What is a peck of flour?

A peck.  A peck. What could it be?

‘You must take a quarter of a peck of fine flour…’

said Hannah Glasse in 1747.

At this point I was cold.  It was a wintery day in Hove and the kitchen at the Regency Town House isn’t the warmest place.  In those days the range would have been on since early morning.  I can only dream of such heat.

The peck was still bothering me.

I found an amazing resource called the Manuscripts Cooksbook Survey. I strongly recommend that you take a look at the Manuscripts Cookbook Survey.

Through that I found out that a peck is this:

“In most English recipes prior to 1800 (and even later) a peck of wheat flour is an understood weight of 14 pounds. However, in some recipes a peck of flour means a volume measurement of 2 gallons, which would weigh only 8 to 10 pounds. The former should be assumed unless the latter is suggested by context.”

I was confused.  But decided to make the cake anyway.  Here is the original recipes and underneath my translation of the ingredients list.

To make a fine Seed or Saffron Cake

You must take a quarter of a peck of fine flour, a pound and a half of butter, three ounces of caraway-seeds, six eggs beat well, a quarter of an ounce of cloves and mace beat together very fine, a penny-worth of rose water, a penny-worth of saffron, a pint and a half of yeast, and a quart of milk; mix it all together, lightly with your hands thus: first boil your milk and butter, then skim off the butter, and mix with your flour and a little of the milk, stir the yeast into the rest and strain it, mix it with the flour, put in your seed and spice, rose-water, tincture of saffron, sugar, and eggs, beat it all up well with your hands lightly, and bake it in a hoop or pan, but be sure to butter the pan well. 

It will take an hour and a half in a quick oven.  You may leave out the seed if you choose it, and I think it rather better without it; but that you may do as you like.

A couple of things there.  I had to look up penny-worth first.

pen·ny·worth (pĕn′ē-wûrth′) n.

  1. As much as a penny will buy.
  2. A small amount; a modicum.
  3. A bargain: got my pennyworth at that price.

This wasn’t much help!

Quart of milk (or a quarter of a gallon) is 2 pints (1137ml).

I had to make a lot less for the first time so I reduced everything down by 1/3.

  • 3.5 1b flour (1587g)
  • 1/2 1b butter (1587g)
  • 1 oz of caraway seeds (28g)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 pint yeast (0.375ml)
  • 0.66 pint milk (0.375ml)

So, the ingredients are deciphered, just the cake to make.