I was reading through an old recipe book the other day (and by “old”, I mean from two centuries ago), and noticed that more than half the amounts of the ingredients were listed as in “pinches”, “dashes”, or “messes,” “a bunch”, “few”, or “some”. The amount of shortening or butter to use might be “a ball the size of a walnut.” Confusing to today’s cook who likes to make something from scratch and perhaps to cooks back then, too. What if the walnuts in your area were smaller than the ones in the area the recipe came from? What if you measured it against an English walnut rather than a black walnut, or vice versa?

So I did a bit of investigating and googling…and came up with these modern-day explanations of “Granny’s cooking measurements.” And here they are:

A hint 1/2 drop (1/2 drop)

A drop 1/64 teaspoon (1/2 smidgen)

A smidgen 1/32 teaspoon (1/2 pinch)

A pinch 1/16 teaspoon (1/2 dash)

A dash 1/8 teaspoon (1/2 tad)

A tad 1/4 teaspoon

A mess As many as can be measured from midway between the elbow and wrist to mid-way the palm of the hand (usually used for fish)

I also found a recipe for “shoo-fly pie,” you know…the one that “makes your eyes light up and your stomach say ‘Howdy’”. So I’d like to share that, too, with mostly up-dated measurements. (Absolutely no calories, so dig in!)

9” pie shell 1/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 C flour 1/2 C cold butter

1/2 C dark brown sugar 3/4 C water

1 tsp cinnamon 3/4 C molasses

1/2 tsp nutmeg 1/2 tsp baking soda

pinch of ground cloves

Combined flour, sugar, spices, and salt. Cut butter into pats and mash into mixture with a fork until a mixture like coarse crumbs. Combine water, molasses, and baking soda. Pour into pie crust. Spoon crumb mixture onto the liquid. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

Again according to the song, “You never get enough of this wonderful stuff,” so if you try this recipe, please let me know what you think!


  1. Autumn Jordon // February 12, 2012 at 11:53 AM  

    Okay, Toni, now you've gone and done it. I want blueberry pie. It's such a great day for it. I think, I'll get baking. ;>)

  2. Mary Ricksen // February 12, 2012 at 2:42 PM  

    Wow no eggs in shoo fly pie!
    I've had buttermilk pie that blew me away. Never had fly pie!

  3. Scarlet Pumpernickel // February 12, 2012 at 3:01 PM  

    I was hoping for the blueberry custard pie! Now I've got to give this one a try. Toni, you have placed my diet in danger.

  4. Judy // February 12, 2012 at 3:42 PM  

    so fun, Toni! That's how my mother cooked. You should see her recipes...just hints of what to do with ingredients...

  5. Mary Marvella // February 12, 2012 at 4:34 PM  

    Shoo fly pie for me! I cooked like and would now if I had anyone else to eat what I cook. Requests for recipes resulted in strange directions. "Until it looks right" was one of my favorites.

  6. EC Spurlock // February 12, 2012 at 6:31 PM  

    Toni, I know just what you mean! I have a number of Victorian cookbooks and even one dating back to about 1790, and the directions are all like that! I also remember the summer I spent trying to codify my grandmother's cooking into recipes and nail down measurements; the woman had never used a cookbook in her life or for that matter standard measuring cups or spoons. I think she got quite frustrated with me for trying to get so specific.

    And thanks for the recipe! Funny what a coincidence that was - the hero in my WIP just loves shoo-fly pie and keeps asking the heroine to make him one and she has no clue what he's talking about. Now I have an actual recipe to go by!

  7. Toni V.S. // February 12, 2012 at 6:31 PM  

    Sorry about the blueberry pie... Apparently, Blogger stuck that in. Trying to tempt us, I guess.

  8. Josie // February 13, 2012 at 4:18 PM  

    Thanks for the recipe for shoo-fly.
    We visited Lancaster, PA., over the Thanksgiving holiday and brought a shoo-fly pie to NY with us. Delicious, and it needed no refrigeration.