I was about sixteen when I first met dried milk… I’m not sure if there was dried baby milk when I was a baby, I was too young to know and certainly my mum fed me herself. At home the milkman always left us three pints of milk a day, two silver top, which I think was like full-fat milk today, and one gold top which was extra creamy and always had a golden top of the milk as well as a golden milk-bottle top. The milkman, when I was very young had a horse and a float, and if we were lucky we were allowed to feed the horse, holding out a crust on a very flattened hand, always a little nervous in case the horse’s big rubbery lips and big yellow teeth nibbled our fingers. I was never very keen on drinking milk, but we had it on cereal, or in puddings or custard, or mixed with cocoa at bedtime… and of course we had it at school. It was marvellous for children that there was a free milk supply, and must have nourished millions of children; however, I hated it unless the weather was cold and the milk was then chilled.
My sister and I belonged to a swimming club, and were both in the team, and through that met a lot of lads from the University who used to swim with us. We also met friends of theirs who didn’t swim, including a huge hairy bloke called Mike Evans. He always walked around bare-foot, which amused my parents. One night we all went back to Mike’s digs, my sister and I and some of our chums and some lads from the Uni including the green-eyed Hamish who I had a fancy for… unreciprocated unfortunately!
We all sat on the floor, or on the narrow bed, or on the desk or single chair, and Mike made us all coffee… and opened a tin of instant milk powder. I was amazed, I never knew such a thing existed! Actually is was all stuck in a lump in the bottom of the jar or tin and he had to chisel it out with a spoon,, and then it didn’t dissolve properly so there were little icebergs of dried milk floating about… An unforgettable experience! But not an unrepeated one – once I was a student myself, up in Manchester at the Polytechnic, I had many similar cups of milk-powder iceberg coffee!
We don’t use dried milk now, we still have a milkman, and we also have a village shop where we can easily get to, buy milk, and get home and add it to our tea or coffee before the tea or coffee has had time to cool! The history of dried milk is much longer than I realised – apparently the Mongolians were producing a type of dehydrated milk over eight hundred years ago – and maybe unreported people were doing it before that. The first ‘modern’ product was by a Russian scientist at the turn of the seventeenth to eighteenth century. What a boon it must have been, to have milk available whatever the climate, or wherever you lived, or whatever other difficulties might interrupt a fresh milk supply, such as war.
Philip Harben, in his 1946 Cooking Quickly book, has a whole section on tinned, packet and dried foods. Although he appreciates dried milk, he clearly is not a great fan ‘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.‘ he doesn’t mention dried milk bergs though!