Household milk

I was thinking about powdered or dried milk the other day; it has a long history, going back to the time of the Mongol hoards and probably beyond, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the nineteenth century that a modern way of producing it was discovered. At times of crisis – small domestic crises or national difficulties dehydrated milk is a valuable store-cupboard stand-by.

Philip Harben in his little book, Cooking Quickly, which was published in 1946 when rationing was still in force and people had to be inventive and creative, writes about dried milk ‘alias powdered or household milk‘ as he describes it.

Dried milk needs the addition of ten times its own weight of water. But this does not bring it back to real milk, because household milk is skimmed, that is to say it has its fat content (cream) removed before the drying process. Moreover, however carefully the mixing process is done, the result is hardly ever a perfect liquid, there is usually a slight powderiness about it, and a small amount of sludge. This is particularity objectionable in tea, the most sensitive of all beverages, for which dried milk is not suitable. Excellent cocoa can, however, be made with powdered milk, and tolerable coffee.

When we were students and often ended up using dried milk because someone had forgotten to buy fresh, or the milk we did have gone sour because we had no refrigerators, we just used to spoon it straight into our drinks. No wonder it didn’t mix well, no wonder it was lumpy and sludgy. Mr Harben offers two ways of reconstituting dried milk:

  1. measure the water and get it hot – but nowhere near boiling. Sprinkle the powdered milk on the surface whilst whisking it with a fork, a whisk or a rotary beater. Pass it through a fine strainer.
  2. put the dried milk in  a basin. Measure the water and warm it well (all mixing processes are done more easily when the ingredients are warm) Add some of the water to the powder and mix it to form a smooth paste. Add more water till the paste becomes a cream, and the cream becomes a liquid when all the water is in. Strain it.

If only we had had a copy of this book! Staying up late and trying to keep awake with mug after mug of coffee, might not have been such a nasty experience!


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