Appalachian Food

Recipe Measurements

a teaspoon of cocoa

“Most cookbooks use explicit measurements in their recipes. . . [My husband] would say, “Billie if you’ll just measure, you’d be a better cook.” My response: “I can’t ever find the measuring spoons or the measuring cup.” When you have little kids you’ll give them anything. . .to play with, if it’ll keep them happy. (One day I found my measuring cup in the boys’ room with a live baby turtle in it. See?)

In my recipes, when I say “teaspoon” I mean a small spoon. Unless I say “heaped” make it level. Don’t give up; there’s more; A dab: Like a dab of butter. A heaping teaspoonful. A gob: That’s a heaping tablespoon. A smidgen: that means a pinch, and a pinch is what you can hold between your thumb and index finger.”

—Billie Touchstone Signer, “Redneck Country Cooking”


Be sure to drop back by tomorrow for a guest post from Jim Casada about old timey measurements.


Appalachian Cooking Class details

Come cook with me!

Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

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  • Reply
    Quinn Piper
    May 21, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Well it looks like I’m going to buck the trend today 🙂 I do measure when I cook, and I have a ragtag assortment of mismatched measuring spoons and cups from sets acquired over the years. I don’t have a single complete set because I do use them for lots of things that make them not fit for food measuring in the future – things like homemade insect repellents and laundry soap and even medications for the livestock. So I generally do measure, but what I need to get better about is writing down the measurements when I make up a recipe or adjust one. I always think I’ll remember, but I almost never do!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 20, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    My Mother was one of the best cooks I’ve ever known, she seldom if ever used measuring devices or a printed recipe. I guess I got my culinary style from her as the best thing I have when cooking is my tasting spoons. If I think something sounds I will try just a tad and if it works after tasting I will adjust the amount, if it doesn’t work I can usually think of something that will cover the undesired taste and often the two tastes work well together. An example is what my Grandchildren call Papaws world famous spaghetti sauce.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 20, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Is two handfuls the same as two handsful? Does one equals a double handful? Which one?

    Ever measure with a thimble?

    Ever measure salt in the palm of your hand?

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 20, 2019 at 10:09 am

    Sometimes it only takes a little smidgen to get a receipe just right.

    I’ve been reading and catching up on “You Might also Like”, before you get to all the comments, 7 or 8 years ago. It’s nice to re-live some of my writings that you published, and the comments. …Ken

  • Reply
    May 20, 2019 at 9:04 am

    Just ask any good cook how much bacon grease it takes to kill a mess of lettuce and they will tell you it takes a right smart.

  • Reply
    May 20, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Rarely measure, but just go by taste. This was the way my mother cooked and her mother before her. I actually have eaten food at a restaurant and came home to duplicate fairly closely. When I do follow recipe and measure is when baking cakes or making yeast breads. These baked goods are very unforgiving, and you can bake rocks if not careful. I saw a cute set of measuring spoons on FB, and these were measured in smidgens, tads and dashes.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    May 20, 2019 at 8:24 am

    I maintain that good cooks do not, and should not, measure much if at all because ingredients are in proportion and have to be varied. A recipe is just one version of a particular dish. It is a good guide for the first time to decide if one likes it. Cooking is often an adaptation to numerous existing conditions; tastes of people, ingredient types and quantities on hand, quirks of stoves or ovens and the list could be very long. Those nebulous measurement terms might mean “just enough of this”. All of which says cooking is an art.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 20, 2019 at 7:30 am

    I don’t measure when I cook but I do taste a lot. When baking I do measure and I guess that is why I don’t bake too often.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 20, 2019 at 7:21 am

    I understand all those measurements perfectly! That’s the way I cook and always have. I use my hands to do a lot of the measuring. I read a recipe and then I cook, those are two separate things. A lot of times I don’t even read the recipe, I just cook. I love to cook, it’s a creative adventure for me.
    I’d probably like Billie’s book, I’d probably like Billie too.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 20, 2019 at 6:40 am

    It seems to me the best cooks neve measure. My neighbor was from GA, she was one of the best cooks I ever knew, bet she didn’t even osn a measuring cup or spoon

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