Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Condensed Version

In 1851, while on a trip from England to the United States, a farmer named Gail Borden was distressed by the deaths of several children on board, allegedly due to contaminated milk from the ship's cow. Bringing a cow along was the only way to ensure a milk supply on long voyages and the animals frequently sickened from cramped, unsanitary quarters and bad fodder. Borden wondered; canned fruits and vegetables had been on the market since the 1820's so why couldn't milk be canned, as well?

When he got home, he began tinkering with various ways of preserving milk, and after many failures eventually adapted a process the Shakers used for condensing fruit juice through evaporation. The product was introduced under the Borden name as "Eagle Brand Condensed Milk" in 1856 and Borden insisted that his milk suppliers maintain rigorous standards of cleanliness.

In the days before pasteurization and government inspections, the quality of fresh milk that could be purchased by city families was generally poor. Vendors routinely adulterated milk, to the point where middle class families were urged to keep their own cow rather than risk exposing their children to chalk, dirty water, and Lord knows what else.

Borden's condensed milk soon earned a reputation for purity and wholesomeness, and sales really took off when Federal quartermasters began ordering huge quantities to supplement the Union Army's nutritionally horrible rations. It could be stored for long periods of time, it was more easily transported than any other form of milk, and it was cheap. The use of "canned cow" spread across the North American continent as a healthy and economical substitute for the real thing (which very often was unobtainable).

My generation remembers Elsie and Elmer, the Borden spokescows, very well. Alas, although the trademarked Eagle Brand is still with us, the Borden name was phased out after the company was sold in 1995. One wonders how many thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) of children owed their life to Farmer Borden and his miracle milk.

NOTE: do not use evaporated milk for these recipes. Evaporated milk is made by a different process, is not as heavily sweetened, and won't work.

Coconut Macaroons

2/3 cup Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
3 cups shredded coconut
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract

Mix everything together and drop by tablespoonfuls on a well-greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes, just until they start to brown around the edges. Slide them off the baking sheet immediately to cool, or you'll be sorry.

Chocolate chip macaroons can be made by using 2 cups of coconut and 1 cup of chocolate chips. These are the ultimate guilty pleasure; simple to make, sinfully rich and sweet, and bad for you.

Magic French Fudge

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, in pieces
1/3 cup plus 1 T Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
pinch salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over boiling water, stirring until it is melted. Add the condensed milk, salt, vanilla extract, and nuts (if desired). Stir just until the mixture is smooth. Spread it evenly in a 9x9 inch pan lined with well-buttered waxed paper or aluminum foil and chill in the refrigerator. Easy and achingly sweet.

(Borden trade-card image from Dover).


Celeste said...

OMG. Condensed milk. You are evil! 8-)

In New Orleans, where I grew up, condensed milk was also used as a topping on snow balls (i.e., snow cones in other parts of the country, but snow cones are somewhat different really).

Condensed milk on a nectar snow ball. HEAVEN.

Shay said...

my teeth hurt just thinking about it!

Melissa said...

The recipe for fudge is one I'm incredibly familiar with. As a university student on an athletic team, we do a lot of bake sales as fundraisers, and in a dorm kitchen it's not particularly easy to bake. But throw a bag of chocolate chips in a bowl, stick it in the microwave for long enough to melt, stir in a can of condensed milk, and you've got the easiest bake sale dish you'll ever be able to think of.

Also, since it's fudge, people are always impressed!