Saturday, June 13, 2009

"Here's to the Milk in the Little Red Can"

For Lack of A Better Title

I don't dislike all evaporated milk. It certainly has its uses, it's handy to store for long periods without refrigeration, it's (relatively speaking) cheaper than whole milk, volume for volume. It's fortified and enriched with all sorts of necessary vitamins, etc. I keep at least a half-dozen cans in my cupboard. I nearly always use it when making potato soup, for instance, which I truly like and willingly eat year-round. I often add straight-from-the-can evaporated milk when making other dishes and baked goods.

My long-standing (70 years) revulsion dislike of a certain brand of evaporated milk has its origin in circumstances surrounding my kindergarten experience, reported yesterday, in Fall, 1939.

Faithful reader Snowbrush (thank you) asked in a comment if I was required to consume said evaporated milk in an undiluted condition. He was right on the mark, except for the "required" part! However, let me hasten to say that it was not anyone at the school that was responsible for my lifelong aversion to this particular product.

Herein hangs the tale.

I have already reported that I walked home from my kindergarten class. After a few days, I realized that one of my classmates was walking the same route. Her home was closer to school than mine, so we generally walked along together until we reached her front gate, at which time I would continue the remaining few blocks alone. (White picket-fence gates can cause me to have the shivers sometimes, too.)

As you read this story, keep in mind that this was 1939, not quite the tail-end of the Great Depression, and there were many people, including children, who were thin and generally malnourished, not necessarily because of the lack of purchasable items, but because of a lack of funds with which to do so. I'm sure my family fell into this category. (An aside: my mama told me not many years before she died that she would ride the bus across the Rio Grande to Juarez, Mexico to buy much of what we ate because the dollar-to-Peso rate was very favorable at that time. She said she always bought all our meat in Mexico, and didn't know, and didn't care, much, if the meat was beef, goat, horse, cat, or dog. Meat was meat and she couldn't afford to buy it in El Paso. Only God knows what I've actually eaten in my life.)

Back to the white picket-fence gate.

My walking companion's mother would always meet her at the gate, with an open can of "***" brand evaporated milk in her hand, which she would hand to her daughter with a big smile on her face, and stand there while said child (whose name I have obliterated from my memory forgotten) drank the entire can of milk -- unchilled and definitely undiluted! That was OK by me. Said child evidently relished it and it was their routine, her after-school snack, as it were. I would wave goodbye and continue on my way.

All was well until the day her mother was waiting at the gate with TWO opened cans of milk in her hands. No doubt she had taken pity on my scrawny and undernourished appearance and figured that few extra calories would be good for me! She handed me a can of milk. I placed it to my lips and took a sip.

Yech! Urp! Phewey! And any other nasty descriptor you care to add. I don't know (and I don't care) what vitamins and other swell stuff "***" added to their milk, or how wonderful this could be in the way of nutrition, to me that was the most foul-tasting, foul-smelling, unpalatable liquid that had ever passed my lips. But, under the watchful eyes of the mother, who stood there smiling at me like Cruella de Vil, I drank the whole thing, and said "Thank you" just like my mother had taught me. Then, I went home and threw up -- several times.

"Cruella" tried several more times to entice me to share her daughter's afternoon treat, but I screamed and hollered and threw myself on the sidewalk politely declined. I'm sure she despaired of my continued existence as my family, evidently, was too poor to feed me properly.

To this day, I cannot tolerate "***" evaporated milk. Like some scanning electronic sensor, I can detect one part in a trillion (perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.) The most bitter and or fragrant coffee cannot hide it from my taste buds and olfactory nerves. I can detect it when it has been used in baked goods. I can tell if there is an open can in anyone's kitchen.

Hide your eyes, male readers, if there are any of you, or skip the following sentences. When my baby son had to be placed on formula because of some physical problems I was having producing breast milk, the doctor gave me the directions to making formula with "***" milk. I begged and pleaded until he agreed that "C********" evaporated milk would be acceptable for the formula. What was going on? Did "***" give the doctors a kick-back for recommending their product for baby formula? I'm joking, I'm joking!!! Please don't sue me!

I still see "***" evaporated milk in the grocery stores, so someone must be buying it. If you, Dear Reader, are one of those, I applaud you, and wish you well. You are a braver soul than I. Please accept my apologies for maligning your favorite brand of evaporated milk. However, whenever I see it, I avert my eyes and cross quickly to the other side of the aisle.

I leave you with a big of doggerel that must have started making the rounds in the 1930's.

"Here's to the milk in the little red can.
The best milk in all the land.
No cow to milk,
No hay to pitch,
Just stick a knife in the --------
little red can."


Sniffles and Smiles said...

Oh, no wonder you don't like it!!! What a tale!!! My husband had a similar experience with brussel sprouts!!! Needless to say, he still can't stomach them!! Just wanted to tell you how wonderful your stories are, and how very well you tell them! I thoroughly enjoy them all! Love to you, take care of yourself, and I will catch up with you later!!! ~Janine XO

Anonymous said...

What a good story. I'm dying to know the brand of milk....wondering if by chance I'm using it and just don't know something that you know! :-))
You write a great story. I can't wait to come back and read more. Thanks for sharing....

Jeannelle said...

Oh, Pat, what a great story! An experience from an entirely different era than now.....very eye-opening for me to read this. I have no idea what brand it is, either, Carnation and Meadow Gold being the only ones I can think of off hand.

Arkansas Patti said...

Well written again Pat. I did not know you had to drink it undiluted. Yikes. It was awful diluted with water the way we drank it. Mother used to add sugar to make it palatable. Didn't work. It used to make me gag also.
I adored my "rich"friends who had whole milk.
Great post.

jinksy said...

What a hoot - evaporated milk was a real treat to me in my childhood. Loved it when used to make custard, or simply pored over jelly (preferably lime flavoured). I also loved the National Dried Milk powder that was rationed out for kids. As both I and my brother were breast fed, the tall tins of powder were used for all kinds of family treats instead. My grown up cousin used some to make wicked Mintos (mint flavoured milk candy).

Anonymous said...

The only way I can take Evaporated milk is on tinned peaches; they were the one luxury item that seemed to be available in wartime Britain and we had them for Sunday tea time.

I feel for your trauma.

Snap said...

Great story and no wonder you don't like it! I like it in *stuff* but don't like the smell. Picky, picky!

NitWit1 said...

All evaporated milk tastes the same YUCKO, except being the perverted foodaholic I am, I love to eat CONDENSED milk out of the can.

Haven't done that lately. Condensed milk makes good Texas pecan roll which cannot be made with evaporated milk.

Patty said...

I to this day will not use canned milk in any recipe, no matter the brand. Have one in-law that loves the stuff in their coffee, I say they drink the canned milk with a splash of coffee, they use so much to color it. I believe all of our kids formula was made by using Pet canned milk.

But drinking it straight from the can, and not even chilled must have been horrible. I don't care what brand it might have been.

Great story.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Oh, I don't blame you at all. Just the thought of ti makes me gag.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi Pat, What a story!!!! It's no wonder you don't like that ***Evaporated milk... I wouldn't either!!!!

I remember that my mother made that horrible powdered milk when I was a child. It was the WORST---and I have never used it since.


Rose said...

This was a wonderful read...