Appalachian Food

The Mystifying Matter of Measurements

Today’s guest post was written by Jim Casada.

sifter of flour in bowl

THE MYSTIFYING MATTER OF MEASUREMENTS written by Jim Casada

Momma was generally inclined to measure ingredients precisely, and the recipe cards she handed down, many of them painstakingly typed on 3 x 5 index cards, reflect that. She didn’t bother with measurements when it came to things she cooked regularly though. As for Grandma Minnie, I don’t recall her ever measuring anything. While I spent far more time around Grandpa Joe than I did her, by no means was I a stranger to her kitchen. Wondrous things happened there; delectable aromas filled the room; there were always a few bites of something for a snack; and if you hung around enough and weren’t too much of a pest, treats tended to come your way in the form of tasty rewards for performing some chore or maybe even an advance sampling of something destined for dessert at the next meal.

Grandma cooked from memory. Her cooking was instinctive, and inventively so. She was always tinkering, trying something new, adjusting her approach if some ingredient was unavailable, and generally welcomed experimentation with open arms. She wouldn’t have put it that way, but Grandma was wonderfully adaptive and every bit as much inclined to venture into uncharted culinary territory as the finest of trained chefs. She had solid intuition and gave it ample rein.

Measurements in the sense we know them in today’s world were as alien to her as casseroles (I don’t think either Momma or Grandma produced casseroles until after I was grown). She knew, thanks to having prepared a given dish times without number, what was required to make it tasty. Whether it was something as simple as a pot of soup beans or as complex as a stack cake, she operated with a sure and certain hand based on a lifetime’s wealth of accumulated experience. For the most part the list of measurements which appears below comes straight from her vocabulary.  A few of the words deal with quantities connected with an individual serving or servings rather than those associated with food preparation.

The majority of the recipes offered in the pages to follow list specific amounts of key ingredients. Where they are missing it is because, quite simply, I don’t know them. That’s where the line between rigid commitment to precise amounts and the solid instincts of an accomplished cook comes into play. Suffice it to say that I’m by no means certain that hidebound adherence to the former approach is always best.

************************************************

Bait—A mess or ample quantity, often preceded by the word big. An example would be “We ate a big

bait of ramps and trout.”

Dash—Synonym for pinch or expression describing the merest of additions to a recipe.

Dram—A small glass or quantity of liquid; generally though not always associated with spirits. “He liked

a dram of tanglefoot before going to bed at night.”

Drib (also Dribs and Drabs)—A small portion; a little bit. “She added buttermilk to the batter in dribs and

drabs.”

Drop—Seldom used in the literal sense; instead, a drop in a recipe would mean a small amount of some

liquid ingredient.

Dusting—A miniscule amount. “A dusting of hot pepper flakes goes mighty well atop a bowl of soup

beans.”

Glob—A considerable quantity—often preceded by the adjective big and sometimes pronounced as gob.

“She always added a big glob of butter to her cobblers.”

Hint—An expression for a minute quantity. “What made that pot likker was just a hint of red pepper.”

Lump—A word normally used in connection with some specification of size. “At this point, add a lump of

lard the size of a hickory nut.”

Mess—A hearty serving or servings; an adequate quantity for a meal. “We had a mess of turnip greens

and pone of cornbread for supper.”

Mite—A quantitative expression usually connected with overdoing some ingredient or failing to include

enough of it. “There’s a mite too much salt in this pot likker for my liking.”

Nubbin—Literally, a small cob of corn; in a food context, a small amount.

Passel—A large quantity. “It took a passel of hoe cakes to feed that hungry bunch.”

Pinch—An amount of some ingredient which could be held between the cook’s thumb and index finger.

“Just a pinch of cinnamon makes that (apple) sauce special.” The term was also used in non-

culinary fashion, notably with “a pinch of snuff.”

Precious plenty—An ample quantity. “We had a precious plenty to eat.”

Right smart—A considerable amount. “She likes to put a right smart amount of molasses in her stack

cakes.

Scattering—A sparse handful. “A scattering of sugar on top of that pie crust finishes it off just right.”

Scrimption (or skimption)—A small amount; synonym for pinch.

Skiver—A small portion of something; often used with snow but also with cooking ingredients.

Smattering—A small or inadequate amount. “There was hardly a smattering of cracklin’s in that

cornbread.”

Smidgen—A small amount, but different from smattering in the sense that it was the desired quantity. “I

added a smidgen of red pepper flakes to that soup to give it some bite.”

Soodlin—An indeterminate portion; usually with a helping of food. “Would you care for a soodlin more

preserves?”

Tad—Small amount.

Taddle—A miller’s toll. It was usually a quart of ground meal for every bushel of corn.

Taste—Enough of an ingredient for its flavor to be discernible. “I like to add just a taste of allspice to my

pumpkin pie.”

Tetch (or just a tetch)—Literally, a touch; a minute quantity. “That stew needs just a tetch more salt.”

Toddick—Same as taddle.

—-

I hope you enjoyed Jim’s post as much as I did! The piece is actually part of his forthcoming book, “Mountains Fixin’s: A Smokies Food Memoir.” I’ve read a few parts of the book  and I’m telling you it will be a must have for anyone interested in the Smoky Mountains or Appalachia at large. If you’d like to know when the book will be available you can email Jim at [email protected] and he’ll add you to his list of folks who are interested in the book.

A few of the old recipes I’ve inherited from Granny and Miss Cindy have measurements such as the ones Jim mentioned and they’re among my favorite recipes. I just love thinking of one of my grandmothers or The Deer Hunter’s cooking in their kitchen.

If you’ve got any old measurements to add to the list please leave a comment and tell us about it.

Tipper

Appalachian Cooking Class details

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
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.

Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like

11 Comments

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    May 22, 2019 at 3:13 am

    This insomniac woke up, and what do you do when you cannot sleep? You read the most recent post in The Blind Pig, and hate that you missed it earlier. What a pleasant surprise to see a post by Jim Casada. I have heard many of these measurements, and he did an excellent job on this writing. About the only thing I could add is “a little bit” is used fairly often around these parts. This could range somewhere between a pinch and a tablespoon depending on what you are cooking. I always throw a little bit of chili powder in my spaghetti sauce, and any cake seems to taste better if I add a little bit of vanilla flavoring.
    I have come a long way from my childhood where there were no measuring spoons, and my mother’s entire spice cabinet only had salt, pepper, cinnamon, and pickling spices. Her seasoning was largely fat back and butter. She cooked everything on High, and it was amazingly good. They worked miracles with few ingredients.

  • Reply
    Charline
    May 21, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    How about “scoshe” (long o)? I remember many of these ‘measurements’.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 21, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    I am not familiar with toddick, taddle or soodlin. If I might I will add:
    chunk-a measure of cornbread, cheese, etc. a broken off piece
    glug-something poured from a jug until it has to draw air-water, milk, buttermilk, syrup for instance
    skosh-any other measure minus a little bit-almost
    slab-a measure of meat, bacon, butter, cheese, cake, pie, cornbread. Anything that is torn away or roughly sliced

  • Reply
    William Pipes
    May 21, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    Daddy always said, “Grandpa Pipes was a dram drinker.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    May 21, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Enjoyed this post so much! I have heard most of these. No one could cook like those old-time ladies could.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 21, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Tipper,
    And Jim,
    Thank you for reminding me of what it was like, and the words use to be. I can recall some of the words used, but I’m not familiar with Soodlin, Taddock, or Scrimtion. I do remember words like Nubbin tho. I was in Cleveland, Tenn. at a restaurant with Jean and James. (that is her youngest son and he’s in a Wheelchair.) We all ordered corn of a cob with our meal, and when it came, I called the corn – a Nubbin. Some things you hear all your life just never go away.

    I appreciate all the words used in Jim’s blog, most folks raised in Appalachia have a Rich Heritage
    like that. …Ken

  • Reply
    Peggy
    May 21, 2019 at 9:35 am

    I loved this post. I grew up a few miles outside of Raleigh and my father’s family (from same area) used these expressions.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    May 21, 2019 at 9:28 am

    I’ve heard and used most of these except soodlin, taddle and toddick, scrimption, and precious plenty. For precious plenty I hear more than enough. The only form of scrimption I hear is scrimpted. She shore scrimpted on the sugar for that lemonade. Toddick I don’t hear but feel I read it somewhere.
    One I hear and use is fair amount, which means more than a little but not a large amount.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    May 21, 2019 at 7:27 am

    Snoodlin, toddle and toddick were the only ones I am not familiar with. I have used or heard all of the others. Loved this post.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    May 21, 2019 at 7:19 am

    I really enjoyed this post. Many of those are very familiar to me. One I might add to the list is “handful” or “fistful.” The one that brings back good memories is “nubbins.” My dad always called little ears of corn nubbins. My husband still talks about Daddy whenever he sees a little scrawny ear of corn and how he called them nubbins.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 21, 2019 at 6:40 am

    I know most of the words listed and have used most of them. The exceptions are scrimption, taddle, and toddick. I’ve enjoyed this post, it’s a long time since I’ve heard or used most of these word.
    From this hint, I’d say it’s going to be a grand book, Jim, I look forward to it!
    My Grandmother’s kitchen had two cook stoves in it till she died. One was electric and one was a wood cook stove. She used both. The wood cook stove provided both food and warmth.

  • Leave a Reply