On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love proclaimed “enough with the birds already!” So, instead we get eight maids a milking. A milk maid was a lady who was a professional cow milker. Often she would be involved in the manufacture of butter and cheese as well. The job has pretty much entirely been made obsolete by milking machines. Darn those newfangled robots!
The phrase “smooth as a milkmaid’s skin” is not generally referring to the beauty of these ladies, but making a statement based on fact. Because many milkmaids would have been exposed to cowpox, which brings with it a partial immunity to the disfiguring and potentially deadly smallpox, their skin remained unharmed and smooth.
Milk is one of only two natural substances that are exclusively made to be food. (The other being honey) As a result, it’s one of the most nutrient-packed items on the menu. One of the very first facts I wrote was about baby blue whales that can grow up to 8 pounds an hour on their diet of milk.
Humans have been drinking milk… well… as long as we’ve been mammals. But as we learned to domesticate animals as far back as 8000 BC, the consumption of milk throughout adult life has been a part of our diets. Scandinavian people (led by Finland) drink the most milk in the world, averaging 183 litres per person every year. Canada and the US are in the 80-90 litres per year range. Surprisingly, China is at the bottom of the list with a tiny 9 litres of milk consumed per person.