Good Food Blog
A handful is...?Posted at 12:02PM, 09 April 2008 by Jenni Muir - Food writer
Years ago I worked at a big publishing house where the rule was that all amounts under 75ml should be given in tablespoons. It seemed sensible - as accurate as we were likely to get in the real world - so I never really questioned it.
But I'm currently working with a chef who loves his millilitres, and we have 50ml of this and 40ml of that in lots of recipes. I can see his point - you take a good millilitre measuring jug and can just keep adding liquid ingredients to it. So, say, when you've got 50ml of oil in a jug and you need to use 40ml soy sauce, you add enough soy sauce to take the level up to 90ml. Phew!
But he also wants to get rid of tablespoon measures for things like herbs. He thinks tablespoons are too prissy and prefers terms like 'a handful' and 'a small bunch'. Given the confusion between tablespoon sizes Jamie Oliver's appeal and why novice cooks like my step-father are tempted into the kitchen by his recipes
But I also know that people's perceptions of 'a handful' and 'a bunch' vary hugely. One time, I asked a chef what his idea of a handful was and he showed me two big rugby player's hands cupped together - 'Huh?!' A Lebanese author said a bunch was the huge bundle of coriander or flat-leaf parsley she'd pick up in a Middle Eastern shop while an English cookery writer told me a bunch was the size of the bags of herbs in Waitrose (and if you shopped at Sainsbury or Tesco you'd be wrong!).
A lot of the time it simply doesn't make much difference, but the big bunches some chefs and my Lebanese friend would use can total a few hundred grams - quite a difference from the 10 to 20g bags in the local supermarket. And you wouldn't want to be using ten times too much with a powerful ingredient like rosemary or sage.
Mind you, people have been cooking successfully for thousands of years without needing to refer to recipes at all, so does it really matter?