First Food of all Mammals - Skim and Butter Milk - Chemicals used in its Preservation - Condensed Milk - Syllabubs - Koumiss - Its Early Use - When first utilized in Medical Treatment - Koumiss from Cows' Milk - Methods of Manufacture - Intoxicating Drinks made from Milk.
Milk is the first liquid food taken by man, in common with all mammals, after his birth and this liquid is so happily ordered, as to contain all the elements of food necessary for him, at this period of his existence. The new-born mammal naturally, and directly after its birth, seeks the fountain of its nourishment, and even that most helpless of all created beings, a baby, is soon taught where to seek its food.
But we have to consider milk as a beverage, more than as a food, and, as a drink, it is comparatively a failure, as to most people it is indigestible, if taken in any quantity. It may, however, be taken with comparative impunity as skim milk, i.e. when deprived to a very large extent of its fat, and of a hot day, for a perfect thirst quencher, let us commend slightly acidulated butter milk. Milk has very great disadvantages as a beverage: first, that it will not keep good any time, unless chemicalized .by salicylic acid, borax, liquor potassae, or some other bedevilment, except as condensed milk, which is milk with much of its water evaporated, and sugar added. This, however good it may be as a substitute for fresh cow's milk, where such is not attainable, can hardly be called a drink. Secondly, milk, in common with all fatty animal substances, has a tendency to absorb any odour which may come in contact with it, and is a ready vehicle for the seeds of disease, especially the microbes of fever or cholera.
It is singular that milk has not been made into more drinks. Of modern times we have soda and milk, or aerated milk and water, and in the pastoral times of the last century, the times of Corydon and Phyllis, Chloe and Strephon, it was de rigueur to indulge in "syllabubs" whenever the nearest approach to rurality, in the shape of a grass field, and a cow, presented itself. Whoever tastes a syllabub now ? Ask fifty people - forty-nine at least, will answer that they have never partaken of the delicacy, and the vast majority will be totally ignorant even of its composition. It was made of milk, milked from the cow into a bowl containing mashed fruit, such as gooseberries, and sugar, or else, wine or beer. The great thing was to make it froth, as we may see in the following recipe for an Ale Syllabub, which our forefathers considered as the ne plus ultra of a syllabub.
"No Syllabubs made at the milking pail, But what are composed of a pot of good ale."
"Place in a large bowl, a quart of strong ale or beer, grate into this a little nutmeg, and sweeten with sugar: milk the cow rapidly into the bowl, forcing the milk as strongly as possible into the ale, and against the sides of the vessel, to raise a good froth. Let it it stand an hour, and it will be fit for use. The proportion of milk, or of sugar, will depend upon the taste of the drinker, who will, after a trial or two, be able to make a delightful beverage. Cider may be used instead of malt liquor for those who object to the alcoholic strength of the ale, or a bottle of wine."
The Dutch, who are naturally a pastoral people, make a syllabub of milk, sugar, etc., which they call Slemp; but this rustic delicacy has died out owing to the universal use of tea and coffee. Curds and whey used to be much drank, and white wine whey is not to be despised when one has a very heavy cold - but, of course, it can only be drank by the wicked and intemperate; good people confining themselves to hot milk, or treacle posset, either of which served the purpose nearly as well. So, also, the unregenerate have the solace of rum and milk in the early morning.
We have now exhausted all the milk drinks we know of, except "Koumiss," which, although as old as the hills, is of very modern introduction into civilization, and comes to us heralded by a fanfare of medical trumpets as a panacea for many evils which the human body has to bear, especially consumption; but Koumiss is decidedly alcoholic.
As a drink made from mare's milk, it has been known for centuries to the Tartars, Khurgese, and Cal-mucks of the Russian Steppes, and Central and South Western Asia. Perhaps the first mention of it may be found the Ipatof Annals, published at St. Petersburg, 1871. "In 1182, Prince Igor Seversky was taken prisoner by the Polovtsky, and the captors got so drunk upon Koumiss that they allowed their prisoner to escape." The old monk and traveller Gulielmus de Rubruquis, who travelled in Tartary in the middle of the thirteenth century, says: "The same evening, the guide who had conducted us, gave us some Cosmos. After I had drunk thereof, I sweat most extremely from the dread and novelty, because I never drank of it before. Notwithstanding I thought it very savoury, as indeed it was." And in another place, he thus refers to it: "Then they taste it, and being pretty sharp, they drink it; for it biteth a man's tongue like wine of raspes, 1 when it is drunk. After a man has taken a draught thereof, it leaveth behind it a taste like that of almond milk, and maketh one's inside feel very comfortable; and it also intoxicateth weak heads." Ser Marco Polo speaks of it. "Their drink is mare's milk, prepared in such a way, you would take it for a white wine; and a right good drink it is, called by them Kemiz".
It remained as a traveller's curiosity until 1784, when Dr. John Grieve, a surgeon, one of the many Scotchmen who have from time to time entered the Russian service, wrote to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (who published his communication in their "Transactions," Vol. I., 1788). "An account of the Method of making a Wine, called by the Tartars Koumiss, with observations on its use in Medicine," and, especially, he thought that, "with the super-addition of a fermented spirit, it might be of essential service in all those disorders where the body is defective either in nourishment or strength." And he further proved the benefit of the milk-wine on three patients, two consumptive, and one syphilitic, sending them to the Steppes among the Tartars, whence they returned stout, and in perfect health. From time to time, until the middle of this century, phthisical patients were sent to Tartary to undergo this milk cure; but life among these nomad tribes, with its filth and privations, was hardly congenial to a sick man, so that although some returned cured, others came back only to die.