How Do You Measure That?

Post by community member:


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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