Milking it


SO SMOOTH Custard can bring even the simplest of desserts to the next level.

The Cabots

When I was a young child – from about the age of three – I had fresh milk on tap. Or, more literally, on teat. My maternal grandmother, Margaret, had several free-range cows on her farm in Shraloggy, near Newport.
Friesians, black and red white-heads, and – my beloved – Mrs Blue Cow, a gentle pale blue and white creature who would let me climb on her back when she laid down. She would amble carefully around the fields when I was on her. When I was thirsty, I would milk her directly into a white tin cup. The milk was warm, frothy and very creamy.
My dad’s parents, Harry and Teresa, had a bigger farming operation in Acres, Newport. I was well used to the routine of their morning and evening milking. As well as milking by hand, I could attach the milking machines to the cows’ udders. My brother David and I would help wean calves by submerging our fingers in buckets of milk and letting them suck on substitute teats. We learned how to skim cream and churn butter.

Till the cows come home
I went to visit some friends who have a dairy farm here in Mayo. (They are too shy to be named.) Every morning and evening they milk 40 cows and send the milk to the creamery where it is homogenised and pasteurised. The cows – Friesian and Jersey – stood patiently in their milking lines, milking machines vacuumed onto udders, hot frothy milk spluttering into containers then piped to a large tank.
It was good to taste raw, fresh milk again and to smell dairy smells. After many decades, I had to try my hand at milking again. I could still attach the machine – but milking by hand? My friend showed me what to do – and, for him, a strong line of milk gushed out of the teat. My turn. I pumped feebly a few times – till the cow lashed out with a kick. Oops!
Try this other cow, my friend consoled. Result! I got three squirts out of it before the cow decided enough was enough and started twitching for a kick.
Another friend arrived to try out a new contraption that separates the raw milk into cream and skimmed milk. She makes her own butter and cheese from the cream.
We all discussed recipes – rice and semolina puddings, carrageen moss panna cottas, and homemade custard (my favourite thing ever). She gifted us a large jar of cream and I couldn’t wait to run home and pour it over a bowl of sugary strawberries (my other favourite thing ever!).

Dreamy, creamy vanilla custard
What you need

  • 200ml double cream
  • 700ml full fat milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tbsp cornflour
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod

What you do
Place the cream and milk in a large saucepan and heat very gently till just under boiling point. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar. Half the vanilla pod and scoop out the seed. Add the seeds to the mixture and whisk gently and constantly till smooth.
Very gradually pour the hot milk mix into the sugar mix, whisking all the while. Clean the saucepan and pour the combined mixtures in. Very gently heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Let the custard thicken but keep stirring vigilantly to avoid lumps. If the mixture starts to scramble, take off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool then strain in a sieve to remove any lumps.
Serve hot, cold or lukewarm over pies or summer fruits.

— Sandra

The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.