Although some people did not find the taste 'unpleasant' there were several recommendations to avoid the 'rank flavor.' A teaspoon of crushed saltpetre placed in the milk pan was suggested in a couple of the excerpts below. Also, after the morning milking, the cows could be left in the fields with wild garlic until noon, when they were to be moved to other pastures.
Cows enjoyed the plant until mid June when its flowers bloomed and they stopped eating it. Over time the taste became "less obvious as the digestive organs of the cattle more perfectly assimilate the food." [Farmer 1835].
Various plants could cause the off-flavor: "crow-garlic, or garlic-hedge-mustard, (which is also known by the provincial names of Jack-by-the-hedge, or garlic-wormwood)" [Horne, 1830] and "S. Allium. A. oleraceum or Wild garlic. and A. ursinum. Ang. Ramsons. Kamson garlic." [The Medical and Physical Journal, Volume 14. London: 1805]
Some excerpts -
“And so likewise to avoid the taste of garlic in milk and butter, so common in many parts of the U. S., in the spring… in which cattle so delight. You have only to strip the cows well in the morning— turn them upon your fields in which there is garlic, until noon, or 12 o'clock, then take them out and put them upon pasture where there is no garlic growing until evening, and then you will not detect garlic either in the milk or butter. In addition to these precautions, I put about a teaspoonful of well pulverized saltpetre in the cream-pot when filling to make butter—observing to stir it often before churning.” [The Farmers' Cabinet, and American Herd-book, Volume 6. May 15, 1842. Phila.]
"Much attention, however, is necessary, in order to eradicate the crow-garlic, or garlic-hedge-mustard, (which is also known by the provincial names of Jack-by-the-hedge, or garlic-wormwood,) and similar weeds, which, when eaten by cows, uniformly impart a rank flavour to their milk, and consequently to the butter which is made from it. And, as that fluid often becomes bitter, as well as liable to turn at the fall of the leaf, it will also be proper to prevent them, if possible, from eating decayed leaves, by collecting them. It is likewise worthy of note, that though the long, rank grass, growing in orchards or other places, in general feeds well, and produces a flush of milk, yet such milk will neither be so rich, nor carry so much cream in proportion, as the milk of those cows which ate fed upon short fine grass; nor, of course, will their butter be so good." [Horne, Thomas Hartwell. The Complete Grazier; or Farmer's and Cattle Breeder's and Dealers Assistant. London: 1830]
"The Swedish turnip, when first eaten by milch cows, gives the milk and butter a flavor something like that of garlic. This is not unpleasant to some persons, and becomes less obvious as the digestive organs of the cattle more perfectly assimilate the food. It may be obviated, however, by dissolving an ounce of saltpetre in a pint of water, and putting a table spoonful of the solution into each milk pan as the warm milk is emptied into it." [Farmers' Register. Volume 3 August 1835. Petersburg, Va.]
"All these causes of bad butter are inexcusable, and can easily be avoided. Unless the cows have been allowed to feed where there are bitter weeds or garlic, the milk cannot naturally have any disagreeable taste, and therefore the fault of the butter must be the fault of the maker. Of course, the cream is much richer where the pasture is fine and luxuriant; and in winter, when the cows have only dry food, the butter must be consequently whiter and more insipid than in the grazing season. Still, if properly made, even winter butter cannot taste badly." [Leslie, Eliza. Directions for Cookery, in Its Various Branches. Phila: 1844]
"The cause of the unpleasant taste in your correspondent ‘R.'s’ butter is wild Garlic, or what in Devonshire is known by the name of Ramsey [Rumson] which is often found here in rich pastures. The leaf is much like the Lily of the Valley, and bears a white flower. The reason of its not affecting the butter after the middle of June is, that it is then in flower, when the cows will not eat it. The best way is to dig it." [Gardeners' Chronicle, Horticultural Trade Journal. May 21, 1859. London]
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©2013 Patricia Bixler Reber