Condensed Milk
Oh the delight within!

Condensed milk has been around for generations. I do love the following  snippet, published in an Australian newspaper in 1901;

When condensed milk was first introduced thirty years ago  the idea was scoffed at. The inventor carried the entire daily  supply for New York in a ten-quart pail, delivering it personally to his patrons. He died worth £2,000,000 made out of the business , which has grown to be a gigantic industry.

The New Yorker was Gail Borden,  who took out a patent for the product in 1851. He had heard that children were dying from drinking bad milk and decided to find a  means  of preserving it.

Borden's condensed milk
Original Borden’s tin.

Borden’s process prove a boon in WWI.  Here in Australia collections were taken up  by charities to buy condensed milk for the ‘Belgium Babies’, as well as for our troops fighting in the trenches.

Of course it was also  the perfect product for this vast country,  when fresh milk was  unavailable in remote locations. No doubt it still is.  The first time I ever tasted it was when a gang of road builders   camped on our farm. I’m ashamed to say that I crept into their tent and ate some from an open tin. I was about seven then, and I’ve loved the stuff  ever since.

I’m not the only one to give into temptation;;
As a treat, my father used to buy my siblings and I a tin of condensed milk on our birthdays. I thought this was unusual, but no, it seems many Australians were given condensed milk as a quirky  gift. We would punch a hole in either side of the top and slurp away happily for hours.  Must have been terrible for our teeth.

I recently mentioned condensed milk on my  Australian Social History  FB page, and the response was amazing.  Someone posted an old cartoon.

Condensed milk cooking disaster
‘Name and address supplied’, I love that. (Trove)

There was a wonderful story  on the page from  Yvette Luckock. She told me that when her mother boiled the copper for the weekly wash the kids would throw in a tin. Perhaps they should have stuck to this technique. Her brother tried boiling one on a fuel stove and yes…another explosion.

Jillian Arnold said that she  and her brother used to hide under the house with a tin of the milk and a packet of jelly crystals;

‘We would have  a mouthful of the milk and then sprinkle the jelly crystals in our mouth. Mum knew we were taking them, but she just couldn’t work out where we were. Poor Mum! Many a recipe had to be abandoned because the ingredients were missing.’

Dennis Johnson told me that he grew up adoring fresh bread spread with  pure butter, and then the thick sweet milk on top,

Speaking of recipes, here are a few from the old days.

In March 1950 Mrs O. Balmer  won the Brisbane Telegraph’s recipe competition with her Condensed Milk Shortbread.  Would the Scots call this sacrilege?  Personally I think it  compares quite well  to battered Mars Bars!

Take 4 oz  butter, 5 teaspoons sweetened condensed milk, teaspoon vanilla essence, 1 cup plain flour, pinch of salt.  Cream the butter and condensed milk then mix in the other ingredients. Grease a flat tin, pack the mixture into it, pressing with a fork. Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes. Cut into slices when cool.

Here are some more recipes dating from the early  1950s. I haven’t tried them, but they sound good, especially the coconut strips.  Pretty  simple, too.

Coconut Strips – A slice of day-old white bread,  ¾ inch (2cm)  thick. Trim off crusts. Cut into  strips ¾ inch  (2cm)  by 2 inch (5cm ) long.  Spread strips on all sides with condensed milk, covering well. Then roll in dessicated coconut. Brown under griller at low heat, or toast on fork over coals.

Date Crunchies – One and a third cups sweetened condensed milk. 2 cups biscuit crumbs, 1 cup pitted dates,  1 teaspoon cinnamon. Thoroughly blend condensed milk, biscuit crumbs, dates and cinnamon. Drop spoonfuls on buttered baking sheet. Bake in moderate oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from baking sheet at once.

Spice Drops – One and a third cups sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup treacle, pinch salt, 2½ cups cereal flakes, ½ cup chopped nuts, ½ cup chopped raisins,½ teaspoon each of cinnamon and powdered ginger. Place condensed milk, treacle and salt in a double boiler. Stir constantly over boiling water until mixture thickens (about 8 minutes). Cool. Add cereal flakes, chopped nuts, raisins and spice and blend thoroughly. Drop spoonfuls on buttered baking sheet. Bake in moderate oven about 15 minutes. Remove from sheet immediately.

I should add that most people used condensed milk to make salad dressing ……. and many  still do. Horrible!   Here is the recipe, although sharing it is totally against my better judgement;

Condensed milk mayonnaise

It had never occurred to me that this  sugary  delight could be incorporated in a summer drink, but apparently it  features in  an  Indonesian ‘mocktail’ called  Soda gembira  (happy soda).    

Soda gembira (happy soda)
I could make this and pretend I’m in Bali

Condensed milk in a tube was a later innovation, easier to get at by the very young. I love this memory of her son by Marie Jones.   ‘I remember if my toddler went missing I always knew where to find him. Could see his little feet sticking out the bottom of the fridge while sucking on a tube of condensed milk.’

Condensed milk in a tube.
I prefer the traditional  tin  of milk myself.

Before I finish, I must share George Orwell’s  experience  with condensed milk.  During the Great Depression, he joined a gang of down-and-out Londoners about  to go hop picking in Kent. In Trafalgar Square, tea (of a sort)  was on offer to all-comers;

‘The milk is condensed milk at 2½d a tin. You jab two holes in the tin with a knife., apply your mouth to one of them and blow, whereupon a sticky greyish stream dribbles from the other. The holes are then plugged with chewed paper, and the tin is kept for days, becoming coated with dust and filth.’   

Oh dear me!

It’s so easy to become nostalgic about foodstuffs. One of the most visited stories on this website is about old recipe books; SIFTED AND STIRRED

A COME-BACK?……Update November 2021.

My partner and I were dining at City Tatts in Sydney recently and what was on the menu as an entree? 😎 Steamed dumplings with condensed milk. And yes, I ordered them.

  1. Pauline, I thought you had good taste… and yet you don’t like the salad dressing..conensed milk, mustard and a splash of white vinegar… I just added condensed milk to my shopping list.

  2. Brought back lots of memories. My mother used to buy it to make salad dressing (similar to Crissouli’s). We weren’t supposed to eat it otherwise but she did make an exception when one of us kids was sick. Then we were allowed to eat it out of the tin with a spoon. What joy!
    (It’s a miracle I still have all my teeth!)

    • Pauline

      Oh, I love that, Christine…..condensed milk for sick kids. I seem to remember we made salad dressing from boiled egg yolks and cream.

      • I just spoke to my 90 y.o. Mum in NZ on the phone. Her salad dressing:
        1/2 pint cream
        1 tin condensed milk
        1 tsp dry mustard
        Shake pepper & salt
        Brown vinegar to taste
        Mix all together, adding the vinegar last, tasting it until it was ‘just right’!
        Store in an airtight container in the fridge, and it would last all Summer.

        We all loved it but she stopped making it a few years before Dad passed away, as she felt it probably was a bit rich for him.

        • Pauline

          Well I will have to counter with the nearest one I can find to my Mum’s with the egg yolk, Christine. It was pretty runny and used to pour over thinly sliced iceberg lettuce. Oh dear. Topped with tomato slices and slices of hard boiled egg. Never varied in 40 years.

          • My Mum was sure there was no egg in it but at 90 her memory isn’t as good as it was. We certainly had the thinly sliced iceberg lettuce but the dressing was so thick you could stand the spoon up in it 🙂

          • Pauline

            I think the egg yolk one was completely different.

  3. They were exciting and delicious days. I loved Condensed Milk. We had a big supply because we lived in the country and fresh milk from 1 cow was all we had. If she ran dry for whatever reason we opened up another tin of condensed milk. I loved your stories.

    • Pauline

      I think my mother tended to use powdered milk as a back-up, Heather. Not nearly as special, although we did eat it by the spoonful.

  4. My Mum did say it was her own recipe which surprised me, as she was a very safe, traditional cook.

  5. Two memories evoked (thanks Pauline!)
    Someone we called Cousin Jack who was abandoned by some other relatives and reared as their own by my grandparents
    was said to have been brought back to health and strength thanks entirely to condensed milk.
    My father’ s contribution to our Xmas dinner was parsnips mashed with condensed milk – delicious.

    • Pauline

      I’ll soon be able to write an entire book about condensed milk, Barbara. Parsnips mashed with it sounds wonderful. Poor cousin Jack, I’m glad he thrived!

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