The votes are in.

And by overwhelming response, the consensus is that yes, there was a time when simple (or simpler) farm cream was widely available. Granted, most of the people who’ve sent me email the last day or two are from places like Vermont and Wisconsin, but even so, it seems clear that local dairies did once provide us with milks and creams that were as consistent — and much better tasting — than what most of us now have access to. I’ve been inundated by emails, especially from older readers, talking about the dairying practices they witnessed in their childhoods. Here is but one example:

In the 1940’s our milk was delivered from a local dairy (there were actually several to choose from) by a horse drawn van. We lived in a small to medium sized town, the trash was picked up by horse drawn wagon and ice was also delivered by a horse drawn van. We didn’t even own a car, local transportation was by shoe leather or street car, longer distances by bus or train. No phone, cold running water only, hot water solely heated on a coal fired kitchen stove, no indoor sanitation facilities and a wash tub that doubled as a bath tub. We made our own soap. Chicken house in the back yard and of course the ubiquitous vegetable garden. We weren’t particularly poor, that’s just the way it was then for common folk.

Milk was delivered in quart heavy glass bottles with a paper lid insert. Each bottle of milk would have about 1-1/2 inch of cream on top, in the winter the cream would sometimes be partially frozen slush.That cream was often skimmed off to make hand whipped cream, used in coffee, cake icings and so on. Of course it wasn’t homogenized, not certain if it was pasteurized but would think it would have been by that time. Quality of the product? Absolutely top quality. The dairy grew all its own feed for the cows (be called organic today). My friend was the son of the manager of the farm portion. We played in the barns and helped put in hay, grains and shucked corn for 5 cents a bushel. The producing cows were fed beautiful timothy/alfalfa hay and also several pounds of ground grain at each milking.

Had we heard the term “skim milk” or “2% milk” we would have been dumbfounded. Why was milk delivered? Because grocery stores didn’t have refrigerated and frozen food was yet to come. Seafood on ice (from the town ice plant) was all that I remember was refrigerated. About a half dozen butchers in town provided meats. Can you imagine today buying a chicken with its entrails still inside and feet still on? Bet today there isn’t one housewife in 100,000 that can draw a chicken.

Did quality dairy products ever exist? Unless I have become senile and don’t know it, no question about it .

As a fellow who has a lot of experience working with food producers of various sizes (my day job), I’m quick to defend modern food production techniques from what I see as unfair attacks. However in this case it does seem quite clear that the quest for large-scale efficiency has cost us something. And that’s a pity. No wonder so few people really love panna cotta anymore!

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