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Voicing Silence 7

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Memories of food - Milkmaid


There are few things that taste as good in real life as they do in nostalgia. Reminiscing about food somehow has the strange effect of cancelling out such pointless concerns as calorie counts and hygiene issues that often plague real life savouring experiences. However, there are a couple of exceptions that almost always taste as good in real life as they do when dreaming about them in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon budget presentation. One of them is masal vadai. There has never been an occasion when the experience of sinking my teeth into one has been anything other than exceptionally joyous. The second exception to this rule is condensed milk. Or to give it its brand-turned-generic name – Milkmaid.

Growing up, we rarely had any tinned food. Milkmaid was perhaps the only ingredient that came in a tin. And the opening of one such tin was a ceremony deserving of its own Olympics. First, there would be a crowbar with large piece of smooth stone on one end and a stubborn tin on the other. The stone would pound away leaving several craters on the tin lid. Then a knife would be procured in an attempt to pry it open. And after much wrestling, the tin – now sadly resembling a teenager’s acne-ridden skin – would be leaking its sticky sweet condensed milk. A dash would be made to gather its nectar in a bowl before it fell to the ground and was wasted. Finally, the tin would be held upside down for a very long time – sometimes hours even – so that every last drop of its contents was harvested. This inaugural drama would only make Milkmaid – like its eponymous maid who plays hard-to-get - even more desirable.

Anyone who has ever had a slim thread of condensed milk poured onto their palms from a heavily pierced tin of Milkmaid would know exactly in their heart what heaven tastes like. It is liquid bliss. And as a child, I would yearn months and months for this all-too-rare treat. Although Milkmaid was an essential ingredient in payasam, it would have to be a very special occasion for the payasam to earn its Milkmaid. With the result that it would sometime be just once-a-year that I could have it piled onto my palm and lick it clean before it slithered down my elbow. And there was never enough of it. And what will we add to the payasam? would be the constant retort whenever I asked for more.

Why payasam when milkmaid would have done admirably well on its own as a sweet? I’ve often wondered. And it remains a mystery to-date. Wouldn’t serving us cups of milkmaid done the job just as beautifully? What was the need to cook it and distress it out of shape? So much so that there would rarely be any trace of Milkmaid’s original rich, gooey sweetness in the payasam I would get to eat afterwards. There would be far too many things vying for my attention – wispy cardamom and saintly saffron among others demanding my consideration. That the pale Milkmaid, the lifeblood of this creation, the matriarch of this dish would sadly go unacknowledged, forgotten.

And so to redress years of injustice, this Deepavali, I served up something special. Something pure, something raw. Little thimbles of paradise. Milkmaid. Nothing added, nothing taken away. Cynics would suggest that I was just plain lazy to dress it up as a halwa or a kheer. But what do they know? They can go to hell. Me? I’ve tasted heaven.

26 comments:

Prithivi said...

OH MY GOD i totally agree --- but amma always used it to make custard .... and inevitably the reminder would be put in the fridge and i would sneak some into my mouth.... Also another thing i dont kno if u have ever tired it --- its thai specialty --- they add milkmaid to black coffee --- if ur a coffee lover my my its truly coffee heaven esp. if its cold ....

The Muser said...

OMG!! Felt like you were speaking about my childhood days! :)

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Having Milkmaid straight outta the tin is so yummmm...

This is some drool post!

-Nikhil

Blue Bike said...

oh ya ... my mom used to add it to cakes ... recently I've been chopping apples into small bits and adding milkmaid to it ... yummy :)

Premalatha said...

never tasted milk maid. :-)

curdriceaurora said...

cheating. i was making kalakhand yesterday and was missing this secret ingredient and today i see this. cheating

Madura said...

Milkmaid - mmm yummy. We luckily had sreevillipuththoor palkova to yearn for, since milkmaid we got to see only once in 5 years or so! :) I still remember the bicycle wallah who brought those Rs.2 palkova packages on some evenings and remember rushing to see him, standing at the door step, and wondering if I can ask amma or not - those moments between longing and licking the cover - nothing like it in adult life!!! :)

Onkar Joshi said...

I've never had Milkmaid. But I'm gonna buy a tin today. :-)

Iya said...

i so totally agree...i buy milkmaid open the tin and keep it in the fridge... every now and then a spoon goes in it and then into my mouth...
each time i buy milkmaid i pormise myself that i'll make some or the other sweet out of it but that hasnt happened for a while now...
ps: came here via desi pundit..

VnP said...

guess where around Rs.50 is gonna go from my wallet?
Ha! I am really drooling now. This has opened a can of nostalgia really. My aunt used to scold me for finishing up milkmaid.

Inba's Corner said...

Milkmaid off a dhonnai does sound interesting. Does it cloy after the first few spoonfuls? I wouldn't know, for I was never allowed anything beyond the surreptitious licks. Have you tried the tube version of Milkmaid? Not a patch on the tin!

neha vish said...

Loved this post Ammani! I used to steal the milkmaid tin and run inside and eat up copious amounts of it. No spoon, just bare fingers.

I want milkmaid.. now!

Manasi said...

I'm in Milkmaid tinted nostalgia now, for the rest of the day. And I so remember the painstaking effort to open the tin. We had a special dull knife for piercing the lid...and it was an artform. You had to go around the lid carefully, with even pressure so as to not sink in the knife too deep or not to make too shallow a dent. I got so good at it that I was the official can opener for dusty blue Kraft cheese cans,tuna, Milkmaid and the ocassional Baked Beans. Aah, worthless childhood lessons :)

maxdavinci said...

a lot of ppl these days use milkmaid to speeden the therattipaal process.

fantastic post, loads of memories!

Sushruta said...

I used to wait for my birthday not cos of anything else but the milkmaid can which i was allowed to lick off using my fingers with be careful thrown in between. The cake for which it was used was secondary treat. I didnt mind nicking my finger. And now no matter how many tins and tubes i stock and finish in one night...it just doenst taste that same :)

RohitS said...

Great writing on a great topic...MILKMAID....yummy milkmaid..i remember every bit of it...asking mom to add MM everytime she would make Kheer...opening the tin was always a tough job..but as soon as the hole was made sweet milky gooey MM would start oozing out. For better flow we used to make two holes in the tin opposite to each other so that air could go in and out. The left over would be kept in the fridge only to be discovered empty the next time mom decides to make kheer.....made me nostalgic.

Blogeswari said...

Amul condensed milk - easy to open can and all that... but doesn't come anywhere close to Nestle Milkmaid.

Anda tin-a open panni, ada nakki saapadradu tani sugam

Mala said...

Hi! Just came across your blog. You've got me craving now - I am running to the store as soon as I get out of work.

whoelsebutme said...

hey...amazing post :) keep them coming:)

maid said...

MM quicktale
------------
It was grandpa who used to say, "Save the last bit for my favourite granddaughter..."

Grandma wanted to empty the contents for payasam and came up with valid reasons every time...

"but maapilai is coming today, we need the whole tin"

"but it's varsha purappu, we need the whole tin"

"but it's varadu's 60th birthday, we need the whole tin..."

Her meek old Grandpa stood firm against grandma. One of the few times he dared to.

He smiled as his granddaughter polished off the spoils of the sweet victory.
**
The day her grandpa died, her husband found her crying, while licking off milkmaid from a spoon.

That day the milkmaid tasted like plain milk.

And for her, it has tasted the same ever since.

Sangeetha said...

We din't have can openers back then! I remember the crowbar and stone effort. The din't have "calories" back then too! So you could just lick as much as you want!!!!

Neon said...

milkmaid! its been so long since ive had it that i completely forgot about it. the disadvantages of living in the us, but will dig through the indian store today to find a can

Artnavy said...

were u the sister i never had??
WOW. I love dry but sweetened milk powder too

did u know milkmaid is available here now in squeeze tubes for kids (and grown ups ) to pour it into their mouths easily

but without having to work to open the tin, half the fun is gone

just another mommy said...

I used to prefer milkmaid on palm too - till I had it one day on toast! Heaven #2 I tell you!

My mom used to keep the remaining condensed milk in the fridge and by the time she got to it in couple of days, me and my dad would've licked it clean!

Anand Ramachandran's Evil Twin said...

Remember those 'Cocount Laddoos' from the ads? Every kid in the country bladed their moms to make some!

deepa said...

I need some milkmaid right now, You brought back so many memories, rarely have I lusted over anything as much as this nectar and now to hell with my tryint-to-rein-in-weight measure. I'm gonna git myself some of 'em tins. Yes, siree!