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Feb 9, 2009 11:55 AM

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! (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!