Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Celebrating Gail Borden and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Quick! Check your pantry. Do you have a can of sweetened condensed milk lurking in your cupboard? Yep, it should be right by the evaporated milk you bought to make Pumpkin Pie. Did you find it? Good. Because today, we are talking about Gail Borden and one of his most successful inventions, (next to Elsie the cow that is:) sweetened condensed milk! (actually, Elsie didn't come along until many years later:)

"I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded." ~Gail Borden~
By all accounts, Gail Borden Jr. was an extraordinary human being.
As an American philanthropist, businessman, and inventor, Gail Borden, Jr. envisioned food concentrates as a means of safeguarding the human food supply. He was the first to develop a commercial method of condensing milk, and the dairy company founded by him (renamed Borden, Inc., in 1968) expanded and diversified to become a sizable corporation operating in many areas of business.
Gail Borden, Jr., inventor, publisher, surveyor, and founder of the Borden Company, son of Gail and Philadelphia Borden, was born in Norwich, New York, on November 9, 1801. In 1816 the family moved to New London, Indiana, where Borden obtained his only formal schooling, totaling not more than a year and a half. He is thought to have been captain of the local militia when barely twenty years old. In 1822 he was a principal figure in rescuing a freedman from rustlers. Shortly afterward he moved to Mississippi in search of a milder climate to cure a persistent cough. In Mississippi Borden surveyed and taught school. In 1826 he was official surveyor for Amite County as well as deputy federal surveyor. (source)

It would be a futile attempt on my part to review the many accomplishments of "America's Milkman." I have referred to Dr. Borden often on this blog and at my Tasteful Inventions blog. Today, I would like to concentrate on that creamy, sugary, canned syrup we all indulge and love, sweetened condensed milk.
Returning from a trip to England in 1851, he was greatly distressed to see how hundreds of poor immigrants suffered—and their babies sickened and died—from lack of fresh milk on the long sea voyage. At that time the only way to provide milk at sea was to carry cows on the ship, but even then there was no ice for keeping the milk, no means of protecting it against contamination.

Condensed Milk Timeline:

Up to the early 1880s, condensed milk was the only kind of milk sold in hermetically sealed cans; evaporated milk was manufactured, but it was sold like fresh milk in open containers. Condensed milk was inexpensive to transport and its keeping qualities were highly dependable. I should mention, although this is a brief timeline of the evolution of condensed milk, Gail Borden's experiments; successes and failures were not without financial hardship and personal loss.
  • November 9, 1801: Gail Borden born in Norwich, New York.
  • 1851: Visiting a Shaker community at New Lebanon, N.Y., Borden was inspired by the vacuum pans he had seen used by Shakers to condense fruit juice. He decides that milk could be condensed in the same way without burning it or having it curdle. It then could remain wholesome indefinitely.
  • 1853: Gail Borden applies to patent his revolutionary process for canning milk by concentrating it in a partial vacuum and adding sugar to preserve it.
  • August 19, 1856: Gail Borden (nearly 56 years old:) receives US patent #15,553 for his milk condensing process. For the first time milk can be kept pure and storable without the benefit of refrigeration and also can be safely distributed over great distances...The first condensary is set up at Wolcottville, Conn—now the city of Torrington as Gail Borden & Company. Because of insufficient money to operate the factory, the plant was abandoned.
  • 1857: Gail Borden establishes the New York Condensed Milk Company and begins manufacturing and selling condensed milk under the now famous Eagle Brand.
New Magic in the Kitchen ca 1920s

  • 1858: With financial backing from Jeremiah Milbank the name of the company is changed to the New York Condensed Milk Co., and an office is opened in the basement of 173 Canal Street, New York City.
  • May 22, 1858: The first advertisement for "Borden's Condensed Milk" appears in Leslie's Weekly.
  • June, 1861: Just two months after the outbreak of the Civil War, a larger factory is needed and Borden moves to the village of Wassaic, New York which was located on the railroad and offered better chances for expansion. "The United States Government immediately commandeers the entire output of condensed milk for use in the Army and in hospitals."
  • 1864: Gail Borden's New York Condensed Milk Company constructed the New York Milk Condensery in Brewster, New York. This condensery, a model of cleanliness and efficiency was the largest and most advanced milk factory and was Borden's first commercially successful plant. Over 200 dairy farmers supplied 20,000 gallons of milk daily to the Brewster plant as demand was driven by the Civil War.
  • 1866: The first European condensed milk factory is built by The Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company at Cham, Switzerland under the direction of George H. Page.
  • 1871: The first Canadian condensery was built at Truro, Nova Scotia, in 1871
  • 1874: Borden dies in Borden, Texas on January 11, 1874.
American Kitchen Magazine; 1899

Sweetened Condensed Milk Recipes

As I was scanning through an assortment of Eagle Brand recipe books in my collection, I became intrigued with one particular heading in New Magic in the Kitchen most likely published in the early 1920s. The ladies who compiled the booklet challenged themselves to note the difference in cooking the same recipes. One would construct the recipe using sweetened condensed milk and the other would use the "long" method of preparing the same recipe. The purpose of this experiment was to display the time and the number of ingredients in each recipe. Here are the results for two of the five recipes.

Intrigued by the notion, I chose this Graham Cracker Cake recipe from the booklet and a similar recipe for Old Fashioned Graham Cracker Cake found here.

Here's a recipe for Caramel Pudding from the same booklet and the Smitten Kitchen.

Oh this is fun! Let's change it up a bit though. I found this recipe for Butterscotch Dip in a more recent addition of Eagle Brand Dessert recipes. I also found an intriguing rendition at the Food Network, presented by Paula Deen.

As you can imagine, I could go on and on sharing sweetened condensed milk recipes. Alas, no can do...However, there are spoonfuls of recipes around you. I've left a few starting points below. One last thing, when it comes to sweetened condensed milk, it's very easy to make at home. Here's one recipe to make your own. And another from about.com
How To Make Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitute
Here's How:
1. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water into a blender.
2. Add 1 cup of nonfat dry milk.
3. Add 2/3 cup sugar.
4. Add 3 tablespoons of melted butter.
5. Add a few drops of vanilla.
Cover and blend on high speed for 30 seconds or until smooth.
Remove from the blender.
Use in a recipe immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Tip: A food processor may be used to blend the ingredients.

1. Condensed Milk and Milk Powder: Prepared for the Use of Milk Condenseries By Otto Frederick Hunziker (1920) @google books
2. Mr. Hires and the Black Cow (previous post)
3. Condensed Milk vs. Evaporated Milk; what's the difference?
4. Can I use fat free sweetened condensed milk in place of full fat?
1. Gloria, hostess of Canela Kitchen, is a huge fan of sweetened condensed milk. A quick search on her blog turned up a delicious assortment of recipes!
2. Milk in a Can Goes Glam (Interesting article from The New York Times)
3. Sweetened Condensed Milk Cocada
4. Condensed Milk Fudge
5. Inside-Out German Chocolate Cake with a decadent sweetened condensed milk filling
6. Vietnamese Iced Coffee (Cafe Sua Da)
7. Impossible Cake (AKA chocoflan) (Pastel Imposible (AKA Chocoflan) Rick Bayless
8. Aunt Ruth's Famous Butterscotch Cheesecake Recipe


  1. Sweetened condensed milk, right next to the evaporated milk -- you peeked in my pantry, smiles. I like your recipe for the substitute and will have to save that one. I have one but yours looks better. Doesn't that caramel look won-der-ful!

  2. Don't forget hello dollies! I'm trying that Dipsy Doodle dip!

  3. I haven't had it on hand for years and years. Somehow those milky desserts don't do it for me any more -- too health conscious. Pity. In France they have (or had in the past before they all got refrigerators) sweetened condensed milk in a tube, so you didn't need to refrigerate it after opening it. Having no refrigerator, we used it in coffee. We had a friend who sucked it right out of the tube. We made fun of him.

  4. You'll understand... yes I have some, but I couldn't read your wonderful post... My father loved the stuff so much he almost always had a can in the freezer and would enjoy a spoonful now and then. (No, surprisingly, he wasn't diabetic!)

    Just buying or using the stuff makes me misty!!

  5. Mmm, very cool, I will have to try making my own condensed milk :)

  6. I bought evaporated milk for the first time two weeks ago when I made my very first pumpkin pie!

  7. In Europe we have still sweetened condensed milk in tubes, I don't know why. Probably because some people just like to take it with them when travelling or so.

  8. I can't believe I don't have any sweetened condensed milk right now! It makes a fabulous caramel sauce or filling. Couldn't live without it. And, I had no idea there was a Borden, Texas. Interesting.

  9. Sweetened condensed milk is so tasty! I have to make sure an mix it in my batter before I "taste" too much of it from the can.

  10. Maybe you know by my recipes but I adore condensed milk Louise, is absolutely nice to desserts and others and we make dulce de leche with condensed milk! Lovely post dear! gloria

  11. I've got 2 cans of condensed milk but no evaporated milk! Informative post as always. Thanks!

  12. I wouldn't want to live without sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk either. I would be on depression medicine in no time if I did. LOL! I love the stuff and the best recipes are made with it.

  13. Love Borden's (and Elsie). I did a post for Fudgy Mocha Browines http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.com/2011/10/fudgy-mocha-brownies-eagle-brand.html that uses Eagle Brand Condensed Milk..and a link to the Smithsonian Magazine article about condensed milk. Thanks for the links, too. My late brother-in-law collected Elsie the Cow ephermera.

  14. You know I just looked up substitutes for evaporated milk yesterday, so this is a nice addition. One of my favorite sweetened condensed milk recipes is the cookie with coconut and chocolate and butterscotch chips. MMmmm!

  15. over here in malaysia, we do not have the pure condensed milk selling anymore. It used to a a control item by the govt and becos of its rising costs of manufacturing condensed milk, it has now been replaced with sweetened creamer made with palm oil, they look quite same but those people who has been taking condensed milk from small can tell it's different, the taste aint the same.

  16. Thanks for interesting history of condensed milk. These are the common everyday ingredients that we use without any knowledge about their origin! Thank you for sharing!

  17. Very interesting! Thanks for the substitute recipe. There have been many times I have needed that! Now you've saved me.


  18. Most of deserts that you buy you can cook by yourself and it will be even more tasty. Just like a caramel pudding... It is so easy to make Or al kind of cakes... Plus you can improvize and add something new...

  19. A great invention! Perfect for baking and making candies.



  20. I actually don't have any sweet condensed on hand (how did that happen?) but this sure brings back childhood memories of my mothers pantry.

  21. Yes I always have a can in my cupboard just in case. Really enjoyed all the information you shared about this amazing creation. Merci.

  22. We have the same birthday (gail borden). hehe what will I invent? O.O

    I never knew that condensed milk existet, till i came to india. lol Dont think so my mum ued it in her kitchen.

    Interesting article, very informative and your condensed milk recipe will help me create some wonderfull dishes. merci

  23. I love condensed milk - and I adore the idea of just sticking caramelised condensed milk on a plate and calling it pudding!

  24. I rarely eat something with condensed milk in it because it is so bad for my health & it contains lactose: heaps of it & I am intolerant! :(

    these are all wonderful tasty recipes! A very lovely post too! :)

  25. Hi Katy! What a nice surprise!!! I can't tell you how many times I've been rescued from a dessert attack by knowing the "secret" recipe to home made condensed milk. It sure works in a pinch! Thanks for dropping by...

    Oh my goodness, Duckie. How could I forget the Hello Dollies!!! Thanks for the reminder. Enjoy the dip!!!

    I read about the tubes of condensed milk available in some countries, Mae, Talk about a sweet sugar rush! Although, I can see me craving just a taste more often than I care to admit!

    I understand, Channon.

    You go for it, Erica!

    Welcome Sweet Harvest Moon Your Pumpkin Pie looks yummy!

    If Nestle sold sweetened condensed milk in tubes here in the states, Petra, I'm sure there would be a law against it!!! Rather ironic I think...

    Texas is steeped in Borden history, Lisa. If not for their fabulous information, Gail Borden may have gone by way of condensed milk obscurity! Now, go buy some condensed milk!!! (or make your own:)

  26. Sweetened Condensed Milk sure is tasty, Yummy! One can for you, one for the batter, lol...

    Oh Yes, Gloria, I know how you adore condensed milk. That's why I left you link in the resource section!!! Thank YOU!

    All that really matters, Baking Addict, is the condensed milk!!!

    I'm not quite as "addicted" as you Gone-ta-pott. However, I do need that assurance that there is at least one can in the pantry!

    Thanks for sharing, Janet!

    ooooo they sound good, Inger.

    Perhaps you should try making your own, Lena.

  27. This was fascinating. I love how condensed milk is now a global phenomenon. Go to any Asian market and they have more brands than we do. The history was fantastic! Pure Louise!

  28. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, kitchen flavours. Sometimes we just take these things for granted:)

    A substitute is always a good thing to have on hand. Now that I think of it, thanks to you, Tiffanee, a post on substitutions is probably worthy of a date:) Thanks for leaving the link:)

    I agree, Android. And thanks for stopping!

    The candies, especially, Rosa:)

    Perhaps you should stock up, Pierce; Tina the holidays, they are a coming! BTW, love your lemon yogurt muffins!

    Glad you enjoyed it, Rita.

    Happy (belated) Birthday, Helene! I'm sure you will crate something fabulous with condensed milk!!!

    Me too, Foodycat!

    Good point, Sophie. I hadn't considered those who are lactose intolerant. Thanks!!!

    Oh you're as sweet as condensed milk, Oyster. Thank you:)

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  30. Thank you very much, I have already tried to make condensed milk myself and it was very good even, my friends at work appreciated http://www.intellias.com/


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Thanks for dropping in...Louise