The first milking following the birth of a new calf is full of colostrum.
ILLUSTRATION: FOTOLIA/BEATRICE PRÈVE
As our friend Rick (signature R.M.) said, cow colostrum is indeed fit for human use ... in fact, it's a delicacy we look forward to with the arrival of each new calf.
However, Rick didn't explain clearly how to use the first milk. The colostrum isn't boiled in a "milk bath" but heated slowly in a double boiler (water bath in Norwegian!). Stir it often to prevent sticking and burning. When the pudding becomes custardy, remove it from the stove and cool it well. The dessert can be eaten plain, with cinnamon and honey, or sauces. Some people like to add a little vanilla or rum extract . . . raisins are also good.
As you say, there may be a little blood in colostrum from the initial milking, but that's usually when it's the cow's first calf. That original milk may make too stiff a custard ... blending the first three or four milkings gives a good texture.
Surely many American farmers of Norwegian descent use colostrum in this way, since Kalvedans—"calf dance"—is a well-known dish on farms here.
If you like this recipe, remember that colostrum is meant for the calf. He must receive as much as he needs to ease the shock of entering this new world.
The Log-Saveland-Skranefjell Commune
Like R.M. of the Log Commune in Norway, I dispute Hank Rate's assumption that cows' colostrum is unfit for human consumption.
Cow colostrum is as fit for humans as cows' milk ... that is to say, less perfect than human colostrum and milk, but certainly not unsuitable. Besides containing 16%-19% protein, this food offers a full range of natural antibodies which both prevent and cure infection. Unfortunately, since colostrum flows for only 72 hours, one would have to stable a minimum of 122 cows—all carefully bred—to provide a year-round supply!
I look forward to this yearly delicacy, which is prepared for the table by placing it in a baking dish, adding a little nutmeg and honey and baking in a 350° oven until it's firm. We call the custard "seconds pudding," and it's delicious.
I've never encountered a healthy animal which produced "stringy, pale, and bloody" colostrum. In any case, I allow the calf to take the initial supply ... my extraction is always the excess.
Perhaps I can help to alleviate your "American purity hang-up" with regard to blood and milk. In Cultural Differences in Nutrition, L. Bowman states that "blood, as a nutrient carrier, has everything needed for human development except fat which is available in milk." The Masai tribesmen of Southeast Africa have traditionally been herdsmen. They cut a small slit in the animal's neck and extract blood ... which they drink along with the day's milk as their total diet. Genghis Khan and his men sustained themselves by traveling with two horses each (one mare and one gelding). The mare supplied milk, and the two animals alternately provided blood.
This information is inspiring for those of us who enjoy cross-country travel, organic and natural diets, and a symbiotic relationship with the animals we hold captive for transportation and sustenance without slaughter.
One last note on colostrum: A cure for freckles—effective in three out of three attempts I've heard of—is a four-hour application of horses' colostrum to the affected area. Experience has shown that the milk must be obtained after the colt is born but before it sucks.
Middleton, Nova Scotia
I'd like to help you understand what the Log Commune was talking about when they spoke of making a custard out of colostrum. I myself had that dish many times as a child growing up in Sweden, and it was one of my very favorite desserts.
As I remember, we didn't take the colostrum before the second or third day. Even then it was still very thick and we used to dilute it with regular milk (three parts of colostrum to one of regular). My mother would also add a little cinnamon for flavor.
Pour the colostrum mixture into a custard pan and cook it covered in a water bath in a 350° oven. In case you don't know what a water bath is, I'll tell you: Take a roasting pan, put it into the oven and add about an inch of water. Set the control at the proper temperature. When the liquid is hot, put your custard dish in the larger pan and make sure it's surrounded with water for the whole cooking time. This method gives you a smooth, even custard.
Bake the dessert about 20-30 minutes until it's stiff, or when a knife blade stuck into the middle comes out clean. Cool the dish and serve it as is or with jam, etc.
Whitmore Lake, Mich.
About R.M.'s letter on page 116 of MOTHER EARTH NEWS: In Holland where I grew up, colostrum— biest in Dutch, beestings or biestings in common English—was a delicacy. I never noticed it to be stringy or bloody. (Stringiness might indicate mastitis, and blood in the pail may come from burst small blood vessels due to an overextended udder. Maybe colostrum from the first milking shouldn't be used.)
The "milk bath" mentioned in the letter should probably have been "water bath" ... that is, a bainmarie or double boiler. I myself just set the colostrum on the woodstove—the side that's not too hot—and keep stirring until it thickens (half an hour or more). The biest is not supposed to boil. One can eat it warm, but we prefer it cold. It thickens more as it cools off. Even Holstein colostrum is as yellow as Jersey cream.
As kids, we always seemed to quarrel over the first milk. Don't fight ... just enjoy it.
We've eaten colostrum with gusto for several years now and have fed it to our two small children with no bad results at all. Moreover, the old Norwegian woman who turned us on to this food several years ago has eaten it since she was a child and is still living a very vigorous life at nearly 90. We've been told this first milk will act as a laxative, but haven't found that to be true.
We like colostrum best baked as a pudding. No thickening is needed ... in fact, the first few milkings will yield desserts that look like hard-boiled egg white.
4 cups fresh colostrum
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp. pure vanilla
a few shakes of nutmeg
Mix all the ingredients together thoroughly and pour them into a baking dish. Set the dish in a pan of water and heat it at 325° until the custard is firm. Delicious and very nutritious!
Or you can bake the colostrum as is, slice it and eat it with a sauce or syrup (chokecherry syrup beats all). Or bake it with a little salt and your favorite herb (dill, chives, rosemary, etc.), let it cool, cut it into small squares and toss it into a salad instead of cheese.
We also drink colostrum like a milkshake, blended with fruit, vanilla, and a bit of honey. It makes an excellent pep snack.
Keith & Billie Boulter