Milk and Cream: How Rich was the Milk?

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Tuesday, July 2, 1912:  Ruth tried to deceive me this morning about the quantity and richness of Mollie’s milk. I had saved some last evening to see how rich it was, and Rufus dumped nearly all of it out and filled it up with cream. Wasn’t she mean?

Photo source: The Farm Dairy (1908) by H. B. Gurler

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hmm—I grew up on a dairy farm and I barely understand this diary entry, but I’ll give a whirl at trying to explain it.

Each of the Muffly children apparently had their own cow—and Mollie was Grandma’s cow.

Milk that has not been homogenized separates after sitting for awhile. The cream floats on top of the skim milk.

Cream is worth more than skim milk because it can be used to make butter.

Cows vary in the ratio of cream to milk that they produce. And, cows that produce lots of cream were considered more valuable.

Here’s a quote from a 1908 book about the importance of having cows that produce a lot of cream (butter-fat).

A cow that produces less than 200 lbs. of butter per year should not be kept in the herd, and the 200-lb. cow should only be retained in such a time as is necessary to secure a better one. No one will become rich milking 200-lb. cows.

You can afford to pay $130 for a cow that will make 250 lbs. of butter yearly as to pay $30 for a cow that will only produce butter-fat to make 200 lbs. of butter.

The Farm Dairy  by H.B. Gurler

Grandma probably wanted to know if her cow Mollie was a profitable cow. Her sister Ruth (also called Rufus in this entry) apparently decided to tease her—by making it look as if Mollie was an exceptional cow who produced almost all cream.

14 thoughts on “Milk and Cream: How Rich was the Milk?

  1. That Rufus was pretty old to be picking on her poor little sister so much. We used to keep goats and their milk doesn’t separate out so easily.

    1. The sisters do seem old to tease each other this way. Grandma was 17; Ruth was 20.

      I think I heard somewhere that goat milk that is sold in stores isn’t homogenized because it doesn’t separate.

  2. Although my ancestors were also farmers, I grew up in the Southwest, away from farm life, so I’m learning a whole lot from your blog, which is wonderful … thank you!

  3. I have a feeling that the term “Rufus” was a ephemism for a “foxy” (red fox) or “little devil” … sly and caniving… Rufus (meaning red) often had that sort of connotation…

  4. I never grew up on a farm, but I remember the milk man leaving milk on the porch and the cream would separate and in some weather pop the top of the milk up. Milk back then had such a variation of uses, from buttermilk onward that I miss today.

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