Monday, May 18, 2009

Old Fashioned Cooking Terms

Several months ago I picked up a small cookbook at a thrift store called "Good Ole Country Cookin'". I'm sure you've seen these types of books before. It's a compilation of recipes from women all over some small town in rural America. There books are put together and sold as a fundraiser at church or the county fair. 

While it's a wonderful treasure trove of recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation, they are so old and out dated that the directions are often lacking our modern terms, temperatures, ingredients and methods.

There are quite a few recipes in this book I would like to try, but when the instructions for Aunt Mildred's Sweet Cakes say to bake in a hot oven, what exactly does that mean anyway? Well, don't give up on those old recipes just yet. Below are quite a few "translations" that may come in handy when you run across one of these nostalgic books!

Oven temperatures:
Slow = up to 300 F
Very moderate = 300 F - 350 F
Moderate/Medium = 350 F - 400 F
Hot/Quick/Fast = 400 F - 450 F
Very Hot/Very Quick = 450 F - 500 F

Baking times:
Cookies: bake until just golden
Cakes: bake until cake begins to pull away from sides of pan and toothpick or butter knife inserted in center comes out clean
Bread: bake until bread pulls away from sides of pan, or when tapped you hear a hollow sound
Custards: bake until just set
Single crust filled pies: hot oven (425-450 F) for 1st ten minutes to crisp the crust, lower to moderate (350 F) to finish
Unfilled pie shell: bake at 425 F for 18-20 minutes, or until lightly browned
Unfilled tart shell: bake at 425 F for 12 minutes

Baking Temps:
Cookies, cakes, quick breads: 350 F
Yeast bread: 375 F
Yeast rolls: 400-425 F
Tarts: 375 F

1 pound yields:
4 cups sifted flour
4 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 1/2 cups graham flour
3 cups cornmeal
5 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 1/4 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/3 cups molasses or honey
2 cups milk
4 cups nut meats, chopped
3 cups dried fruit

lard = use shortening
fat = means butter
sour milk = buttermilk OR 1 tablespoon vinegar added to 1 cup whole milk
sweet milk = milk (whole is best for baking, but 2%, 1% and skim can be used succesfully)
cake compressed yeast = 1 package active dry yeast

pint = 2 cups
quart = 4 cups
gill = 4 ounces (1/4 pound, metric = 5 ounces as a metric pound is 20 ounces)
peck = 8 quarts
bushel = 4 pecks

And just for fun, here's a recipe you might enjoy:

Tea Bread

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup chopped dates or raisins
1 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients, rub in peanut butter, add fruit, stir in milk. Pour into small greased bread pan and bake in moderate oven about an hour.


~ Amanda


  1. People cooked to survive back then. They assumed the reader KNEW what a hot oven was. LOL

    Great find! I love nostalgia.


  2. AnonymousMay 19, 2009

    My mother had an English cook book she got as a wedding present back in the 1950s (or cookery book as they call them here) that had all sorts of terms I didn't get. Eg: what the heck was a gill or a peck of something?


  3. Good one Ali! I edited the post to reflect the answers to those :) A peck is 8 quarts and a gill is 4 ounces.

  4. AnonymousMay 19, 2009

    Now WHERE did you find that out? I've looked all over and never been able to.


  5. I googled "what is a peck in cooking" and found this

    I looked back in my Farmer's Wife Baking Cookbook as I remembered seeing the explanation for "gill" in there.

    Seems there's some confusion regarding American gill and British (Imperial) gill. A British pound is 20 ounces and an American pound is 16. A gill is more specifically a 1/4 pound, so in our case it's 4 ounces, but in metric terms it's 5 ounces. I think I better change that in the post LOL

  6. AnonymousMay 19, 2009

    And its still a weird mix of Imperial and Metric over here. Tho that gill and peck thing has long gone by the boards. Thanks goodness.

    Thanks for the info!


  7. Hi, I have really enjoyed your page. In a receipe from 1912 I found that I need 5 cents worth of stick Cinnamon,cloves and allspice, How much is that today? How do I "beat to a cream with a paddle" or "beat with a rolling pin"? Was the paddle used in the making of butter. Today cooking sure is easy!!


  8. I have a cookbook from the 1890's and I can't make sense of half the items they used.. I did find salterus(sp) to be baking soda.. but someday I am going to spend a day looking up these items! In the back was wonderful recipes for medicinal and cleaning recipes.. then again that will be another day looking up strange words!

  9. I am working on a project where we are compiling recipes from our Junior League's old cookbooks into a new book and I came across a term I can't figure out. The recipe for buttermilk pancakes calls for 1/2 teaspoon soda in milk. I am assuming this means 1/2 baking soda dissolved in milk but I want to make sure. I was happy to see I was right when I guessed what temperature a moderate oven was based on your information so I hope you can help. Thanks in advance!!


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