Sites to Visit Before You Die (or go home for the day): Dairy Goodness

Now look, I understand that retro has become something of a force for evil in the modern age.  I’m not sure when it really started to dig in, but there was some point in the 1990s when it became entirely acceptable for the year you were born to be way more cool than the year that you were living in.  What was to blame for it?  The Spice Girls?  The Backstreet Boys?  Grunge as the only acceptable alternative?

I don’t know, don’t look at me.  I wasn’t cool when I was born, and I’m not cool now.  I have no idea.  I still play Tetris on the N64 just because I like the music — I am not the person to ask about trends.

The important thing is that somehow we have lost our way with retro fun, taking it from a place where we’d celebrate the hazily-remembered awesomeness of our youth to one where it is represented all-too-accurately in the present.  Did we need to re-live The Dukes of Hazzard quite so completely?  Was anyone really crying out for a full-screen realization of The Transformers?  Will this generation be any more impressed with The Green Hornet than mine was?  It’s almost as though, now that we have the chance, we get to live out the fantasy of living out the answers to those discussions that always started with, “But you know what would be REALLY COOL…?”

But just because television producers insist on dragging out bad old television shows and updating them into bad NEW television shows, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems to be dug out of the good old days — some of them particularly precious.

Behold, Dairy Goodness.

Anyone who grew up in Canada probably remembers getting a Milk Calendar in the mail around the Christmas holidays.  It was just another sign of the season, one of the few decorations to go up when everything else was coming down, at least to those of us with parents who were loath to turn down anything free.  The Milk Calendar was a never-subtle reminder that dairy was an incredibly important to our lives, an inescapable component of growing up healthy, the omnipresent companion at breakfast and lunch and dinner.

Remember cereal commercials when you were young, showing you what was thought of as The Complete Breakfast?  That must have been fifteen thousand calories worth of food, once you threw in the toast, grapefruit, orange juice, cereal and liter of milk you were expected to take down.

“We’re not scared, Count!”  Then you’re braver than I am, kids.  Jesus.

That was the dominant position that milk had at the time, and yet they were wise enough to keep advancing their cause.  The Milk Calendar was a way to make sure that every single day, you were looking at a recipe that featured cheese, creamed cheese, milk, cottage cheese, milkshakes or something delicious that would only eventually cripple you with lactose intolerance.

Happily, the tradition lives on today, though hamstrung by the modern-day pandering to “healthy eating”, “fat consciousness” and “enzyme deficiencies.” actually provides a digital version of the milk calendar, including visual versions of each recipe that are text-resizble, printable and even shareable on whatever social networks your Mom may have figured out so far.  But such is not its true majesty, oh no.

The real joy of Dairy Goodness is in the archives.  A trip to the bottom of the page will take you to a slider bar, where you can go back in time and start all the way back in 1974, to the glorious days when everything seemed slightly yellow-orange, and someone thought it would actually make sense to propose a daily diet of cream-based soups.

IT IS AWESOME.  I really can’t contain my enthusiasm for this, and it’s not like I love milk so much.  Granted, Tina would probably die if she wasn’t fed cheese every other day, but to me this is such a wonderful and direct pipeline to my early childhood that I almost can’t bear it.  Go on and take a look, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

There are recipes for cocktails on there, for heaven’s sake!

Look at this guy:  Here is a bull with around a half a dozen cream shooters and cocktails written on him, and he is SO HAPPY to share them with your WHOLE FAMILY.  Here is a bull that dates back to an era when people had their liquor cabinets out in the open, and sent their kids to bed while they got hammered with their friends downstairs.  Remember that scene from The Exorcist where Reagan comes downstairs and pees on the carpet?  That didn’t resonate with the audience because of supernatural horror; it struck a chord because nobody would want their party to be ruined that way.

And check out the recipes!

The Udder Limit (serves 6)

1 cup (250 ml) brandy
2 cups (500 ml) cold Milk
6 tbsp (90 ml) icing sugar
1/2 tsp (2 ml) vanilla
6 to 8 ice cubes
Coarsely ground nutmeg

Measure all ingredients into blender container. Blend until frothy. Pour into glasses and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Let’s pause to consider how totally amazing that is.  That is practically a full cup of alcoholic cake frosting you’re serving your guests, and if there’s something wrong with that, then I don’t want to be right.  There is a part of me (the part that is not conscious of my weight) that wants to be drinking that right now, immediately.

Instead, let’s fast forward ten years to 1984, to a time when if food wasn’t bathed in the glow of a setting sun or candelabra-light, it wasn’t worth eating.

Here is Orange Dream, a fancy eggy-custard dessert that is — apparently — as at home on a Victorian sideboard as it is on your formica kitchen table with the corner chewed off.  Dating from the period right after milkshake-everything was the way to go, but before solid-anything was totally acceptable, Orange Dream is a fantasy in flan.

Simply add a combination of eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla to a pan that will hopefully not grab too keenly onto the sides of your mixture and totally shred it when you try to flip it over, bake for nearly an hour, and you’re done!  There is no risk at all of your nearly-firm gelatinous milk dessert tearing irreparably like tender skin, only minutes before your guests arrive.  None whatsoever!

But in case that risk is unacceptable to you, perhaps you’d rather jump ahead once again, to a point in time that I like to call… THE DAWN OF PESTO.

Hey, remember the mid-90s, when everyone kind of discovered pesto all at the same time?  And we all started rushing around trying to teach each other to make it, before they could teach us?  Well, the Milk Calendar was right there with us all.  And why wouldn’t they be?  There’s more cheese in pesto sauce than almost anything else, which is part of what makes it so friggin’ good.

Sure, it might seem a little exhausted now, but think back to the first time that you served a garlicky, basil-y and nutty pesto sauce to someone.  It felt absolutely triumphant to have made something more interesting than the usual red or white sauce, creating a flavor that was only then popping up on menus as a new and interesting item that everyone had to try.

I could keep on with this, but you get the point.  Dairy Goodness has managed to capture everything that was great about Milk Calendars then, and by pulling them all together in one place has created a marvelous visual history of food — or at least, of food trends as seen through the eyes of people who really, really want you to use more dairy.

But that in itself is a marvel, a fantastic record of the progress of home cooking, and the way food has been represented to us over the last thirty years — from darkly lit home photography to heavily-toned setpieces to the food styling of today.  It’s retro of the finest possible implementation, a combination of nostalgia and documentation that feels like a brand new discovery.

Even if you never grew up with these calendars in particular, you likely had something similar.  Just to see the visuals, the colors and tones, and the strange pre-occupation with shakes one more time — it’ll all be worth the trip through the archives.

This is definitely a site to visit before you die (or leave for the day, whichever comes first).

  • Nicole

    I am too young and American to fully appreciate what a milk calendar means, but I am fascinated by the passion of your nostalgia.

  • JennyM

    My mind knows that is a bull, but it keeps seeing a psychotically happy smiley face in a viking helmet.

    Now I’m going to go make some of that alcoholic cake frosting. Yum!

  • JennyM

    I should clarify: it’s a *bemused* viking helmet.

    Also, what is Benedictine? Distilled essence of monk? I need a Choosy Beggars tutorial.

  • Hellcat13

    This is so awesome I could cry.

  • honeydijonay

    I’m sure my mum has saved every Milk calendar for the past 20 years to hand down to me some fateful day. Don’t be jealous!

    • Mike

      Oh my good God. You know who would want those is probably the Milk people themselves — I have a feeling they only have a few years from the 70s and 80s is because they simply can’t find the old calendars to archive.

  • Jason

    I always think the retro revival started when the post-WWII generation realized they were at or near retirement age, without any real retirement, and decided to make money off their youth.