Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

New Zealand creative in packaging dry milk

The year was l975, and Chub and I were planning to stop in New Zealand on our way home from Australia, so a mutual friend introduced us to a visiting professor and his family. He had completed his assignment at the University of Missouri, and the family came out to the farm just a few days before they were to leave Columbia. It was late October, and the children had attended a local school and read about jack-o’-lanterns but had never seen a real one.

Chub and I had bought some pumpkins earlier. On the spur of the moment, I put a plastic tablecloth on the floor in the living room, and the mother and I sat on the floor with the youngsters to carve pumpkins. Finally, we had transformed them into jack-o’-lanterns.

Even the toddler, with his mother guiding the sharp knife, had a turn at carving. We cleaned up the mess, discarded the waste and put the plastic tablecloth in the sink to soak. Then we put in candles, lit them, put on the lids and set our glowing jack-o’-lanterns out on the front porch. We turned off the lights, and the children were delighted. It was a joy to share this part of Halloween with this fun family from Down Under.

They invited us to come to their home for three days on our way back from Australia. What great hosts they were!

The children’s grandfather was Maori — a Polynesian native. He said that when Europeans came to the New Zealand islands, they fought, and the natives won but then accepted the intruders. His wife’s ancestors were from Europe.

He was Maori and was also an executive in the largest dairy operation in the country. He discovered that Chub and I were especially interested in seeing the dairy plant, so he took us there at about 10 p.m. while the night-shift workers were on duty. The huge plant was beautiful with its outside lighting.

We saw the huge stainless steel tanker trucks that brought milk from farms in many areas of New Zealand. Controlled cream temperatures and modern churns permitted our host to push a button, and in only five minutes, cream became butter. Then he gave us samples of something I didn’t know could be made of milk: dried milk bars. We nibbled on one of those lightly sweetened, flavored bars — like dried ice cream the size of bars of soap. We saw the enormous warehouse where wrapped dry milk bars — flavored with vanilla, chocolate, pineapple and strawberry — were wrapped and packed in containers, awaiting shipment on pallets.

All of those huge boxes were full — tons and tons of tasty, nourishing food belonged to Third World countries that had no facilities for storing foods such as this. Milk bars required protection from insects, animals, thieves and so forth. They required controlled temperature and humidity, but that kind of storage facility didn’t exist in many countries that needed milk for growing children.

Government officials bought the packaged milk bars and left them stored in the New Zealand dairy’s warehouse; they then ordered shipments of small quantities as needed. As with ice cream, I chose vanilla as my favorite; it was mildly sweet and tasted a lot like ice cream — but it didn’t drip!

Thinking back, I recall that in 11 days of cycling in mainland China, we were served no milk except in tourist coffee. I asked our Hong Kong interpreters about milk for babies. "They nurse their mothers about two years," our interpreter said, "and that’s all they get."

Hopefully New Zealand has now introduced dried milk bars in several flavors to children in China.

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