Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sweet Milk

Both of my grandmothers grew up in dairy country, so it is no surprise that both of their cookbooks include recipes that call for milk or other dairy products.

As early as the 17th century, European settlers brought cattle to the New World to supply their families with milk and meat. This certainly included shipping cows to Nieuw Nederland; I can only imagine what it must have been like to share living space with bovine ballast in the close quarters of a Dutch West India ship during the long sea voyage. The breeds of cattle that made the arduous journey included the Jersey and Guernsey that we can still see on the hillsides of Upstate New York, alongside the more numerous black and white Holsteins.

At first, milk and dairy products were produced mostly for home use. But as the urban population grew around the turn of the 20th century, it became necessary to increase production and improve the quality of milk.

It was around this time during Minnie's childhood in the 1890's that milking machines gained use, providing a more efficient milking method and making it possible to produce a cleaner milk product. This same era saw additional developments such as tuberculin testing for cattle, pasteurization equipment, refrigerated milk tank trucks, and automatic bottling machines.

The establishment of the Dairy Division of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) in 1895 was another step in regulating the industry in order to improve the quality of American dairy products, as well as the Meat Inspection Acts passed by Congress in 1890 and 1906, which authorized USDA inspectors to enforce standards of hygiene in the meat and dairy industries.

Minnie's relatives had a dairy farm in the hills above the village of Fort Plain, which functioned well into the 20th century.  As young men, my father and great-uncle (Minnie's younger brother Frederic) would go up to the farm in the summers to help out with the farm work. I also recall visiting the farm as a young child, and watching the cows being milked in the barn or grazing quietly in the fields. The relatives who ran the farm are retired now, although the land remains in the family.

Although New York State has lost half of its dairy farmers in the last two decades, and many dairy farms in the State have metamorphosed into wineries, dairy farming is still the largest agricultural industry in New York, making the State the third leading producer of dairy products, behind California and Wisconsin. Dairy farms and dairy animal production in New York generate more than half of the State's agricultural production.

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Minnie may have used sweet milk from her cousin's farm to make this tasty nut bread. It looks like she even got the recipe from the Farleys, who owned the farm. Note the way the baking soda is added to the milk, instead of being sifted into the flour.

Minnie's recipe for nut cake

I modernized the recipe somewhat when I tried it out:

- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)

- 2 tablespoons margarine
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup sweet milk, with 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 cup raisins, slightly chopped
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts

Nut cake ingredients

Preheat oven to 350 F. ; pre-sift flour.
Grease and flour a loaf pan.
Sift together dry ingredients.
Cream together margarine and sugar; add milk  and flour mixtures alternately, beat until well mixed.
Fold in raisins and nuts.
Pour batter into loaf pan and bake until toothpick comes out clean, approximately 40 minutes.

The cake made a tasty treat for the recent holidays:

Nut cake, ready to eat!

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"Early Developments in the American Dairy Industry"; from the Special Collections of the National Agricultural Library. ; accessed January 8, 2012.

Fick, Gary, and W. Cox: "The Agronomy of Dairy Farming in New York State." SCAS Teaching Series No. T95-1, Department of Soil, Crop and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY; June 1995.

Local Government Snapshot: New York's Dairy Industry in Crisis. NYS Office of the State Comptroller, Division of Local Government and School Accountability, March 2010.

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