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Cooking with Colostrum

Colostrum – the rediscovered health food

Every spring I take the risk of asking rural Kiwis if they have ever eaten “beestings pudding”?  When I explain that “the beestings” is colostrum or the first milk from a newly calved cow, their answer inevitably is a “Oh Yuk, Gross, Never!”

Everyone knows a calf needs its mother’s colostrum to protect it from all the nasties in the environment.  The dam does not pass these antibodies to the calf via the blood before birth.  They have to be absorbed via the small intestine in colostrum – and without delay to be most effective.  After about 6-12 hours the ability of the calf to absorb antibodies drops rapidly.

But the thought of making colostrum into anything for the table is unimaginable to Kiwis.  The word “beestings” doesn’t help.  It’s a word common in Scotland and parts of England with some modification for example to “beestlings” in the Yorkshire dales.

But things have changed recently in New Zealand, with the recognition of colostrum as an export health food.  If men and women body builders are into it – then maybe it has something.

Over the last three years, dairy companies have paid farmers a premium for colostrum in spring, instead of penalising farmers who dared to sneak it in the vat before the cow had been calved four days (8 milkings for a cow and 10 for a heifer).  Dairy factories making powder hated colostrum as it clogged up the driers when heated and had to be chipped off.

A high value export market has now developed particularly in Asia and Japan, so our good old “beestings” is now appearing in small sachets in health shops overseas, at what to us seem exorbitant prices.  Long may it continue, and long may overseas consumers believe in the benefits, (real or imagined) and be prepared to pay for them.

But colostrum straight from the cow has the wrong image.  It has to be marketed in an expensive pack with a fancy name from a health food or sports nutrition shop.  Funny how an image can change things.  Remember there’s a lot of folk believe that what’s expensive in a fancy pack must be good for you.

So take these recipes below and imagine you have just seen them in a glossy woman’s magazine by a high-profile TV chef, or in a main-stream sports fitness or body building magazine.  Actually they are taken from and old recipe book published by the UK Farmer’s Weekly in 1946 – but don’t mention that.  In 1946 nothing on the farm had to be wasted.

Beestings – a note from Mrs H.M.Watkins, Wrexham

We do not use the very first milking, as it is so deep in colour.  I always test it by putting a little on a saucer in the oven.  If it sets too thick, I put a pint of milk to 3 pints of beestings (or in proportion, according to the way it sets), sprinkling a little pudding spice on top, and add a little sugar.  Let is simmer in the oven but not boil, just as if you were making an egg custard.  I make tarts with it just as one would make egg custard tarts.

Fruit beestings – from Mrs E.J. Cotty, Devonshire

Take at third milking of the cow and set in a pan. After 6-12 hours, skim off about 2 pints of the rich head of the milk.  Take a good sized pie dish, grease well.  Mix 1oz cornflour, with a little milk in a basin until smooth. 

Put the remainder of the milk into a pie dish.  Add 1oz of sugar (brown if possible), 2 oz sultanas or currants (prunes, chopped would do).  Then stir in the cornflour and bake in a moderate oven until golden brown and set.

When served, the fruit will be in a layer on the bottom.

Beestings cheese – from Mrs McLennan or Argyllshire

Fill a pudding dish with milk from the second milking; stir in 2 tablespoons of syrup and mix well.  Spread on top the cream from the first milking, put into a moderate oven and bake until firm to touch and golden brown.

This cheese cuts into smooth, creamy slices and is short and free in texture.

Beestings curd – from Mrs Duckles, Yorkshire

2 pints new milk
1 breakfast cup water
1 breakfast cup beestings

Heated quickly on a bright fire, makes about one and a half pounds of delicious curd.

One teacup of beestings is equal to 2 eggs in Yorkshire pudding.  And do they rise!

Beestings custard – from Mrs Burkett, Cumberland

Take 1 pint of beestings milk; 2 tablespoons of sugar; pinch of salt.  Add salt and sugar to milk in pie dish.  Stir well.  Cook in moderate oven until set.

The result is a delicious custard-like pudding; but much depends on the correct heat.

Beesting puddings – from Mrs Duckles, Yorkshire

Take a dozen small puddings, allow 3 tablespoons batter to each tin (cake tin size).  Tins should be warm, bottoms just covered with melted fat.  I use:

2 breakfast cups flour
1 breakfast cup beestings
2 tablespoons water
1 level tablespoon salt
Half a pint of milk

Mix the flour and salt; pour in the beestings and water.  Beat out lumps, thin down with milk (separated or milk and water) to creamy mixture.  Bake in a hot oven for 20 –30 minutes.  As with Yorkshire puddings, do not open the oven door till they should be ready – it only wastes heat and makes the puddings go flop.

In case you should be tempted to use more beestings – Don’t!  You will get better results with less if it’s the first time you have tried them.

Beestings tarts – from Mrs Johnson, Yorkshire

Add 2 parts beestings to 1 part water and stir over a fire or stove till it thickens.  Don’t let it boil.  To this add 3 eggs, half a pound of sugar, a little nutmeg, currants (sultanas will do), a little marmalade instead of peel.  Add if possible a small quantity of rum.

Line tins or saucers with paste and put a good filling of the mixture and you’ll find this delicious.

Beestings “new cheese” – from Miss Christian Milne, Aberdeenshire

I wonder how many country women make that old fashioned farmhouse dainty “new cheese”?

For this you fill a pudding dish with milk from the second milking of a newly calved cow.  Heat 2 tablespoons of syrup and add, stirring until thoroughly blended.  Remove cream carefully from first milking and use the “top” cheese.

Bake in a moderate oven until golden brown and firm to touch.  (An oven suitable for a baked custard is just right).  New cheese make thus, cuts into smooth, creamy slices, and is short and free in texture.  Served with cream, it is a delicious change from the usual milk pudding.

Note – a too intense oven ruins the texture of new cheese, making it tough and leathery instead of tender.


To the ladies who contributed these recipes (where ever they may be now) and to Mrs Margaret Dagg, Hott farm, Tarset, Northumberland who was wise enough to keep her old recipe book and kind enough to send the recipes to me.


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