A Smidgen, A Dab, A Dollop

Here”s a blog I wrote way back in 2008. I thought possibly those who weren”t followers of P&P yet might enjoy reading it. And since I”m smack in the middle of packing up my house to move, this might make things easier.

I love to read old recipes and imagine the pioneer women cooking up a batch of Hopping John or Son-of-a-Biscuit Stew or Molasses Cookies

on their wood stove. I can just see them getting out their ingredients and setting to work building a fire and getting it the right temperature.

Old-time recipes called for a smidgen of seasoning, a pinch of this, a dab of that, or a dollop (usually butter) the size of a walnut. And sometimes the recipe called for a dash of something or “enough flour to make a stiff dough.” I”m guessing that housewives pretty much cooked by trial and error and adjusted things to suit them because it would be extremely difficult to know what these measurements meant.

Is a smidgen more than a dash or a dab? And how much is scant of something?

My mother rarely used a recipe. She”d get out her ingredients and start mixing things together until it looked, tasted, or felt right. I used to love watching her cook. It was an amazing sight. And boy, did her dishes taste wonderful! She must”ve had the pioneer spirit instilled in her.


I can cook just enough to get by.

But to demonstrate what I”m talking about, here”s an old recipe for Gingerbread:

½ cup sugar

2 dollops of butter

1 egg

1 cup syrup

Enough flour for a soft dough

1 ½ small spoon soda

Smidgen of cinnamon, ginger, cloves

Pinch of salt

1 cup hot water

Mix all ingredients together and bake in a medium oven.

A medium oven? Precisely how many degrees is that? 

* * * *

As a side note, pioneer women gauged the heat of an oven by holding their hand inside and counting. If she could hold her hand inside for a count of 40, it was right for baking bread. A count of twenty would be sufficient for baking cakes and pies.

And exactly how long should I leave my  hand inside to bake a potato or lasagna?

Good Grief!

So, I”m wondering how many of you could cook using the smidgen, dab, dash, dollop, or pinch measurements. Aren”t you glad our recipes read much clearer today?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

16 thoughts on “A Smidgen, A Dab, A Dollop”

  1. I am not good with this smidge of this or a dollop of that or a pinch of this… I need exact instructions when it comes to baking.. Now if it is something else, like a casserole or cooking a chicken or frying up something, then I can see the consistency or texture of what I am cooking or taste it to see if it needs a pinch more salt etc., I admire those pioneer woman for their great way of cooking.

  2. Morning, Elizabeth! Thanks for the good wishes re my move. It’s coming along well. And the best news is that I may have a buyer for my house here. Yay! That would be a load off my shoulders. I keep telling myself not to worry but you know what good that does. Glad you enjoyed the blog the second time around.

  3. Morning Kathleen O! Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my blog. I’ve never been good at cooking in general no matter if I have the recipe spelled out for me. I think it’s because my heart is not in it. I’d much rather be writing a book. I’m with you though in admiring those old pioneer women. They were tough women. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to cross one when they had a rolling pin their hands either!

  4. I don’t know how I would make it then without what we have today as far correct recipes. but then again I guess if I was taught from a small age back then like most girls I would know how.

  5. LOVE this, Linda. I’m a pretty decent cook but I do’t like it much..and a VERY much a precise recipe follower. These kind of directions would make me nutso. As a kid, my job was whipping cream on Thanksgiving…I couldn’t count the times it ended up curldly slush because the “peak” thing did me in. Sheesh.

  6. LOL my mother and grandmothers never had a recipe for anything. I pretty much taught myself how to cook the same way. (not baking though lol). When my daughter married and asked me for recipes I realized I didn’t really have very many but she likes to go by the book (she also doesn’t really like to cook lol).

  7. Hi Tanya………whipped cream is extremely hard to do. They should’ve assigned you an easier job. I never could get mine to stand in stiff peaks either. Glad you enjoyed my blog.

  8. Hi Catslady……….Yes those mothers and grandmothers had everything down pat. Their recipes were in their heads. I remember watching my mother make chocolate pudding from scratch and it turned out as good or better than boxed. But the lessons never took. It’s much easier and faster to buy the boxed at the store. Or better yet the pudding cups that are already made. LOL I’m all for speed and efficiency. Like I mentioned earlier there are other things I’d rather be doing than slaving over a hot stove.

  9. Great post Miss Linda. I can’t believe you’re involved with packing and still have time to respond to each comment. Kudos, my friend. Many of you may know but I bet all do not that Linda isn’t just moving but coming to my hometown where we’ll be about five minutes away from one another. Jodi is about another five from there, so we’re thrilled Linda decided to move to Amarillo.

    Now for cooking. I do a lot of pinches, dashes and lumps because I learned to cook from my grannie. I’m trying to teach my granddaughters to do it exactly, but find myself falling back into the pinch-dash explanation. In “Give Me a Texan” my heroine moved to the Texas Panhandle from Boston and thought she’d impress my hero by making Maryland Beaten Biscuits. I used my pinch-dash learnin’s to write a scene (from the real recipe). It called for fixin’s of a crock of water, a smidgen of salt, a lump of lard, and the amount of flour you think the size of the family may require. Since she was only cooking for two, you can only imagine how little flour she put in. But the biggest deal she was supposed to make a dough out of it and beat it with a rolling pin. She didn’t know a rolling pin from a mallet, so she selected the mallet. The mixture was very, very runny, but oh well … she beat the smithereens out of the mixture and had liquid dough all over her, the kitchen and eventually Quin. So when I think of dabs and globs, I think of Quin and Kaira. I wonder if she ever learned to cook? Much love, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Phyliss

  10. Linda,

    This post reminds me of when someone asks for a recipe from me. I always cringe because I have no idea, I just throw everything together and hope for the best. 🙂 It’s how my mom taught me.

    Hope you have a safe and smooth move! Enjoy your new home!


  11. Hi Linda. I read something about you being in Lubbock and tho’t you had already moved. My goodness, are you all going to move to Amarillo? Guess I should move back to my little hometown of Texhoma, Ok( Except I lived on the TX. side.) It was only 109 miles to Amarillo. I learned to cook by helping my mom. So, I have done a lot of the pinch, smidgen, dash and dab in my cooking. Still do a lot but got to using recipes as I got older and raising my kids. I still just throw things together for some thing and my baby girl gets frustrated when she wants to make it. LOL Of course we don’t either like to cook. And, I don’t do much cooking since I’m alone. But we have to remember those women learned to make a lot of those recipes by figuring what they could make out of what they had on hand to feed their family. I figure they did a pretty good job. Maxie

  12. I’ve cooked that way most of my life. My grandmother taught me to cook when I was five years old sitting on wooden stool with a dish towel tied around my neck. That was well over 70 years ago and I still use pinches, dabs, and dashes when I cook. My dil followed me around to learn how to make several of my son’s favorites, and she made me stop and measure how much each thing was because she didn’t “see” dashes and pinches and a dab were. Now I do use accurate measurements with new recipes, but the old standbys of cornbread and stew are a dash of this, a dab of that, a scoop of this and it works. We can learn a lot from these women of the frontier and how they made do with what they had.

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