Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Grade Two

Speaking of milk and dairies.
It is not surprising that Miss Cheda, who lived on the Cheda Ranch, and was not one of our young teachers that might, like Miss Hanrahan, have been our parents' classmates in high school, thought that we should know something about the food chain (not that one used that term yet).
She arranged two memorable class trips. First she took us out to Cal Poly to see the cattle and the milking. California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo was not then called a university. Indeed, it was still largely agricultural and it was just Cal Poly. I heard my mother speaking somewhat darkly about the sort of girls who, in high school, went out with Poly boys. We were shown nice cows and I learned that the tan ones with pink noses were Jerseys, the tan ones with black noses were Guernseys, and the gentle cow all black and white, like the ones in picture books, was a Holstein. That Jerseys gave milk with more cream but less of it, that Holsteins gave lots but not very creamy, and that Guernseys were intermediate in both respects. They weren't being milked at that hour, but we were shown the equipment and told how rapidly it went to the dairy for pasteurization. I am quite sure that the simple differentiation of three breeds may have been just for us.
Perhaps a month later we all went to the Golden State Dairy (where, yes, my father worked, but not in the rooms that we visited), which some time after the War became Foremost (and who knows what Foremost belongs to now). We saw the pasteurizer in operation and the temperature control was explained. We saw homogenization (which I didn't, and still don't, understand) and the skimmer, which on the other hand, separated cream to be sold as coffee cream or whipping cream or used to make ice cream. We saw the butter churners, not a bit like those in The Real Mother Goose. For that matter, everything we saw was a major and important revision of illustrations in our picture books, just as Cal Poly didn't milk cows sitting on a stool with one's cheek against the cow's flank, into a galvanized pail (or even an oaken bucket). It makes me think that what we saw in 1941–2 would look quaint today. Then they took us to the butter cutting and wrapping room, which surely would look very quaint now. A couple of extremely deft and quick young women were wrapping the quarter-pound sticks, or 'cubes' as we called the shorter ones, so rapidly and perfectly that I could hardly believe my eyes. I thought they were wonderful. Well, they were. But how long has it been since sticks of butter were wrapped by hand? At the end of the tour, of course, we were given ice cream cones as a treat.
School trips are still done, and I hope that all children are treated as well as we were. I thought of the dairy trip back in the 1980s when I went to Avery Island and took the tour of the Tabasco Sauce plant. The vats in which it is aged were most impressive. Now, however, if anyone bothers to go there, they jam you into a room and show you a video and then herd you into the gift shop. I was so ashamed when I took visitors from California there, not knowing what had happened.