Vintage Recipe Terminology and Definitions

In pre-21st century cooking, you’ll often find unique terminology not used commonly today.  As I discover and research new terms, I will add them to the following list of definitions:

Butter Measurements: here are several common terms and equivalent measurements for butter:


  • butter the size of an egg = 1/4 cup

  • butter the size of a walnut = 1 tablespoon

  • butter the size of a hazlenut or hickory nut = 1 teaspoon

Indian meal: coarsely ground corn (i.e. cornmeal)

Candy Temperatures:

Thread: 230-235F (106-112C)
Soft Ball: 235-240F (112-116C)
Firm Ball: 245-250F (118-120C)
Hard Ball: 250-265F (121-130C)
Soft Crack: 270-290F (132-143C)
Hard Crack: 300-310F (149-154C)

Drippings: the rendered fat from beef or pork (i.e. bacon drippings) often used in recipes as the primary fat

Oven Temperatures: many recipes do not state precise temperature but instead use the following terms.  Included next to each term is the corresponding temperature equivalent:

Very Slow Oven (250-300F)
Slow Oven (300-350F)
Moderate Oven (350-400F)
Hot Oven (400-450F)
Very Hot Oven (450-500F)

Pinch: a measurement method where only the amount that can be ‘pinched’ between your thumb and index finger is used.  Typically used to measure small amounts of spices.

Reciept (or Receipt): common spelling of ‘recipe’ frequently found on older recipes (ex. this is my mother’s reciept)

Ropy (or Ropey): of poor quality or beginning to spoil

Rounding (or Rounded): rounding refers to a measurement that is not leveled off but instead is slightly ’rounded’ on top (ex. a rounded cup of sugar). 

Salt Peter (or saltpeter): potassium nitrate, used since Middle Ages to preserve meat. Most widely known for use in creating corned beef.

Scant: just shy of the full measure (i.e. a scant cup of butter)

Seeded Raisins: during the early 20th century, raisins were often made from grapes that were not seedless and were often sold still on the vine

Smearcase (or Schmierkase): a soft cheese which can be spread or eaten with a spoon.  The word originated in the early 1800s in the north midland of the United States and is based on the German words schmier (smear) and Kase (cheese).

Speck: the tiniest amount, just barely noticeable; smaller than a pinch

Spry: a vegetable shortening similar to Crisco which was available from the mid-1930s until the early 1970s

Suet: hard pieces of fat, typically beef, before it is rendered

Sweet Milk: in older times, refrigeration was not possible and often milk soured quickly.  Sweet milk is fresh milk that has not yet soured.  Due to this, recipes differentiated between sour milk, sweet milk, and buttermilk (i.e. a fermented type of milk).

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