Exact measurements are usually preferable to bunches, pinches, and rounded teaspoons

Many authors give inexact measurements or volume in their lists of ingredients. This is a problem that can and should be corrected by the editor.

Visualize a bunch of parsley. Is your vision the same as mine?  Before I can tell you what I see in my mind’s eye, you’ll need to tell me where I’m buying the parsley. The three supermarkets where I shop regularly carry different size bunches, and the bunches sold at the year-round farmers’ market are likely to vary in size depending on the farmer and time of year. I’ve seen recipes that call for a “bunch” of carrots (and how many carrots would that be, exactly?), “6 beets” (which can range from egg-sized to the diameter of a baseball), or “kernels cut from four ears of corn” (which yielded about twice as much corn as the recipe needed).

A “bunch” is descriptive, but it is not a unit of measurement. Nor is a splash, a dash, a pinch, a dollop, or a “rounded” anything. There are times when it’s fine to be vague, when the amount required is clearly “to taste” or is very small. A “shake” from a bottle of Tabasco is likely to yield a similar quantity each time around, and the variable amount in a “pinch” of salt or seasoning isn’t likely to be noticeable in a finished recipe. However, because bunches are arbitrary and the sizes and yields of fruits and vegetables can vary wildly, most items on an ingredients list should be in exact amounts.

If a variation in quantity is likely to have a noticeable effect on the recipe, the exact amount should be given. Not “1 jalapeno pepper, minced” but whatever the quantity needed – for example, 1 1/2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper.”

If the amount of an ingredient is unspecific, you may need to go back to the writer or consult the recipe tester (if you haven’t tested the recipe yourself) or make an educated estimate based on your knowledge of that type of recipe. In most cases you can probably determine the volume or weight needed and make the conversion easily — a “rounded teaspoon” to 1 1/2 teaspoons; a “bunch of parsley, finely chopped” to 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley (or whatever quantity seems correct in context of the recipe).

I was once baffled by an ingredients list that called for a “wine glass” of a liquid that was not wine. It was in a very old cookbook and I couldn’t consult the author, who had long ago departed her worldly kitchen. Was this a wine glass filled as if for drinking – therefore containing perhaps 59 milliliters or 2 fluid ounces – or was it to be filled to the brim? And what size glass? I couldn’t find a clue as to the answer, and solved the problem by choosing a different recipe.

We’ve all seen – and have probably written – recipes that require the “juice of 1 lemon’ for adding to a vinaigrette or sauce or glaze. If you’ve gotten 2 1/2 tablespoons from your lemon and I’ve squeezed out 4, our results will be different but probably both will be acceptable. If we needed four lemons for the recipe, however, I will have used almost twice as much juice as you have, and that is sure to be a problem for one of us.

A look at online discussions of weights and measures will show that there is no consensus on many of the terms food writers use regularly. Measuring utensils and kitchen scales prevent misunderstanding and disappointment. The whole purpose of creating a recipe is to allow one cook to replicate the actions – and, more importantly, the results — of another. The job of the editor is to make sure the recipe is represented well on paper, that it’s not missing any of its parts (ingredients or instructions), that it flows smoothly, and that it is, as far as can be determined from reading alone, as accurate as possible.