Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Getting saucy (in the most boring way possible)

Ready to step back in time? I mean way back-- back to when it was a big deal to promise that milk was cooled, screened, and held "remote from the stable" until it was processed into "pure, safe milk" (italics from original)? I'm not sure when this Borden's Evaporated Milk Book of Recipes came out. The inside cover specifies it's from "The Borden Company"-- a name they took in 1919. The mascot we all associate with Borden-- Elsie-- makes no appearance, and she joined in 1936. So this booklet is probably from the 1920s or early 1930s.

I love the mostly blue cover with the pops of red and yellow. The tree-lined landscape at the top looks so peaceful, and I like the very subtle product placement of the can of evaporated milk in the kitchen scene at the bottom. 

The recipes themselves are exactly what I expect from this time-- mostly desserts that sound fine and very bland-sounding main dishes, which feature white sauce with unsurprising frequency. I guess I'm kind of surprised to see nuts in the Veal and Nut Croquettes.

The croquettes I see usually feature meats or vegetables on their own, so adding walnuts to meat seems like a bit of a novelty. That's the level of innovation you get with this booklet.

The book tries to get a bit fancy with Oyster Poulette.

Instead of plain old white sauce, the sauce is turned into poulette sauce by the addition of the egg yolks. (The name also makes me half-expect this to turn into a craft project requiring the cook to somehow sculpt the oysters so they will appear to be tiny chickens, but no such luck!)

There's nothing particularly unusual about the Salmon or Tuna Fish Salad, but I was amused by the typo in this one.

Good old "Eggless Mayonnaise juice"! Doesn't that sound delicious? (I'm pretty sure that "juice" was supposed to be one line down, after "lemon.")

The color illustrations add to the book's charm, like this picture of a salmon entrĂ©e. 

The fancy serving platter seems like it's straight from grandma's house (as does the garnish of white sauce and hard-cooked eggs).

Lest you think any of the recipes in this could be too exciting, the salmon is simply steamed.

Well, it is dusted lightly with salt and pepper before steaming, so I'm sure it's bursting with flavor. But hey, at least it gets garnished with actual white sauce, containing traces of real butter. The Halibut Baked in Milk doesn't even get that.

The fish is just dusted lightly with flour, salt, pepper, and "a sprinkling of minced parsley" before baking in diluted evaporated milk, which while baking should "be thickened by the flour and act as a delicious sauce." I'm sure it will be a sauce, anyway, but I'm having a really hard time imagining canned milk thickened with a bit of fishy flour could really be described as "delicious."

The standards, of course, were different back then. If knowing that your milk was unlikely to be contaminated by cow shit, for example, was a big deal, then maybe even the plainest white sauce was way more exciting than I'm giving it credit for....


  1. Roughly 100 years later and bunches of people want their milk raw from the cow. Hopefully we don't revert back to flavorless foods, too.

    1. Some people always want to revert to past practices that are firmly in the past for good reason. It's easy to romanticize or minimize problems one hasn't witnessed firsthand.