


Old recipes often use volume measuring terms many of us are not familiar with today, these can vary a bit in interpretation, but the following figures will be close and as I have pointed out before, most recipes only have to be close, the pinch and the handful will vary the most based on the size of the hands and fingers, of the person doing the measurements. One must remember a lot of us are much larger than the people of the 19th century and before one uses the pinch and the handful in camp you need to see where you stand. I have a size 11 hand which is very large and my pinch and handful are about 50% larger that what has been accepted as to what they meant in old recipes, I just keep that in mind and if anyone is watching and writing down a recipe I tell them to take that into account.


Pinch = 1/8th teaspoon
Double pinch = 1/4th teaspoon
Dash = slightly less than 1/8th teaspoon
Speck = 1/16th teaspoon Drop = 1/60th of a teaspoon or sometimes said to be what will fit on a ¼ inch square

To be truthful these and other like a hint or a smidgeon really mean that such a small amount is needed that exact measurement is not critical, for these it is best for the cook to add small amounts and taste, adding more as needed.

Others seen are:

Handful = 1 cup
Teacup- 6 oz
Coffee Cup = 8 oz
Tumbler = 6-8 oz
Gill = ½ modern measuring cup
Wineglass = 1/4th modern measuring cup
Salt Spoon = 1/4th teaspoon
Dessert spoon –=2 teaspoons

Sometimes in recipes you will see semi-solids like butter or lard call for “a lump of butter the size of a walnut, or the size of an egg.” Well again, this is often not critical (if it was critical it would have said a weight and you would be expected to weigh the product). Simply do what it says ag get a lump of butter or lard as close as you can eye ball it to the size called for, it will be just fine.

There are some that are large enough you won’t see them in most cook books, but it’s good to mention them because they can come up often doing research.

Buckets and Barrels

The wooden buckets and barrels s of the time came in many sizes but there were some standard sizes more or less, these are as follow but one must remember the hand made barrels of the time could vary some between coopers. Also there are two types of barrels, one for dry products and one for wet or liquid products. The ones for liquid were made of several species of oak known as white oaks, these species have a tighter grain with smaller pores than the so called red oaks, generally the wood of the red oaks tend to have a more reddish grain but examination of the pores on the end grain is how they are distinguished. The smaller pores of the white oak barrels swell and seal the barrel better than the red oak barrels.

Dry barrels can be made of a variety of wood and cost less because of the cheaper woods and the skill level to make a barrel to hold liquid is greater.

The more or less standards for wooden buckets and barrels are as follows:

Bucket = 2 gallons
Firkin, sometimes called a quarter-barrel = 8 gallons
Kilderkin, sometimes called a half-barrel = 16 gallons
Barrel = 32 gallons
Hogshead = 64 gallons
Pipe = 128 gallons
Tun = 252 gallons

The standard 32 gallon barrel will hold about 265 pounds of water when full, the weight of the barrel will be 50-60 pounds empty and this was about the most practical size for connivance and still being movable, a barrel will hold about 130-140 pounds of flour or meal, depending on the type or around 250 pounds of sugar or salt.

The Tun holds around 2104 pound of water give or take for manufacturing differences, rounded off to 2000 pounds it gives us the present US Ton and the similar Imperial ton of 2240.

Other standard barrels:

The whiskey barrel that was used to age and ship whiskey in was set at 40 gallons to allow for evaporation during the ageing process (called The Angels Share) this meant a barrel of aged whiskey would have around 32 gallons in it after ageing. Today most whiskey barrels are 53 gallons, this is considered the largest practical size, and this came about during WWII due to material and labor shortages.

Petroleum barrel = 42 gallons (Mostly used for shipping crude oil and kerosene aka coal oil; this product was often sold out of one of these barrels at the General Sore or Hardware Store.
Weight vs. volume

Flours and Meals

These weights per cup are based on scooped flour, un-sifted flour, when it is spooned into the cup or measured after sifting the weight will be slightly higher.

All Purpose Flour———————–1 cup = 4 ¼ oz
Self Rising Flour————————1 cup = 4 oz
Cake Flour——————————–1 cup = 4 oz
Whole Wheat Flour——————–1 cup= 4 oz
Semolina Flour————————–1 cup = 5 ¾ oz
Rye Flour ———————————1 cup = 3 ¾ oz
Corn meal———————————1 cup = 4 oz
Buck Wheat Flour———————–1 cup = 4 ¼ oz

Brown sugar should be lightly packed and confectioner’s sugar measured before sifting

White granulated sugar————— 1 cup = 7 oz
Confectioner’s sugar——————–1 cup = 8 oz
Brown sugar——————————-1 cup ==7 ½ oz
Honey, molasses, corn syrup———-1 cup = 12 oz

Other Baking Supplies

Cocoa—————————————-1 teaspoon = 3 ½ oz
Cornstarch ———————————1 teaspoon = 1/3 oz
Baking soda———————————1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz
Baking powder——————————1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz
Cream of Tarter—————————–1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz
Table salt————————————–1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz
Yeast Dry Bulk——————————–1 teaspoon = 1/8 oz 2 ¼ teaspoons = 1 single loaf envelope
Chopped nuts——————————–1 cup = 5 oz
Slivered almonds—————————-1 cup = 4 oz
Butter ——————————————1 cup = 8 oz
Lard ———————————————1 cup = 7 oz
Olive oil (or other vegetable oil) ———1 cup = 7 ½ oz

Cereal and Legume Products

Pearled Barley———————————1 cup = 7 ½ oz
Rice, uncooked——————————–1 cup = 7 oz 1 cup of uncooked rice will yield 3 cups of cooked rice
Oatmeal (rolled and cut) ——————-1 cup = 3 oz 1 cup uncooked steel cut oat yields 4 cups of cooked oatmeal 1 cup uncooked rolled oats will yield 2 cups cooked oatmeal
Dry beans and Cow peas ——————–1 cup = 6 oz 1 cup uncooked dried beans and cow peas will yield 3 cups cooked Split peas—————————————–1 cup = 8 oz 1 cup uncooked split peas will yield 2 ½ cups cooked
Macaroni—————————————–1 cup = 4 oz 1 cup uncooked will yield about 2 to 2 ¼ cups cooked depending on size

Eggs and Dairy

Modern recipes are based on large eggs older ones are often based on our modern medium eggs

5 unshelled large eggs = 1 cup, 5 medium will in most cases be only slightly less
9 large or 10 medium will = 1 pound unshelled


Grated hard and semi hard cheese———1 cup = 4 oz

Soft and semi soft —————————- –1 cup = 8 oz


Herbs lose about 2/3rds volume and weight when drying, so use 1/3rd as much or slightly more when using dried instead of fresh, this includes citrus zest.


Dried fruit (chopped) and raisins————1 cup = 6 oz

Apples ———————————————1 pound (3 medium size) = 3 cups peeled and sliced
Peaches——————————————–1 pound (4 medium) = 2 cups peeled and sliced
Pears————————————————1 pound (4 medium) = 2 cups peeled and sliced
Raspberries and blackberries—————–1 pound equals 3 ½ cups
Rhubarb diced————————————1 pound = 3 ½ cups
Strawberries sliced——————————1 pound = 3 cups
Orange (medium) = 2 tablespoons of zest and 1/3rd cup of juice
Lemon (medium) = 1 tablespoon of zest and 2-3 tablespoons of juice (Recipes that call for the juice or zest of either will usually mean a medium one unless specified)


1 lb of coffee yields 4 ½ to 5 cups of ground coffee
1 pound of ground coffee will make 3 ½ to 5 gallons of coffee depending on strength.
2 tablespoons per 6-8 ounce of water is considered stand. by most


1 pound of tea will yield 4 to 4 ½ gallons of tea


Credits to Glen Carman  for putting this together.