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How Do You Measure That?

Submitted by: patrice on November 15, 2010
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How Do You Measure That?


I was cooking with one of my daughters the other day, and I wanted her to add something to the batter we were making. “Just throw a smidgen of salt in, dear,” I said. I looked up and found her staring at me with a blank expression. I …




I was cooking with one of my daughters the other day, and I wanted her to add something to the batter we were making. “Just throw a smidgen of salt in, dear,” I said. I looked up and found her staring at me with a blank expression. I asked what was wrong. “Mom, I don’t know what a smidgen is.” Oops! I immediately scooped a tiny portion of salt into the palm of my hand and told her that was the right amount. She copied the amount in her hand and I knew I had taught her a new measurement.

While Europe and much of the world measure dry ingredients by weight, those of us in the United States measure these by volume. For example, we use a cup or a teaspoon. That’s the easy part. What gets a bit challenging is informal measurements. I think they should be called folk measurements.

Both of my grandmothers knew this system of getting the right amount. It might mean a certain way of holding your fingers to get a “pinch” of something, or placing the dry ingredient on the palm of your hand to judge if the amount is correct. It must not be an uncommon thing, because around the year 2000, measuring spoons became available with the terms “pinch”, “dash”, or “smidgen” printed next to the traditional volume amount.

Webster’s Dictionary defines a smidgen as a small amount. They define a dash as a small, distinctive addition. Poor smidgen. It’s not distinctive! They’re more specific when they tell us that a pinch is the amount that may be taken between the finger and thumb. Wikipedia tells us that a smidgen is 1/32 teaspoon. A pinch is an 1/8 teaspoon. A dash can be 1/16 teaspoon dry or 1/4 teaspoon liquid.

Sometimes measurements are guessed by experienced cooks. I remember a Public Broadcast Show that was filmed years ago. It featured a man named Justin Wilson who cooked Cajun food. He entertained viewers by placing the amount in his hand and then proved how close he could get by pouring the dry ingredient back into a measuring spoon. He was dead on every time.

I know there are many scientific principles that explain what happens when someone cooks, but I’m convinced that cooking is more of an art than a science.

Patrice blogs at Everyday Ruralty.

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10 comments | RSS feed for comments of this post

  1. 11-15

    Love this post Patrice! It made me laugh – because a friend of mine (here in the UK) knows I love to cook, and she bought me a set of measuring spoons for….a dash, a pinch and a smidgen! I have NO idea where she got them from, and to be honest I’ve never used them….I trust my eye instead – much more accurate.

  2. 11-15

    I have tested my measurements too and got it right on. Years of cooking will do that for you. I doubt that Grandma ever owned a set of ‘measuring’ spoons.
    I remember Justin!

  3. 11-15

    My older brother (who has been a bachelor for about 15 years now) has really started learning to cook…well more than his tuna noodle casserole that he learned to cook probably 30 years ago. He called me one night asking what a smidgen was. I told him “a little bit”. Well, he didn’t think it was funny! I had to measure it out. THEN I got him a set of the “new fangled” measuring spoons for Christmas 🙂 He hadn’t come across “a pinch” yet.

  4. 11-15

    Love this. My grandmother taught me to measure with the palm of my hand. I can get a teaspoon and 1/2 teaspoon spot on. I noticed my youngest doing the same thing the last time she was home. I guess we can get rid of that set of measuring spoons. Practice makes proficient.

  5. 11-15

    Thanks too for the mention of Justin Wilson – I LOVED that man LOL! 32 years ago with a nursing baby, living “out”, I only had a choice of about 3 TV stations. One was PBS and Justin Wilson was my favorite show – and first cooking show that I really watched! Balanced out the hours of Sesame Street with some adult TV 🙂


  6. 11-15

    Patrice…good morning….loved your post. You didn’t mention a “drizzle” or a “dollop” as my mom was fond of using. I also used to watch “Justin Wilson” just so I could hear that accent of his!
    Some of these posts bring back a lot of memories….love it!

    Mrs. Turkey

  7. 11-15

    I’m fond of saying “just a schmere” of butter or cream cheese…

  8. 11-15

    How funny! I know exactly what y’all are talking about! How about “sprinkle”? I only have boys, so one day I said to my oldest,”Oh, just sprinkle that in there.” He raises his eyebrow and a ,”Huh?”. LOL!!!

  9. 11-15

    You can actually buy measuring spoons that read pinch, dash and smidgen… has them among other places.

  10. 11-15

    I taught myself how to measure in my palm by using a measuring spoon and then dumping it into my hand. I seldom use a measuring spoon anymore, but occasionally I test myself by pouring a teaspoon (or whatever measure) into my hand and then checking it with a measuring spoon. I’m usually spot on, never off by more than a smidgen. 😉

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