Cormac MacConnell: How rich that milk from the udder tasted

In what will feel like the day after tomorrow, the rising generation, known as the Millenials, will be looking back on their youthful era, walking down their memory’s motorways in the same way as many of us now are led to stray down memory lane.

Cormac MacConnell: How rich that milk from the udder tasted

In what will feel like the day after tomorrow, the rising generation, known as the Millenials, will be looking back on their youthful era, walking down their memory’s motorways in the same way as many of us now are led to stray down memory lane.

In my case, that lane was twisting and turning all the way, had a mane of tough green grass down the centre, and led oftentimes to a byre of 12 or 15 dainty little Ayrshire cows I often helped to milk.

This was milking by hand, of course, and, even though I say so myself, I was handy enough at the job, even though we had no land of our own.

It was the memory of that milking and milk that led me down memory lane a few evenings ago.

Many of ye will recall that era, before milking machines and milking parlours, and all the connected high technology.

Most of ye of that era will have milked many more cows than I ever did.

But I will never forget the times when I pulled the three-legged stool up beside the udder, the iron bucket between my knees, and that unique “stranj-stranj-stranj “ sound when the first warm jets of milk struck the bottom of the bucket.

And with the little Ayrshires, especially the skittish ones, the way you’d bind the tail to the hind leg with its own strands, before beginning, lest you’d be blinded by the hard pellet of dung that was always likely to be adhering to the end of the tail which she would often try to swish at you. Yes, the pure truth again.

And the way the froth would build up on the top of the milk, as the bucket filled up.

And the routine of tipping the full bucket into the cotton-lined strainer unit atop the creamery can.

And the real savoury pleasure of a drink of the warm milk from a porringer before moving on to the next cow.

The richness of that milk!

And bringing a can of it into the house afterwards to sit alongside the teapot inside which the strong tea was always created by the best of tea leaves.

Nobody then would touch teabags. “The sweepings of the factory floor”, the old ones would say, as they downed cups of tea strong enough to trot a mouse on.

Ye remember that tea well. There was no coffee in our houses back then, for sure.

My jaunt down the memory lane of Irish milk down the decades also brought to mind later decades, far away from the little Ayrshires, when household milk arrived each morning early in the milkman’s dinging glass bottles.

In Connemara, you had to rush out and grab that milk

indoors like a shot, before the rooks attacked the silvery foil caps with their sharp beaks and stole away all the cream at the top.

And if they did that, the womenfolk would throw away the milk, because only the Lord knew what dreadful places those rook beaks had been scavenging before they robbed your milk.

Ye remember the inches of rich cream which filled the tops of those bottles; often three or four inches, I recall.

The milk of that era was pasteurised.

Many of the traditional elders in the West did not like that at all. They would claim that “the cows’ breath has been robbed from the milk”.

Then, in the 1970s, there were farmers from the Moycullen area on the edge of Galway city who did brisk business by bringing in cans of milk straight from their cows for willing customers in the suburbs. That trade persisted even after the health authorities clamped down on it.

For all I know, it still survives on some scale, and I would be glad about that. The truth again.

But what triggered this recollection was what happened me at the beginning of this week, when I was required to bring home a litre of milk from the supermarket.

A simple enough job, one might think, but that is not so any more. I was totally dumbfounded and bamboozled by the incredible array of all species of milk which faced me when I stopped in front of them.

For Heaven’s sake, there was enriched milk and light milk and heavy milk and, as if that was not enough, there was, I swear, almond milk and coconut milk and soya milk and chocolate milk, and about a dozen more varieties in their plastic and waxy containers.

Mind-boggling, and so were the prices, which I know bear little resemblance to prices paid by creameries to the dairy farmers of the nation.

Am I right or wrong?

What at all are the processors doing to our cows’ milk nowadays? Is modern milk any healthier, after all the processing, than what this boy used drink from a porringer long ago when it was still warm from the udder?

I don’t know the answer to that one. All I do know is that I passed on all the species of milk before me, and instead bought a carton of the cream which used to come free atop the milk bottles that jingled and jangled on the morning doorsteps of yesterday.

The cream is gone now. I am going to take my coffee black, in a little while and, if I reinforce and cool it with something stronger than that, it is none of your business...

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