The Milking Stool and the Next Month

The Milking Stool


This is one of the family milking stools.  Yes, it’s as short as it looks, just about twleve inches high, just right to reach a cow’s udder.

By the time I was growing up, no one milked by hand any more.  The cows lined up for the rank of Alfa-Laval milking machines.  The dairy was like magic to me.  The dairyman washed under the tail and around the udder of the cow and put on the rubber cups: In a moment or so you could see the milk going up through glass tubes into the weighing vessel, and from there along more tubes running across the top of the milking parlour and into the storage room, rippling down the ridged cooler filled with running cold water, and into the waiting churns.  One man could handle as many cows as ten a generation earlier.

My uncle used to tease me with stories about the milking stool.  Often they had only two legs, he said, because the milkers fell asleep in dark fields before the sun rose.

Anyway, what is the point of this shaggy dog story?  Many, many years ago I took my university finals in England.  They were designed to test endurance, not intelligence or knowledge, with ten three hour exams in five days covering the work of three whole years. Nothing else counted, not lab work, not field work, not essays, not earlier exams.  That one week, if it didn’t determine your future, at least made a profound difference to it.

I returned home exhausted.  And for two sunny weeks in early June, unable to think, I sat in the garden on the stool, between the wall with grape vine and the espaliered apple trees, and picked the soft fruits that were coming in, the legs of the stool digging unequally into the soft soil, so that I always ended up at a tilt.  I bottled, jammed and jellied, and even my family, who depended on preserved fruits for the winter, took years to finish up the red currant jelly, the white currants suspended in jelly, the blackcurrant syrup, the blackcurrant and gooseberry jam, the bottled blackcurrants and gooseberries that I loaded up on the pantry shelves.

Then it was time to get a job and start a new life.

I’ve dragged that stool round the world with me.  And perhaps I will put it to use again.  In four weeks I deliver the manuscript of the book on food history I’ve been working on for years.  In five weeks, after fifteen years, longer than I have spent anywhere except the house I grew up in, we leave Mexico for good.  In six weeks we will be back in the United States.

Wish me luck.  And look for my next post in a couple of months.





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22 thoughts on “The Milking Stool and the Next Month

  1. Cynthia Bertelsen

    Interesting info about the milking stool. I tried milking cows by hand on my father-in-law’s WI farm – a total failure and my husband laughed at me, he with 18 years of experience at that, 2X per day activity. Every single day. He never, ever, wanted to farm again. SO much hard work. No wonder no one wanted to take over all those family farms … .

    Hope we won’t wait for a few months for your next post!

  2. Nick Trachet

    Have a safe move, Rachel!

    Moving house is healthy. We’ve been in our house for 20 years now, and the amassed volume of things that are not necessary is frightening.

    Milking stools: i came across one legged milking stools in the italian Alps. They were strapped on the dairyman’s trowsers and made him look like a strange monkey with a rigid tail, whenever he moved from one cow to the next.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Yes, do you want to fly over and collect some of the books, china, crockery etc that we are giving away.

      And I love the one-legged milking stool. My uncle would have done so too,

  3. Tom Thatcher

    And do you remember the one and only family joke, Rachel? “Why has a milking-stool only got three legs? A: because the cow’s got the udder.” If you want blank stares from all and sundry and without exception, try that one! The mystery words are: milking-stool, three legs, cow and udder. We used to balance that milking stool by the tip of one leg in the palm of the hand, do you remember? Our father also had one joke: in the Compasses Inn, the tables all had an iron rim like the outside of an old cartwheel. His question/joke was, “How old are these tables?” Blank stares with a grudging “Go on, then.” He would reply, “They are older than they look: they date from the Iron Edge.” Outbreak of quiet mutters about “Care in the Community” and “even worse than his bloody son.”

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Oh my gosh, only five years apart and our memories are so different. I don’t remember that as a family joke at all. Just Uncle Stephen going on about the horrors of hand milking in a distant field on a cold dark morning.

  4. Tom Thatcher

    PS So pleased about the book. The kids ask all the time, “When’s Auntie Rachel publishing her book?”

  5. Mexico Cooks!

    Rachel, I’m shocked to my fingers, which don’t want to work to type a comment. You are LEAVING Mexico! Somehow, even though we don’t see one another frequently, you have been a rock of friendship and knowledge and that thing beyond knowledge–wisdom. Those things won’t change, but England seems so far away, and in so many ways.

    Congratulations on the book, godspeed in going East, and keep in touch. We’re in town till May 20, when we leave for Europe–back on July 1.


    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Cristina, I thought I’d replied to this ages ago. Jusst shows how little I have been on the computer recently. Yes, it’s a sad decision but there were many, many reasons.

  6. Kay Curtis

    When I was a kid in ID several of my parents friends had dairy farms and they had milking machines but the cows always had to be finished off by hand. The stools they used were made of two pieces of 2X4 — one piece about 10″ long and one piece about 8″ long. (as I remember) The 8″ piece was centered at one end of the 10″ piece and secured with 4 or 5 10d or 12d nails. This, with the two legs&feet of the milker made a three-legged “stool” and was very light and cheap and easy to take around or replace and there were several of them around the milking shed. This is very like the one tied to the ‘tail’ of the milkers in the Alps.

  7. Mary Lou Heiss

    Hi Rachel,

    Thrilled for you and to know that your book will soon be in print! Welcome back to the States…sorry that I never had the chance to visit you in Mexico. Hope the move is as smooth as can be and with as few tears as possible.

    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Thank you Mary Lou. No tears, only one lost cushion and one broken picture glass and the minimum of rows thanks to the best of husbands. So sorry you never had the chance to visit. I hope to be ordering from you soon. Improving my tea connoisseurship is one of my goals.


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