PET milk was a staple in most mid-20th century American South homes. It had as many uses as a coffee can full of bacon juice.
Fortunately, the two were not used interchangeably.
Opening our Frigidaire, you would see that the top shelf of our refrigerator still included a gallon of Borden milk, a stick of Parkay under a clear glass butter dish, and a can of pet milk.
Pet Milk (a brand name for evaporated milk) was the Swiss army knife of a mom’s kitchen. It was used for just about everything.
Running out of pet milk was not something that was allowed, lest the family starve to death.
The most frequent use of pet milk that I can remember was as a creamer in coffee. Sure, you can buy real cream, or even milk a cow and churn the milk until you’ve separated the cream, but Pet Milk was inexpensive and readily available.
A small pointed can opener was all you needed to make a triangular opening on one side of the top of the can and a smaller vent hole on the other.
Once the box was opened, just about anything was possible.
In addition to creamer for your coffee, Pet Milk has been used to make meatloaf, pecan pie, cookies, mashed potatoes, gravy and an endless amount of other recipes from meal.
Even babies used It. Doctors discharged the newborns from the hospital with a recipe for pet milk, Karo syrup and water.
The Pet Milk Company provided it free to families who had multiple births. They shipped it to Cowling’s Grocery in Ashdown, Arkansas, where my grandfather picked it up for my mother and her identical twin.
Many children were raised on this concoction (including this writer).
Pet milk was also used during the Arkansas winters when we made snow ice cream.
Snow ice cream required clean snow on top of my mom’s 1960 model Buick (you learned not to scrape too far for snow lest your ice cream also include a gift from the birds of the piece).
Mix snow with pet milk, sugar, and vanilla extract and you have great homemade ice cream without all those cranks that were usually needed during the summer months.
No-bake desserts were also possible with Pet Milk. A quick and easy was cooked over low heat on the stove. Pet milk, sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla extract made the base, and melted caramel sugar made the filling.
A few hours in the fridge to cool off, and the moms had an easy dessert that went perfectly with fried chicken, potato salad and other menu items for a church dinner in the field.
Other pet milk recipes included Mexican casserole, macaroni and cheese, fudge, and even white bread.
Carnation Milk was a different company that also made evaporated milk, but just like Southerners call all soft drinks a Coke, we call all evaporated milk Pet Milk.
But around the 1980s, something happened. Foo foo coffee became a thing, and with it came foo foo creams. You would go to someone’s house and instead of offering you pet milk in your Folger; they would offer you pumpkin spice and hazelnut cream in a flat white latte macchiato.
This is where the wheels started to come off our culinary stability. Once we lost Pet Milk, all the great Pet Milk recipes followed.
Today, most refrigerators and pantries don’t have pet milk. Our children do not know this good country, and it is time to bring it back.
Let’s start with a coffee creamer option, then the recipe for creme brulee, meatloaf, white bread and the rest. Before the memories of Pet Milk evaporated.
John’s new book, Puns for Groan People, and his books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and vol. 2, are available on its website – TheCountryWriter.comwhere you can also message him and listen to his weekly podcast.