Aug 222018

Today is the birthday (1847) of John Forrest, 1st Baron Forrest of Bunbury GCMG, an Australian explorer, the first Premier of Western Australia, and a cabinet minister in Australia’s first federal parliament. John Forrest is the name I use in English-speaking countries and was my father’s and grandfather’s name as well. Hence, I had a small fascination with this Western Australian John Forrest when I lived in Australia as a boy. I have encountered multiple John Forrests in my lifetime – unsurprisingly, since Forrest is one of the most common family names in Scotland, and John for decades was the most popular given name. There are a few things that are slightly surprising, however. John Forrest had a brother called Alexander and so did my father, hence my full English name is John Alexander Forrest – also the full name of a current Australian politician. Needless to say, we are unrelated.

John Forrest was one of 10 children of William and Margaret Forrest, who emigrated to Australia as servants under Dr John Ferguson in 1842. He was born at Preston point near Bunbury in what was then the British colony of Western Australia. He was known as Jack to his family (as was my father). Among his seven brothers were Alexander Forrest (explorer, surveyor, and politician), and David Forrest (drover and politician). He attended the government school in Bunbury under John Hislop until the age of 12, when he was sent north to Perth to attend the Bishop’s Collegiate School, now Hale School, starting there in January 1860.

In November 1863, he was apprenticed to a government land surveyor named Thomas Carey. When his term of apprenticeship ended in November 1865, he became the first man born and educated in the colony to qualify as a land surveyor. He then commenced work as a surveyor with the government’s Lands and Surveys Department.

Between 1869 and 1874, Forrest led three expeditions into the uncharted land surrounding the colony of Western Australia. In 1869, he led a fruitless search for the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt who had gone missing in the desert west of the site of the present town of Leonora. They found no sign of Leichhardt, and the country over which they travelled was useless for farming. However, Forrest did report that his compass had been affected by the presence of minerals in the ground, and he suggested that the government send geologists to examine the area. Ultimately, the expedition achieved very little, but it was of great personal advantage to Forrest whose reputation with his superiors and in the community at large was greatly enhanced.

The following year, he surveyed Edward John Eyre’s land route, from Perth to Adelaide. Eyre had crossed the Great Australian Bight 30 years earlier, but his expedition had been poorly planned and equipped, and Eyre had nearly perished from lack of water. Forrest’s expedition was to follow Eyre’s route, but it would be thoroughly planned and properly resourced. Also, the recent discovery of safe anchorages at Israelite Bay and Eucla would permit Forrest’s team to be reprovisioned along the way by a chartered schooner Adur. Forrest’s brief was to provide a proper survey of the route, which might be used in future to establish a telegraph link between the colonies and also to assess the suitability of the land for pasture. Forrest’s team consisted of six men: his brother Alexander was second in charge, police constable Hector Neil McLarty, farrier William Osborn, trackers Windich and Billy Noongale, 16 horses and a number of dogs. The party left Perth on 30th March 1870, and arrived at Esperance on 24th April.

After resting and reprovisioning, the party left Esperance on 9th May and arrived at Israelite Bay nine days later. They had encountered very little feed for their horses and no permanent water, but they managed to obtain sufficient rain water from rock water-holes. After reprovisioning, the team left for Eucla on 30 May. Again, they encountered very little feed and no permanent water, and this time the water they obtained from rock water-holes was not sufficient. They were compelled to dash more than 240 kilometers (150 mi) to a spot where Eyre had found water in 1841. Having secured a water source, they rested and explored the area before moving on, eventually reaching Eucla on 2nd July. At Eucla, they rested and reprovisioned and explored inland, where they found good pasture land. On 14 July, the team started the final leg of their expedition through unsettled country: from Eucla to the nearest South Australian station. During the last leg, almost no water could be found, and the team was compelled to travel day and night for nearly five days. They saw their first signs of civilization on 18th July and eventually reached Adelaide on 27th August. A week later, they boarded ship for Western Australia, arriving in Perth on 27th September. They were honored at two receptions: one by the Perth City Council and a citizens’ banquet at the Horse and Groom Tavern. Speaking at the receptions, Forrest was modest about his own contributions but praised the efforts of the members of the expedition and divided a government gratuity between them.

Forrest’s bight crossing was one of the most organized and best managed expeditions of his time. As a result, his party successfully completed in five months a journey that had taken Eyre twelve and arrived in good health and without the loss of a single horse. However, the tangible results were not great. They had not travelled far from Eyre’s track, and although a large area was surveyed, only one small area of land suitable for pasture was found. A second expedition by the same team returned to the area between August and November 1871 and found further good pastures, north-north-east of Esperance.

In August 1872, Forrest was invited to lead a third expedition, from Geraldton to the source of the Murchison River and then east through the uncharted centre of Western Australia to the overland telegraph line from Darwin to Adelaide. The purpose was to discover the nature of the unknown centre of Western Australia, and to find new pastoral land. Forrest’s team again consisted of six men, including his brother Alexander and Windich. They also had 20 horses and food for eight months. The team left Geraldton on 1st April 1874, and a fortnight later, it passed through the colony’s outermost station. On 3rd May the team passed into unknown land. It found plenty of good pastoral land around the headwaters of the Murchison River, but by late May, it was travelling over arid land. On 2nd June, while dangerously short of water, it discovered Weld Springs, “one of the best springs in the colony” according to Forrest. At Weld Springs on 13th June, the party was attacked by a large group of Aborigines, and Forrest shot a number of them.

Beyond Weld Springs, water was extremely hard to obtain, and by 4th July the team relied on occasional thunderstorms for water. By 2nd August, the team was critically short of water; a number of horses had been abandoned, and Forrest’s journal indicates that the team had little confidence of survival. A few days later, it was rescued by a shower of rain. On 23rd August, it was again critically short of water and half of their horses were near death, when they were saved by the discovery of Elder Springs.

Then, the land became somewhat less arid, and the risk of dying from thirst started to abate. Other difficulties continued, however: the team had to abandon more of their horses, and one member of the team suffered from scurvy and could barely walk. The team finally sighted the telegraph line near Mount Alexander on 27th September and reached Peake Telegraph Station three days later. The remainder of the journey was a succession of triumphant public receptions by passing through each country town en route to Adelaide. The team reached Adelaide on 3rd November 1874, more than six months after they started from Geraldton.

From an exploration point of view, Forrest’s third expedition was of great importance. A large area of previously unknown land was explored, and the popular notion of an inland sea was shown to be unlikely. However, the practical results were not great. Plenty of good pastoral land was found up to the head of the Murchison, but beyond that, the land was useless for pastorage, and Forrest was convinced that it would never be settled. Forrest also made botanical collections during the expedition that were given to Ferdinand von Mueller, who, in turn, named Eremophila forrestii in his honor. Forrest published an account of his expeditions, Explorations in Australia, in 1875. In 1882, he was made a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) by Queen Victoria for his services in exploring the interior.

Forrest was an outstanding surveyor, and his successful expeditions had made him a popular public figure as well. Consequently, he was promoted rapidly through the ranks of the Lands and Surveys Department, and in January 1883 he succeeded Malcolm Fraser in the positions of surveyor-general and commissioner of crown lands. This was one of the most powerful and responsible positions in the colony, and it accorded him a seat on the colony’s Executive Council. At the same time, Forrest was nominated to the colony’s Legislative Council. After Britain ceded to Western Australia the right to self-rule in 1890, Forrest was elected unopposed to the seat of Bunbury in the Legislative Assembly. On 22nd December 1890, Governor William Robinson appointed Forrest the first Premier of Western Australia. In May of the following year, he was knighted KCMG for his services to the colony.

The Forrest Ministry immediately embarked on a programme of large-scale public works funded by loans raised in London. Public works were greatly in demand at the time, because of the British government’s reluctance to approve public spending in the colony. Under the direction of the brilliant engineer C. Y. O’Connor, many thousands of miles of railway were laid, and many bridges, jetties, lighthouses and town halls were constructed. The two most ambitious projects were the Fremantle Harbour Works, one of the few public works of the 1890s which is still in use today; and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, one of the greatest engineering feats of its time, in which the Helena River was dammed and the water piped over 550 kilometres (340 mi) to Kalgoorlie. Forrest’s public works programme was generally well received, although on the Eastern Goldfields where the rate of population growth and geographical expansion far outstripped the government’s ability to provide works, Forrest was criticised for not doing enough. He invited further criticism in 1893 with his infamous “spoils to the victors” speech, in which he appeared to assert that members who opposed the government were putting at risk their constituents’ access to their fair share of public works.

Forrest’s government also implemented a number of social reforms, including measures to improve the status of women, young girls and wage-earners. However, although Forrest did not always oppose proposals for social reform, he never instigated or championed them. Critics have therefore argued that Forrest deserves little credit for the social reforms achieved under his premiership. On political reform, however, Forrest’s influence was unquestionable. In 1893, Forrest guided through parliament a number of significant amendments to the Constitution of Western Australia, including an extension of the franchise to all men regardless of property ownership. He also had a significant role in repealing section 70 of that constitution, which had provided that 1% of public revenue should be paid to a Board (not under local political control) for the welfare of Indigenous people, and was “widely hated” by the colonists.

The major political question of the time, though, was federation. Forrest was in favor of federation, and felt that it was inevitable, but he also felt that Western Australia should not join until it obtained fair terms. He was heavily involved in the framing of the Australian Constitution, representing Western Australia at a number of meetings on federation, including the National Australasian Conventions in Sydney in 1891 and in Adelaide in 1897, and the Australasian Federal Conventions in Sydney in 1897 and in Melbourne in 1898. He fought hard to protect the rights of the less populous states, arguing for a strong upper house organized along state lines. He also argued for a number of concessions to Western Australia, and for the building of a trans-Australian railway. Although he was largely unsuccessful in his endeavors, by 1900 he was convinced that better terms were not to be obtained, so called the referendum in which Western Australians voted to join the federation, and Western Australia became a part of the nation of Australia in 1901.

On 30th December 1900, Forrest accepted the position of Postmaster-General in Edmund Barton’s federal caretaker government. Two days later, he received news that he had been made a GCMG “in recognition of services in connection with the Federation of Australian Colonies and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia”. Forrest was postmaster-general for only 17 days: he resigned to take up the defense portfolio, which had been made vacant by the death of Sir James Robert Dickson. On 13th February 1901, he resigned as premier of Western Australia and as member for Bunbury. In the March 1901 federal election, the first one ever, Forrest was elected, unopposed, on a moderate Protectionist platform to the federal House of Representatives seat of Swan. He held the defense portfolio for over two years. After a cabinet reshuffle on 7th August 1903, he became Minister for Home Affairs. The December 1903 federal election greatly weakened the governing party. Shortly afterwards, it was defeated and replaced by a Labour government under Chris Watson. Forrest moved to the crossbenches, where he was a scathing critic of the Labour government’s policies and legislation. After George Reid’s Free Trade Party took office in August 1904, he remained on the crossbenches but largely supported the government.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of Forrest’s time in the federal government. The early days of Australian federation were fraught with complexities that I would rather not get into. It’s all part of the historical record. On 6th February 1918, Forrest was informed that he was to be raised to the British peerage as “Baron Forrest of Bunbury in the Commonwealth of Australia and of Forrest in Fife in the United Kingdom.” Despite the announcement, however, no letters patent were issued before his death, so there in uncertainty whether or not his peerage was officially created. Forrest had been suffering from a cancer on his temple since early in 1917, and by 1918, he was very ill. He resigned as treasurer on 21st March 1918, and shortly afterwards boarded ship for London, where he hoped to obtain specialist medical attention. He also hoped to be able to take his seat in the House of Lords. However, on 2 September 1918, with his ship off the coast of Sierra Leone, he died. He was buried there, but his remains were later brought back to Western Australia and interred in Karrakatta Cemetery.

Lord John Forrest was a big man. He was 260 lbs when he died. This tells me that he did not spend his evenings dining on short commons and bush tucker, although he would have been no stranger to the latter on his explorations. My posts have given plenty of Australian recipes, bush tucker recipes, and Scottish recipes as well (the land of his roots). His family came from Fife, which is reflected in the full title of his peerage. Fife is a region in Scotland that at one time was a kingdom with a venerable history, and birthplace of numerous luminaries in science, exploration, engineering, politics, and history. Fife is also well known for its beef, lamb, and fish, along with oats, peas, raspberries, and other mainstays of Scottish cuisine. As Scots immigrants to Australia I expect Forrest’s childhood, much like mine, was dominated by traditional British cooking. My father, John Forrest, loved his breakfast porridge and his Sunday roast lamb every bit as much as any Scots immigrant to Australia. In that sense, you can take any Scots recipe as a celebratory dish for the day. Because Forrest was also a notable Victorian, I am going to take a slight left turn and give you this recipe from Mrs Beeton for snow cake. She claims it is a “genuine Scotch recipe” but it definitely has a colonial feel because one of the chief ingredients is Bermuda arrowroot, rather than regular flour.

Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) is one of the oldest cultigens from the New World. There is evidence that it was cultivated as early as 8200 BCE (around the same time that plants were first being domesticated in Mesopotamia). The root is dried and pounded into a flour, which these days is more often used a thickener than as a chief ingredient. I used to use it all the time for sauces because I find it superior to both regular flour and cornstarch. I have not tried this recipe, which seems to be rather like angel cake – light and airy. In Beeton’s time this was an expensive endeavor.


(A genuine Scotch Recipe.)

  1. INGREDIENTS.—1 lb. of arrowroot, 1/2 lb. of pounded white sugar, 1/2 lb. of butter, the whites of 6 eggs; flavouring to taste, of essence of almonds, or vanilla, or lemon.

Mode.—Beat the butter to a cream; stir in the sugar and arrowroot gradually, at the same time beating the mixture. Whisk the whites of the eggs to a stiff froth, add them to the other ingredients, and beat well for 20 minutes. Put in whichever of the above flavourings may be preferred; pour the cake into a buttered mould or tin and bake it in a moderate oven from 1 to 1-1/2 hour.

Time.—1 to 1-1/2 hour.

Average cost, with the best Bermuda arrowroot, 4s. 6d.; with St. Vincent ditto, 2s. 9d.

Sufficient to make a moderate-sized cake. Seasonable at any time.

Nov 092017

Today is the birthday (1801) of Gail Borden II, a native New Yorker who settled in Texas in 1829, where he worked as a land surveyor, newspaper publisher, and inventor. He is best known as the developer of a method for condensing milk which he patented in 1853. This gives me the opportunity to talk about both Borden and condensed milk. For starters, condensed milk is somewhat similar to, but not the same as, evaporated milk – as any cook knows. Go here for the history of evaporated milk:  Condensed milk was developed before evaporated milk because it was easier to manufacture. Its high sugar content is a natural antibacterial and preservative, but it changes the character of the milk.

Borden was born in Norwich, New York to Gail Borden Jr. (1777–1863), a pioneer and landowner, and his wife Philadelphia Wheeler (1780–1828), who died at age 48 from yellow fever in Nashville, Tennessee. The details of Borden’s childhood are unclear, but he moved twice with his family while growing up, first to Kennedy’s Ferry, Kentucky (renamed as Covington in 1814), and in 1816 to New London, Indiana. Borden received his only formal schooling in Indiana, attending school during 1816 and 1817 to learn the art of surveying.

In 1822, Borden set out with his brother, Thomas. They intended to move to New Orleans, but settled in Amite County, Mississippi. Borden stayed in Liberty for seven years. He worked as the county surveyor and as a schoolteacher in Bates and Zion Hill. He was well known around town for running rather than walking to school every morning. While living in Mississippi, Borden met Penelope Mercer, whom he married in 1828. The couple had six children during their 16-year marriage. Borden and his family left Mississippi in 1829 and moved to Texas, following his brother John Borden. Thomas also settled in Texas. As a surveyor, Borden plotted the towns of Houston and Galveston. He collaborated on drawing the first topographical map of Texas in 1835.

In February 1835, Borden and his brother John entered into partnership with Joseph Baker to publish a newspaper. They based their newspaper in San Felipe de Austin, which was centrally located among the colonies in eastern Texas. The first issue of the Telegraph and Texas Register appeared on October 10, 1835, days after the Texas Revolution began. Soon after the newspaper began publishing, John Borden left to join the Texian Army, and his brother Thomas took his place as Borden’s partner. As the Mexican army moved east into the colonies, the Telegraph was soon the only newspaper in Texas still in operation. Their 21st issue was published on March 24. This contained the first list of names of Texans who died at the Battle of the Alamo. On March 27, the Texas Army reached San Felipe, carrying word that the Mexican advance guard was approaching. According to a later editorial in the Telegraph, the publishers were “the last to consent to move.” The Bordens dismantled the printing press and brought it with them as they evacuated with the rear guard on March 30. The Bordens retreated to Harrisburg. On April 14, as they were in the process of printing a new issue, Mexican soldiers arrived and seized the press. The soldiers threw the type and press into Buffalo Bayou and arrested the Bordens. The Texas Revolution ended days later.

Lacking funds to replace his equipment, Borden mortgaged his land to buy a new printing press in Cincinnati. The 23rd issue of the Telegraph was published in Columbia on August 2, 1836. Although many had expected Columbia to be the new capital, the First Texas Congress instead chose the new city of Houston. Borden relocated to Houston, and published the first Houston issue of his paper on May 2, 1837. The newspaper was in financial difficulty, as the Bordens rarely paid their bills. In March 1837, Thomas Borden sold his interest in the enterprise to Francis W. Moore Jr., who took over as chief editor. Three months later, Gail Borden transferred his shares to Jacob W. Cruger.

In Texas, Borden shifted into politics. He was a delegate at the Convention of 1833, where he assisted in writing early drafts of a Republic of Texas constitution. He also shared administrative duties with Samuel M. Williams during 1833 and 1834 when Stephen F. Austin was away in Mexico. President Sam Houston appointed Borden as the Republic of Texas Collector of Customs at Galveston in June 1837. Houston’s successor to the presidency, Mirabeau B. Lamar, removed Borden from office in December 1838, replacing him in the patronage position with a lifelong friend from Mobile, Alabama, Dr. Willis Roberts, newly arrived in Texas. Roberts’ son later was appointed Secretary of State of the Republic. However, Borden had been so well liked, the newcomer was resented. The Galveston News frequently criticized the new regime concerning malfeasance. When a shortfall in government funds came to light, Roberts offered to put up several personal houses and nine slaves as collateral until the matter could be settled. Two resentful desk clerks were later determined to have been embezzling funds, but this came too late for the doctor, who lasted in the job only until December 1839. Lamar appointed another man of his choice. After Houston was re-elected to the presidency, he reappointed Borden to the post, and he served from December 1841 to April 1843. He finally resigned after a dispute with Houston.

Borden then turned his attention to real estate matters. He found a position at the Galveston City Company, where he served for 12 years as a secretary and agent. During that period, he helped sell 2,500 lots of land, for a total of $1,500,000. During these years, he began to experiment with disease cures. His wife Penelope died of yellow fever on September 5, 1844. It caused frequent epidemics and had a high rate of fatalities during the 19th century. Borden began experimenting with finding a cure for the disease via refrigeration. He also developed an unsuccessful prototype for a terraqueous machine. This was a sail-powered wagon designed to travel over land and sea, which he completed in 1848.

By around 1849, Borden was experimenting with the creation of a dehydrated beef product known as the “meat biscuit”, which was loosely based upon the traditional Native American food, pemmican. Pioneers seeking gold in California needed a readily transportable food source that could endure harsh conditions and Borden marketed the meat biscuit as a suitable solution. Borden was operating a factory in Galveston to produce meat biscuits by 1851, and the product won him the Great Council Medal at the 1851 London World’s Fair. Notably, explorer Elisha Kane even carried a supply of meat biscuits on the Second Grinnell Expedition into the Arctic. However, Borden had been relying heavily upon the United States Army to issue him a lucrative contract to supply meat biscuits for use by American soldiers. When the military declined to buy into the product, Borden’s meat biscuit proved to be a failure.

During Borden’s return voyage from the Exhibition in London, a disease infected both cows aboard the ship. The cows eventually died, along with several children who drank the contaminated milk. Contamination threatened other supplies of milk across the country. In part, the event inspired Borden’s interest in preserving milk. In 1856, after three years of refining his model, Borden received the patent for his process of condensing milk by vacuum. At that time, he abandoned the meat biscuit, to focus on his new product. Having lost so much money in his beef biscuit endeavors, Borden was forced to recruit partners to begin production and marketing of this new product. He offered Thomas Green three-eighths of his patent rights and gave James Bridge a quarter interest on his investment; together, the three men built a condensery in Wolcottville, Connecticut (within modern-day Torrington), which opened in 1856. Green and Bridge were eager for profits, and when the factory was not immediately successful, they withdrew their support; it closed within a year.

Borden persuaded them and a third investor, Reuel Williams, to build a new factory, this time in Burrville, Connecticut (also within modern-day Torrington), which opened in 1857. This second factory was hurt by the Panic of 1857 and had trouble turning a profit. The following year, Borden’s fortunes began to change when he met Jeremiah Milbank, a financier from New York, on a train. Milbank was impressed by Borden’s enthusiasm for and confidence in condensed milk, and the two became equal partners. Together, they founded the New York Condensed Milk Company. As a railroad magnate and banker, Milbank understood large-scale finance, which was critical to development of the business and Borden’s success. Milbank invested around $100,000 into Borden’s business. When Milbank died in 1884, the market value of his holdings was estimated at around $8,000,000.

With the founding of the New York Condensed Milk Company, sales of Borden’s condensed milk began to improve. The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 soon after created a large demand for condensed milk from the Union Army. In 1861, Borden closed the factory in Burrville, opening the first of what would be many condensed milk factories in upstate New York and Illinois.

As the Civil War continued, he expanded his New York Condensed Milk Company quickly to meet the growing demand. Many new factories were built and licenses were granted to individuals to begin producing condensed milk in their own factories using Borden’s patent. Despite the quick growth of the company, Borden put a high value on sanitation. He developed cleanliness practices that continue to be used in the production of condensed milk to this day. While all of this rapid growth was occurring, Borden continued to experiment with the condensing of meat, tea, coffee, and cocoa, and in 1862 while operating a factory in Amenia, New York, he patented the condensing of juice from fruits, such as apples and grapes.] Borden tried to incorporate these other products into the line of the New York Condensed Milk Company, but the greatest demand was always for milk. It continued as the company’s major product.

Condensed milk can be used in 100s of recipes. My mother, when she missed Argentina and wanted some dulce de leche used to place a can in simmering water and cook it for 3 hours or so.  Works perfectly. Nowadays in Britain the contents of a boiled can are used as the layer between biscuit base and the banana and cream level in banoffee. During the communist era in Poland, it was common to boil a can of condensed milk in water for about three hours also, making what they called kajmak (although the original kaymak is a product similar to clotted cream). Homemade kajmak is less common nowadays, but recently some manufacturers of condensed milk introduced canned, ready-made kajmak which now is widely commercially produced, and is a national favorite for dessert fillings. In Russia, the same product is called варёная сгущёнка (varionaya sguschyonka, “boiled condensed milk”). One of Russia’s most famous cakes, “bird’s milk cake”, is often made with condensed milk.

Condensed milk is used in recipes for the popular Brazilian sweet brigadeiro, key lime pie, caramel candies, and other desserts. Condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk is also sometimes used in combination with clotted cream to make fudge in the UK and the US.

In many parts of SE Asia (notably Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar) as well as Europe, sweetened condensed milk is the preferred milk to be used to make coffee or tea. In Malaysia, teh tarik is made from tea mixed with condensed milk, and condensed milk is an integral element in Hong Kong tea culture. In the Canary Islands, it is served as the bottom stripe in a glass of the local café con leche and in Valencia it is served as a café bombón.

A popular treat in Asia is to put condensed milk on toast and eat it in a similar way as jam and toast. In West Yorkshire, in the years after World War II, condensed milk was an alternative to jam. Nestlé has even produced a squeeze bottle for this very purpose. Condensed milk is a major ingredient in many Indian desserts and sweets. While most Indians start with normal whole milk and reduce it, condensed milk has also become popular because it saves time.

In New Orleans, sweetened condensed milk is commonly used as a topping on chocolate or similarly cream-flavored snowballs. In Scotland, it is mixed with sugar and butter then boiled to form a popular sweet candy called tablet or Swiss-milk-tablet, very similar to a version of Brazilian brigadeiro called branquinho. In some parts of the Southern United States, condensed milk is a key ingredient in lemon ice box pie, a sort of cream pie. In the Philippines, condensed milk is mixed with some evaporated milk and eggs, spooned into shallow metal containers over liquid caramelized sugar, and then steamed to make a stiffer and more filling version of crème caramel known as leche flan, also common in Brazil under the name pudim de leite.

In Mexico, sweetened condensed milk is one of the main ingredients of a cold cake dessert combined with evaporated milk, Marie biscuits, lemon juice, and tropical fruit. In Brazil, this recipe is also done exchanging pudding for the fruit, most commonly vanilla and chocolate, known as torta de bolacha.

In Jamaica, Guinness Punch is prepared using condensed milk mixed with bottled stout. This is often flavored with nutmeg and cocoa.

In Latin American countries as well as many parts of the Caribbean, Canary Islands, Albania, the Republic of Macedonia and some other parts of Europe condensed milk (along with evaporated milk and whole milk or canned cream) is used as a key ingredient in the popular tres leches cake dessert. It probably originates in Nicaragua but quickly spread. There are numerous variants depending on whether you make a sponge cake or a butter cake, and whether you add a whipped cream topping (possibly with fruit) or not.  Here’s one recipe:

Tres Leches


1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
5 eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
1 (14 fl oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12 fl oz) can evaporated milk
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C. Grease and flour a 9×13” baking pan.

Sift the flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Cream the butter and 1 cup of sugar together until fluffy. Add the eggs and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla extract and beat well. Add the flour mixture 2 tablespoons at a time mixing well until thoroughly blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 30 minutes, pierce the cake several times with a fork. Cool in the pan on a rack when it is cooked.

Combine the whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk together. Pour over the top of the cooled cake.

Whip the whipping cream, the remaining 1 cup of the sugar, and the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla together until thick. Spread over the top of cake. Refrigerate.  Serve in squares.