Top milk is a discovery too tickling to keep to myself. As I flipped through a book of recipes the other day, I came across an entry for the phrase. Top milk? I wondered aloud. I'd never seen the term in print.
- In my head, of course, it was perfectly clear: I'd used a sort of top milk the other day in place of half and half, pouring the cream as best I could from a well-settled jug of milk. A bit of the skimmed liquid fell out as well, mixing with the heavy fat into something reminiscent of the cream that is best in coffee.
- [Main Entry: top milk
- Function: noun
- Date: 1891
: the upper layer of milk in a container enriched by whatever cream has risen]
The date was a decade or so before homogenization and pasteurization changed the look of the milk bottle forever. Before this new milk overshadowed the old raw, Louis Starr dedicated a whole book to the topic of proper milk feeding regimens. To my little patients—some of whom in the rapid passing of time, may soon assume parental duties—this volume is affectionately dedicated, he writes, introducing The Hygiene of the Nursery.
As this 1913 manual described, top milk is procured with a one ounce ladle, scooping the settled cream from a chilled quart bottle and putting it aside for a formula mixture. This milk when used in making a properly combined food mixture gives a proportion of fat to proteins of 2 to 1, he instructs, blending top milk with sugar, lime-water, and water. For the first 6 months of life, he says, this should do any infant well when needed.
While I prefer cake over formula, it's amazing the fun a word can make.
TOP MILK CAKE
(adapted from a recipe I found here)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 by 13 inch Pyrex baking pan and dust lightly with flour. Sift together 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Cream 12 tablespoons butter and 1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Add 3 duck eggs (I found some at the Cohasset Farmers market, but extra large chicken eggs will also do), 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, and mix well. Add 1 cup top milk slowly, mixing batter well as you pour.