Posted by: Erica Retrochef | February 26, 2009

What to do with sour milk?

Sour MilkPre-children, we never used a lot of milk in our house; Buzz has always been mildly lactose intolerant, so it was only used for the occasional recipe. Now, though, the two kids get plenty of milk every day (yes, I’ve fallen for the Dairy Council’s message that MILK BUILDS BONES). The local health-and-organic grocery store has milk in actual glass bottles from a organic, no-hormone Virginia dairy. You can return the bottles for a deposit (and should, since it’s a $2 deposit), and it’s just a seriously awesome way to buy milk. The bottles are just cool.

Unfortunately, the milk occasionally has a tendency to go off before the expiration date, far more than any other brand of milk I’ve ever bought. The store is always quite nice about it and exchanges for a fresh bottle with no questions asked, and it’s (kinda) on the way home so it isn’t extremely inconvenient. Tonight, we opened a bottle that allegedly had 3 days to go, and noticed it was sour… and Buzz decided, “Hey, people used to cook with this stuff, that would make it a Retro Recipe ingredient, right?”

Well… he’s right, but I’m not feeding it to the kids until he eats it with no ill effects.

See those chunks on the glass? That’s how you know it’s, uh, “good” for this recipe, originally from The Pioneer Cook Book.

Mrs. Ethington’s Old-Fashioned Muffins
2 cups uncooked oatmeal
1 1/2 cups sour milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted shortening
1 well-beaten egg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

Pour sour milk over oatmeal; allow to stand a few hours or overnight. Combine sugar, shortening and egg; add to oatmeal mixture. Sift together remaining dry ingredients; blend. Bake in greased or paper-lined muffin tins at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes 18 muffins.

After soaking up sour milk overnight, the oats had become a very solid mass. It broke up without too much trouble when stirred into the other ingredients, but it was interesting getting it out of the bowl.


The muffins themselves were good — a little on the bland side, though, so use a whole 1 teaspoon of salt instead of the 1/2 the recipe calls for. They are certainly hearty, and probably good for you with all that oatmeal goodness.


I’ll give it 24 hours before I feel really comfortable stating that the sour milk wasn’t a bad idea, though. Buttermilk would give the same tang (which wasn’t really obvious in the end product), and unspoiled milk should taste just as good — why use the spoiled stuff when there are alternatives? (Unless you happen to write a weird blog chronicling your occasional attempts to poison your family, of course, in which case go nuts.)


  1. Well, maybe your milk goes off fast because it’s trucked all the way from…VIRGINIA? That’s some serious miles on that milk.

    I don’t mean to make you jealous, but we get milk in bottles like that, fresh and organic, from a dairy just a few miles away. And, best of all–it’s delivered to our front door, and put in a cooler on our front porch every Monday afternoon! Yes, in more ways than one, it’s always 1956, here in Potterville, Colorado.

    But, I always thought that modern milk (pasteurized, homogenized, etc.) doesn’t so much sour as just get rancid. Do you have any home economics info on this?

  2. p.s. Here’s a recipe to help use up your milk, although you need to use good, fresh milk for this one. The kids will love it, and you will too. It’s a Japanese recipe for “milk jelly,” which is basically milk jello, only it tastes much better than you’d think.

    Milk Jelly

    1/4 C hot water
    1 envelope gelatin
    1-1/3 C milk, scalded
    1/3 C sugar
    1 t vanilla
    whipped cream and sprinkles to garnish

    Scald the milk, and sprinkle the gelatin on the hot water to soften and dissolve. Mix the gelatin into the milk, and stir in the sugar and vanilla. Pour into ramekins/dessert cups/wine glasses, and chill for a few hours. Garnish with the whipped cream and sprinkles (colored sugar sprinkles add a nice crunch and pretty colors, but jimmies will please the kids.) Use good quality vanilla, since that’s the major flavor in this dessert. Also, I think whole milk tastes better than skim, but whatever you have will do.

    I’d double this recipe for a family of 4. As it is, it makes two reasonable or three petite portions.

  3. I’m probably going to try biscuits with it next, which are a very traditional sour milk thing, I understand.

    @Historiann The milk we get definitely turns sour before it gets rancid. I don’t know why this is, but it definitely is a different process of spoilage than I’d seen with standard supermarket milk.

    The milk jelly sounds interesting, but several years of undiagnosed lactose intolerance have given me a taste aversion to milk. I just can’t drink the stuff; anything that even looks like milk turns my stomach. However, we will probably try the jelly for the kids.

  4. Yeah–Buzz, you’ll probably want to go to another room while the kids eat the milk jelly!

  5. @Historiann — Wow. I AM jealous. I can get local milk (well, local-ish — it’s from Greenville, 2 hours north), but it comes in plastic bottles AND I think it’s unpasteurized.

    I’ll do some homework and try to figure out the milk spoilage thing. As Buzz says, it’s definitely sour — my Daughter calls it “spicy.” There’s not really a smell, which is what I associated with bad milk growing up; you really have to sip the sour milk to notice that it’s gone off. (Which makes poor Daughter the guinea pig — I don’t know her milk is sour until she’s tasted it!)

    The milk jelly sounds really neat and I’ll try it for the kids this weekend — with fresh milk. (Apparently, when Buzz is doing yard work or otherwise out of the house 😉 )

  6. I’m not sure what type of cows your milk comes from but Swedish milk isn’t poisonous until it’s *really* bad. 🙂

    A couple of days or even a week old is no problem at all if you bake or cook with it. Pancakes are especially delicious if you make them with sour milk.

  7. As I understand it, sour milk isn’t bad for you at all, it just doesn’t taste great. My dad remembers his mom getting so excited when she would accidentally get a soured gallon of milk from the grocery. The grocer would give her a fresh gallon for free and let her keep the sour milk, which she used for cooking. I just wish I had her recipes!

  8. Just discovered your blog and was reading through the older posts whenI came on the one about soured milk. I’ve used it for cooking most of my life, and am pretty sure my mother and grandmother did too, and my mother-in-law, actually. Unless you actuall see green stuff growing on it, it’s pretty safe to use even after it’s sat in the fridge for awhile. I’m not sure about drinking it (don’t like buttermilk, which is similar), but cooking is okay as long as everything is cooked through. I’m sure you know about souring milk for a recipe if you don’t have butternilk on hand?

  9. Just commenting on ancient posts again! I always cook with sour milk unless it’s actually gone solid – I hate wasting it, and it makes anything involving baking powder (scones, pancakes etc) rise better. I won’t use it if it actually smells retchingly horrible, but a moderate “off” smell is fine – it disappears in the cooking.

    You’re right that you could use buttermilk, or even yoghurt, instead of sour milk – because they are basically specific kinds of sour milk!

  10. Very belatedly: authentic Irish soda bread requires sour milk. It rises due to baking soda reacting with the acid in the milk and producing gas. Buttermilk is often used instead but it’s not quite right, supposedly.

  11. Been hearing a lot lately online about “sour” milk vs. rancid milk. I’m 60 years old, raised to be a milk drinker (yup-strong bones!), and seldom see rancid milk. Only milk I’ve ever seen rancid is milk that’s been left unrefrigerated, or extremely old milk – over 3 months past the expiration date. Both go nasty, which is what you all must be calling rancid. Sour milk does smell bad to me. Rancid milk smells worse and has the slightest off grey color. Sour milk stays the same color, thickens over time.

    Chunks are clabbered milk. Used to make sour cream, yogurt and cheese. I use clabbered sour milk in place of sour cream in cooking sauces: same taste, less fat. Warm milk clabbers even before it goes sour. See below.

    FAMOUS for my waffles. Been making them for 40 years, always with sour milk. They are light and airy, the way waffles ARE SUPPOSED TO BE – not those nasty heavy as stone things like you get in hotel free breakfasts.

    I keep sour milk up to 5 weeks past the expired date – refrigerated, of course! The key is to ALWAYS pour your milk and put it back in the frig. Never let it sit out during a meal. Oh, and mark a giant X in grease pencil on your milk carton, so your kids don’t drink it!

    my dad retired, started a second career repairing frigs. If your milk goes off before the expiration date, get a frig thermometer and check – your frig should stay at or slightly below 40 degrees to be cold enough to keep produce, meat and dairy fresh. And yes, family standing with the frig door open thinking for minutes at a time, is bad! the less temperature variation the better for your produce, meat and milk.

  12. Sour milk is not toxic. We eat sour cream, yoghurt and cheese every day. As long as there no colours or fur in it its fine.

    • Cultured dairy produced in controlled circumstances is fine. But it’s misleading to only go by colour, smell, or appearance — toxic bacteria can grow invisibly. Sour milk could be completely fine (it was in this case!), sour milk could also cause some gastrointestinal distress. It’s up to every individual whether they want to accept that risk, but please don’t simply dismiss it.

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