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

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!

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  1. 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

      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

        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

          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

            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

          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

            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

              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

                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

                  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

                    "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

                      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

                        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

                          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

                          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

                    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.

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

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: todao

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

                    1. re: ideabaker

                      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.

                    1. re: billieboy

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

                      1. re: billieboy

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

                    2. 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

                        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. 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

                          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

                            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. 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

                            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

                              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

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

                          2. 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

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

                              1. re: alkapal

                                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

                                  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

                                    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

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

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Louise

                                    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. 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

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


                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: othervoice

                                          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

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

                                          2. 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

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

                                            2. 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

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

                                                1. re: jayt90

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

                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                    No. Pronounced Jill - as in female name.

                                                    1. re: Harters

                                                      ok, thanks. just as we discussed upthread!