When I was a kid, I spent time in the kitchen with my Gramps. He was my first babysitter, and the first one to help develop my tastebuds, so needless to say we were good pals. I learned quickly to decipher many of Gramps’ expressions… thingamajigs, and whatchamacallits mostly. In context, and especially with a child’s brain, it was easy to know that he meant he wanted the particular tool for the job – a wooden spoon to stir a pot of something, or a can opener… We managed just fine with our shared language.
As I got older, I learned expressions, too. These ones I use to this day:
Six of one, half dozen of another.
One horse, one rabbit. (that one is still my favourite; much more unique than the first even though they mean the same thing. I mean, literally “the same thing”.)
I think all this expressive talk throughout my upbringing was meant to prepare me for cooking old-fashioned recipes. Have you ever come across some of the terms cooks of old use? For example, my marmalade recipe calls for “a nob of butter”. Just how much is a nob, you are probably saying?
Well, thanks to Google almost anything has some information listed but as I learned to cook I had to do more sleuthing. It seems that whether you spell it with a k or not (knob), the amount is similar to a knob on a cupboard (a bit bigger than a tablespoon). If you want to get technical, the most exact description I could find shows that a “nob” is more likely to be slang for a wealthy British fellow (also called a “toff”) or in more of a vulgar sense, the name for a part of a man’s anatomy (I’m sure you can guess which part). A “knob” is where the butter comes in, which is what leads one to think it was in comparison to a cupboard knob.
When I spent a year of university in France, I took on the task of translating old recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries to edit into a cookbook. There were terms such as “dessert spoon” (not small like I thought, but more like a tablespoon), and glassful (based on a juice glass, so again smaller, about 5 ounces). Of course some of the terms did become standard, like tablespoons and teaspoons and even cups (based on an 8 ounce cup).
Here’s a few more for you, just for fun:
- dash – 1/8 teaspoon
- pinch – smaller than a dash, about 1/16 teaspoon *(what fits between your thumb & forefinger when you pinch them)
- spoonful – a heaping tablespoon (in our house, we call this a Chef’s tablespoon)
- jigger – 1-1/2 oz (Gramps used this one too – he put a jigger full of rye in his cocktail)
- peck – 8 quarts, or 32 cups (you know, as in “I love you, a bushel and a peck” – now you know just how much that is!)
So, as always, my message here is to keep your sense of humour in the kitchen, and if all else fails, use your imagination. After all, if someone handed you one of these vintage kitchen tools, what would you do with it?