From the Homestead Kitchen: Don’t Cry Over Soured Milk

by Gennie Truelock

I was recently going through the Museum’s collection of cookbooks and recipe pamphlets looking for another item to bake when I came across an interesting booklet printed in 1920 called A Cook Book for the Modern Home Maker Showing the Value of Using more Milk in the Menu produced for the Peerless Creamy of Los Angeles.

Milk recipe cover
 A Cookbook for the Modern Homemaker Showing the Value of Using More Milk in the Menu, produced for the Peerless Creamery of Los Angeles, 1920. From the Homestead Museum’s collection.

The pamphlet contains many recipes incorporating milk and other dairy products in both sweet and savory dishes. The section that stood out to me however, was one titled “Using Buttermilk, Left-over Milk, and Sour Cream.” The first sentence in the paragraph preceding the recipes states: “Milk is unique among foodstuffs in that souring does not affect its food value or usability.” I admit that I tend to be a bit overly cautious when it comes to food expiration dates, especially when it comes to dairy, so to find a recipe book by a dairy producer promoting the use of spoiled milk products was initially pretty surprising. But then I began to consider when this booklet was printed and how different the typical home kitchen looked at this time. By 1920, refrigerators were relatively new for home use and cost as much as a car, making it financially prohibitive for most families. The majority of people were still relying on the iceman and their icebox to keep perishable goods at safe temperatures, but that didn’t always prevent items, especially milk and cream, from going bad. What was a homemaker to do? One solution this booklet provides is that while spoiled milk and cream may not be tasty to drink, they still have great value, especially in baking, which leads us to the recipe for this post: Sour Cream Drop Cookies. I think this recipe was included in the pamphlet not because sour cream was a staple dairy product available from the Peerless Creamery (it’s not listed as one of the items they offer for purchase in the pamphlet), but because it was a way to minimize food waste.

Milk Sour cream drop cookies recipe
Recipe for the Sour Cream Drop Cookies.

Now, I am not a food scientist or a culinary historian and there are many things that I have in my refrigerator that I haven’t given too much thought about who created it or how it is made, and that includes sour cream. As the name implies, traditional sour cream is made from the cream that has been skimmed off of milk and left to “sour,” or ferment at room temperature, giving it a tangy flavor. Today, sour cream, though not typically made in the traditional fashion, has become a common sight in most kitchens, often used as the base for dips or as a topper for baked potatoes and nachos. However, in the 1920s, for most people the thought of eating fermented cream was unusual. The idea most likely came with the increase of Eastern European and Jewish immigrants coming to the United States, and later California by the mid to late 1800s. These communities have a long-standing tradition of dairy farming and incorporating sour cream into numerous traditional culinary dishes.

Therefore, I decided to challenge myself and make these cookies in the spirit in which they were meant to be baked. Instead of reaching for the container of sour cream that I already had in my refrigerator, I decided to make my own sour cream and use that in the recipe. If you are interested in trying to make your own sour cream, here is a link to the recipe I used.

So how did it turn out?

Sour cream cookies pic
A plate of the Sour Cream Drop Cookies with cinnamon sugar on top, served with a glass of cold (not fermented) chocolate milk.

I have to say that overall it is a tasty, albeit very simple cookie. The crumb texture is very nice, it isn’t too sweet, and it leaves a creamy aftertaste. Just to add a bit more flavor, I recommend adding a pinch of salt and a dash of vanilla to this recipe, as well as a sprinkling of cinnamon sugar on top before baking. I also recommend experimenting with the recipe. It would make a great base for an interesting take on a frosted cookie or a new approach to making chocolate chip cookies. I think the possibility for mix-ins are endless.

If you give the recipe a try, let us know what you think! Share your results with us on social media @homesteadmuseum, or send me an email about your thoughts at


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