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Does anyone know what a "gill" is in French Cooking?

ideabaker Feb 9, 2009 11:55 AM

I have just become the lucky owner of a personal set of cookbooks once owned by a (recently passed away) owner of a French restaurant in NY during the 50's-70's. One is entitled "Modern French Culinary Art" by Pellaprat (1961) and is about two and a half inches thick. It is chock full of information, techniques and recipes. As I went through the sauce section, I noticed that many of the recipes call for a "gill" of an ingredient. For instance, "use 1 1/4 gills of demi-glace, 3/4 gill white wine, and 1 3/4 gills madeira sauce". Now I've discovered all of the recipes use the term "gill".

Clearly whatever this "gill" is is a unit of measurement, but I have searched through CH as well as Wikipedia, as well as on the web in general to no avail. Of course, the sites I'm finding all say that a "gill" is a part of a fish or a mushroom. I see no reference to "gill" as a measurement.

Does anyone know what the equivalent of a "gill" in home cooking terminology for measurement might be?

Thanks in advance if you can help solve this mystery!

  1. h
    Harters Feb 16, 2009 02:15 PM

    A gill used to be a drinks measure in British pubs. Before my time, but my father's expression when he was off to the pub was that he was "going for a quick gill". The measure was one quarter of a pint (pub measures for beer usually being a pint or a half pint). I do own a pewter gill drinking mug (probably late 19th century).

    The Royal Navy issue of the daily "tot of rum" for the crew was a half gill

    5 Replies
    1. re: Harters
      jayt90 Feb 16, 2009 05:05 PM

      Same thing in the Canadian Navy. 170 proof, and good for barter.

      1. re: jayt90
        alkapal Feb 17, 2009 12:57 AM

        harters, jayt90....was it pronounced "gill" like fish "gill"?
        (which is what i heard growing up....)

        1. re: alkapal
          Harters Feb 17, 2009 07:11 AM

          No. Pronounced Jill - as in female name.

          1. re: Harters
            alkapal Feb 17, 2009 07:19 AM

            ok, thanks. just as we discussed upthread!

            1. re: alkapal
              billieboy Feb 23, 2009 10:53 AM

              I think closer to joel.

    2. Candy Feb 14, 2009 12:50 PM

      I'll add to the confusion. My family bible cookbook "Marion Brown's Southern Cooking" Chapel Hill Press 1951 says a gill=2 wine glasses and 1 wine glass=4 Tbs. so that would be 4 oz.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Candy
        Will Owen Feb 14, 2009 05:07 PM

        Oh, that's a Southern wine glass alright! The Methodist version...

      2. othervoice Feb 11, 2009 06:47 PM

        This site answers just about anything. Used dict.com to get here.


        2 Replies
        1. re: othervoice
          ideabaker Feb 14, 2009 12:33 PM

          Othervoice, have been playing around with "thefreedictionary.com" a bit since your post and is great so far, (BTW love your screen name!). Thank you!

          1. re: othervoice
            billieboy Feb 14, 2009 08:06 PM

            According to that site Gill sounds not like either gill or jill but more like Joe.

          2. l
            lcool Feb 10, 2009 11:20 AM

            I have about a dozen books that use "gill" American or French = 4 oz liquid The most notable or modern would be the TIMES PICAYUNE cook books from New Orleans
            "Picayune Creole Cook Book" all from early 20th century and some older JUNIOR LEAGUE publications
            the only French mentions I have are teaching texts from the same era.

            1. p
              PeteEats Feb 10, 2009 10:44 AM

              I have the 1966 edition of the same book. I just looked through the Sauce Recipes and all the "gills" have been replaced with "cup" measurements. Enjoy the cook book. Its my favorite of all time.

              1 Reply
              1. re: PeteEats
                Louise Feb 10, 2009 11:31 AM

                Oh, yeah! Totally blase recipes for wild game--"younger bear can be cooked as for pork, older will benefit from stewing, sweet and sour recipes recommended".

                And my 1960's or 1970's version mentions stuff like prickly pear and durian and how to make tofu. I associate it with small town home cooking so it really blows my mind to see some of this.

                It's also really useful when I read a recipe calling for "one can of <blah>", to supply the size/yield of, for example, one #2 can of pumpkin.

              2. l
                Louise Feb 10, 2009 09:46 AM

                Someone beat me to mentioning Joy of Cooking. Some of the information in there is amazing.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Louise
                  FriedClamFanatic Feb 10, 2009 09:57 AM

                  There's a reason why it's been around longer (a lot longer, mind you!) than I have. It's still my first stop when trying to figure something out or making something I haven't made in a while (or at all)

                2. j
                  jmnewel Feb 10, 2009 09:46 AM

                  You must have a British edition of this book. I have the American edition and all the measurements are in cups and the other usual American measurements. As stated elsewhere, a "gill" is 5 liquid ounces.

                  1. BobB Feb 10, 2009 07:44 AM

                    This site has the most comprehensive conversion utility I've ever seen:

                    It covers volumes, weights, distances, temperatures, you name it. Meters to cubits, anyone?

                    1. f
                      FriedClamFanatic Feb 10, 2009 05:08 AM

                      My Joy of Cooking (Brtitsh 1979 version) list a gill as a half cup, and that is a US 1/2 cup ,or 4 ounces. However, an Imperial Gill is 5 ounces (and an imperial cup is 10 ounces)

                      Play around and make notations in the book

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: FriedClamFanatic
                        alkapal Feb 10, 2009 05:26 AM

                        "Imperial Gill" sounds so....regal! ;-).

                        1. re: alkapal
                          FriedClamFanatic Feb 10, 2009 09:40 AM

                          LOL......and confusing! As i remember, when we lived in the UK about 15 years ago, you also got your drinks at the bar in Gills...and there were definitely NOT 4 ozs of booze in it. In fact, I almost always ordered "doubles" to get the typical US amount.

                          Don't know if they use the imperial gallon in Canada anymore. for petrol......one of the reason as "fifth" as a term for a bottle of liquor came into being (I believe) was because it was 1/5 of a UK Imperial Gallon. I'mn sure there is at least one other chowhounder out there who is decidely more knowledgeable than I am about all this.

                          Hell, I don't even use measuring items in most recipes, but just eyeball it. And if I "highball" it too much before I "eyeball" it, the results get interestting!

                          1. re: FriedClamFanatic
                            BobB Feb 10, 2009 09:49 AM

                            Officially, Canada is now on the metric system, and petrol (gasoline) is sold by the liter. Many food and drink products though, while labeled metrically, are actually packaged in Imperial or US units. Butter, for example, is sold in 454g (i.e., one pound) boxes.

                            1. re: BobB
                              billieboy Feb 10, 2009 03:48 PM

                              And an absolute waste of money and time. The metric system is so precise and boooorrrrring.
                              Thanks for fixing the link and also the link you posted below. Very interesting. Now I know how many stones i weigh (don't ask)
                              The Canadian quart is bigger than the US quart...na na na na na

                              1. re: billieboy
                                tmso Feb 10, 2009 09:53 PM

                                How is the metric system "so precise"? You realize that in metric countries you're no more likely to specify 454 g of butter than you're likely in an imperial country to specify 7 41/64 oz of butter. That latter is the "so precise" US equivalent of a half kilogram.

                      2. d
                        DeppityDawg Feb 10, 2009 04:57 AM

                        Thank you, Chowhound. I now know that I've always pronounced this word wrong (in my head), like fish "gills". Good thing I've never had an occasion to say it out loud.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: DeppityDawg
                          alkapal Feb 10, 2009 05:24 AM

                          according to this reference, "gill" liquid measure is a heteronym of fish "gill"
                          so...i now learned it is pronounced "jil"

                          jack and gill went up the hill, to fetch a pail of madeira?

                          1. re: alkapal
                            smartie Feb 14, 2009 07:45 PM

                            I have never heard it pronounced like jill, it was always gill with a hard g! my cookery teacher, mum, grandma, and all bar staff in pubs pronounced it with a hard g.

                            1. re: smartie
                              lcool Feb 15, 2009 03:23 AM

                              have heard both / about 50/50 in version / no solid link to age,country of origen or
                              kitchen experience.

                        2. t
                          tmso Feb 10, 2009 01:03 AM

                          Oh funny. I guess in 1961 it seemed like a helpful thing to convert to weird measurements for English speaking readers, but I bet you'd be happier if they'd just stuck with metric. It looks like a gill can be either 0.14 or 0.12 litres, depending on whether it's British or American. You might want to look carefully at the English dialect used for any recipes where it might make a difference.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: tmso
                            alkapal Feb 10, 2009 04:20 AM

                            were the french using metric in 1961? yes! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_s... (very interesting wiki article, btw).

                            but, there's certainly little fun or romance in the measure "0.12 litres", is there?

                            anyway, i remember seeing gill used in old american cookbooks. makes sense if it is an english measurement term. (i like pottle and noggin, greygarious and caroline).

                            for some reason, i tend to associate "gill" with measuring booze..... i don't know where this idea comes from.

                            1. re: alkapal
                              themags Feb 17, 2009 05:56 AM

                              Spirits (i.e. hard liquor) in British pubs was always measured in gills until fairly recently. The standard single measure was 1/6th a gill - a bit less than one ounce. Then Europe said the Brits couldn't sell booze in gills (nor food in pounds and ounces for that matter - there was a famous court case regarding market traders who were dubbed the "Metric Martyrs"). Now pub measures are 25ml (single) and 50ml (double or "large"). For some reason though the EC hasn't put its foot down over the British measuring distance in miles and they've not yet turned the imperial pint (20oz) into its close relative the half litre. I'm sure it's just a matter of time!

                          2. Caroline1 Feb 9, 2009 09:39 PM

                            To the best of my knowledge, a "gill" is a British measurement, not French, and it is 5 ounces. The British imperial pint is 20 ounces, and a gill is 1/4 pint. A gill is also called a "noggin" when referring to booze.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Caroline1
                              ideabaker Feb 10, 2009 07:25 AM

                              Hmmmph.... I may just need a "noggin" or two of wine before I pull out my calculator and start converting some of these recipes! Thanks for that additional information, Caroline1!

                            2. billieboy Feb 9, 2009 12:42 PM

                              This might help


                              2 Replies
                              1. re: billieboy
                                billieboy Feb 9, 2009 01:07 PM

                                Hmmmm link didn't work. Google.....gill measurement.

                                1. re: billieboy
                                  BobB Feb 10, 2009 07:41 AM

                                  The link is missing the closing parenthesis after "(volume". Add it and it works fine.

                              2. todao Feb 9, 2009 12:05 PM

                                If you're baking, it's preciesly four ounces. If you cooking, it's about four ounces.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: todao
                                  ideabaker Feb 9, 2009 12:08 PM

                                  Thanks, todao, is that four liquid ounces, but half a cup for powdered ingredients?

                                  1. re: ideabaker
                                    todao Feb 9, 2009 12:49 PM

                                    Four ounces for liquid measure, about 3 1/3 ounces dry measure. But who is going to be concerned about 2/3 of an ounce one way or another.

                                2. Will Owen Feb 9, 2009 12:02 PM

                                  My NY Public Library Desk Reference says a gill is half a cup, or four ounces. I guess the "dead-trees" mode of information retrieval is not defunct after all!

                                  15 Replies
                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                    ideabaker Feb 9, 2009 12:06 PM

                                    Will, you are the best! I am excited to cook from this book, and the gill thing completely threw me off. Is "gill" a French term or just an old-world measurement in general (would I see this term in an old British/English cookbook)?

                                    Glad I posted this as I thought a gill was probably a cup...

                                    1. re: ideabaker
                                      Will Owen Feb 9, 2009 12:16 PM

                                      It used to be common in both American and English English. When I was in grade school in the '40s, the composition books we bought at the dime store came with tables of weights and measures on the cover, including such esoterica as furlongs and barrels. The gill was always in there, though I never heard anyone use it in conversation.

                                      1. re: Will Owen
                                        greygarious Feb 9, 2009 02:22 PM

                                        I shall, from here on in. I am all for minimizing syllables. Here's another: POTTLE. It means 2 quarts/half-gallon.

                                        1. re: Will Owen
                                          oakjoan Feb 10, 2009 05:11 PM

                                          Except phonetically "Gil Hodges" or nonphon. - of a fish.

                                          I remember hearing "gill" when I was young, but also never saw it actually used in practical life.

                                      2. re: Will Owen
                                        Caroline1 Feb 9, 2009 09:41 PM

                                        Will, the problem with your NY Public Library Desk Reference is that it (apparently) fails to explain that it is using a B.S.I. "cup," which is ten ounces, not eight. A gill is five ounces.

                                        1. re: Caroline1
                                          Will Owen Feb 10, 2009 02:24 PM

                                          No, it clearly states "four ounces, or one-half cup". Why on earth would a NYT publication use a British measure?

                                          1. re: Will Owen
                                            Caroline1 Feb 10, 2009 02:52 PM

                                            LOL! Exactly. But as far as I know a gill is a British measure.

                                            I've been using the 5 ounce gill for 52 years, and had never heard of a 4 ounce gill until this thread. I have always assumed it is a Brit measure because all of my native French friends through the years have used milliliters while my Brit (UK) friends and family have used gills. My treasured 1869 printing of Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management (from London) gives a gill as five ounces, as does my 1962 Encyclopedia of European Cooking, also published in London.

                                            Anyway, I did a bit of on-line research earlier today and reached the conclusion that there is a lot of seeming misinformation out there simply because so many authorities (and others) have assumed that if a gill is quarter of a pint, it MUST be four ounces. But a gill is 1/4 a British pint which is 20 ounces, not 16.

                                            Anyway, a 5 ounce gill has worked flawlessly for me for more than half a century, so I think I'll stick with it. But based on my perusal of the web today, I think I'll also check the publication date AND native country of the publication because there just may be some cookbooks out there that use a 4 ounce gill.

                                            1. re: Caroline1
                                              DeppityDawg Feb 10, 2009 05:00 PM

                                              LOL! Don't you do this anyway? If a cookbook uses cups, pints, quarts, and gallons, you have to check the date and the country and figure out if they're assuming imperial or US measures (or something else altogether). The gill is part of *both* systems: it is a 1/4 of a pint. That is not misinformation; that is the definition.

                                              So a US gill is four US fluid ounces, or half a US cup. And an imperial gill is five imperial fluid ounces, or half an "imperial cup".

                                              As usual, the imperial unit is approximately 20% larger than the corresponding US customary measure.

                                              I have no idea whether one is more likely to come across US or imperial gills in cookbooks. Or anywhere, really, these days. So for the next 52 years, I say carry on, carry on.

                                              1. re: Caroline1
                                                lcool Feb 11, 2009 03:48 AM

                                                If you catch my post about 25 down there is part of an answer.About 20 of my older books use "gill" and 1/4 cup as = 4oz.The one common thread is either age or origin.French translations for Brittish use and old American.I find that there is no connective tissue to "imperial" measure IE the Brittish pint = 20oz
                                                One of the better "conversions" if you will is a Jr League book from Savannah,
                                                Ga.A gill is half of a cup or a wine glass.ONLY IN THE BEGINNING where the new ,young housewife is reading for comfort and advice.Not one time all through the recipes etc.Some of them use 1/4c.some gill and some sherry glass.Editing was clearly not a priority.

                                                1. re: lcool
                                                  Will Owen Feb 11, 2009 11:20 AM

                                                  "Editing was clearly not a priority." Possibly neither was measuring accuracy. Until Fannie Farmer put her foot down about it and basically invented volume measure as the American standard, soup spoons and wine glasses and teacups and pinches and handfuls ran rife through cookbook recipes, as did specifications such as "hot fire", "seethe hard to the count of five" and other equally precise instructions. As Fannie was a Boston Yankee, I'd suspect her influence was resisted longer in such Old South enclaves as Savannah. Just a guess...

                                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                                    tmso Feb 11, 2009 11:41 AM

                                                    Wow, searching around a bit, Fannie Farmer sounds like she played an interesting role in the history of American cuisine. You wouldn't happen to have any book references for someone who wanted to learn a bit about her?

                                                    1. re: tmso
                                                      greygarious Feb 11, 2009 11:54 AM

                                                      If you are on a serious quest, the following link will take you to info on the 15,000-volume culinary collection of the Schlesinger Library at Harvard/Radcliffe:

                                                      1. re: tmso
                                                        Will Owen Feb 11, 2009 11:54 AM

                                                        Mostly gotten from magazines. You might look in Evan Jones's "American Food" to see if he mentions her contributions; I haven't read it in some time but it's always worth reading if you're interested in food history; he was an elegant and entertaining writer. Some editions of the FF cookbook have a good bit of biographical information. She was physically handicapped but a bright student, remarkable at a time when "cripples" (especially if female) were treated as though they were as feeble of mind as of body. She went from being a star pupil of the Boston Cooking School to being its director.

                                                      2. re: Will Owen
                                                        lcool Feb 11, 2009 12:28 PM

                                                        Actually I have not found any variation from 4oz at all,just many ways to get there.Kind of like barbeque sauce
                                                        The Times Picayune Cook Books C 192? are all = 4oz.Just no good way to get there for reference.

                                                2. re: Caroline1
                                                  Demented Feb 23, 2009 10:19 AM

                                                  Caroline, Will... Your bother right!

                                                  In the Imperial system there are 5 fluid ounce to a gill, in the United States system there are 4 fluid ounces to a gill.

                                                  Googling "Gill = Ounces" resulted in this answer.

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