Cooking Up History


In the mid-19th century, Gail Borden Jr. invented a process which allowed milk to be stored more safely so that it would not spoil. This process led to the creation of condensed milk, which would change the way the dairy industry operated and food preparation occurred in households across the world. After patenting his invention, Borden opened a factory in 1857. Success did not come easy, though, as there was controversy surrounding bovine health and the effects that sick cows had on consumers. Borden implemented strict health measures on the dairy farmers that supplied milk to his company to ensure its purity. It was not until the American Civil War, when the United States' army bought 500 pounds of Borden’s condensed milk, that sales finally picked up. This influx of cash helped to financially secure the Borden Company and led to the popularity of condensed milk. In a time when refrigeration was still in its infancy and little was known about proper food preservation habits, condensed milk had an important impact on the dairy industry and North Americans' diets. 

In the later 19th century, condensed milk sales continued to rise. In the 1880s, it was estimated that Borden alone commanded half of America’s emerging market. By 1914, three concentrated milk companies were responsible for over half of the output in the United States, including Borden, Nestlé, and Carnation. During the First World War, interest in the the Borden Company's products grew due to demand from both Canada and the United States. Their output rose to almost 2,000,000 cans per year, solidifying the importance of condensed milk to North American households. Sales boomed in Asia as well, such that some Asian countries relied solely on American milk products. This led, however, to several price fluctuations in North America as suppliers could not keep up with the rapidly increasing demand.

In 1920, Borden’s Milk Company was considered one of the largest corporations in North America. In that same year, the Borden’s Eagle Brand Book of Recipes was compiled. Created by the Canadian branch of the Borden Company and published in Montreal, the booklet was an effort to advertise the Borden’s Eagle Brand Condensed Milk product, as each recipe calls for it as an ingredient. This cookbook, which was targeted towards housewives, ensured that pure milk products were used, which aided the health of growing families. The booklet mentions that the current state of the economy was taken into consideration as well, which is reflected in the types of ingredients the recipes call for. Staples such as flour, sugar, and baking soda were ingredients that most families had access to. Before the booklet was published, there was concern that the Borden Company could not sustain its sales due to the end of the First World War, but in the 1920s, condensed milk continued to be popular and was in high demand. 


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A decade after Borden's Eagle Brand Book of Recipes was published, Borden compiled another version. Nearly identical to its predecessor, this version contained minor changes to recipe names and preparation methods. While little is known about the public’s reaction to the 1920 version of the cookbook, creating a similar one ten years later demonstrates that it must have been successful to some extent. Condensed milk sales continued to grow, as did the Borden Company as it acquired more of the industry. In 1936, Borden created a mascot for their dairy products -- a cartoon cow named Elsie. At one point in time, Elsie was more recognizable to Americans than their president, Harry Truman.

Due to the ups and downs Borden experienced after the initial invention of condensed milk, this cookbook serves as an important historical text and allows readers to learn more about Canadian society and cuisine at a specific moment in time. Borden’s Eagle Brand Book of Recipes tells readers the kinds of food consumed in Canada, which ingredients were common, the popular food preparation methods of the time, and the technology that existed in Canadian kitchens. The product itself showcases the success and ingenuinity of the Borden Company and illustrates the demand for condensed milk in Canadian households. What began as a simple invention to prevent milk spoilage led to the establishment of one of the largest corporations in the United States, and has altered the way dairy is consumed around the world.


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