| Food Chain No. 13 - November 1994 |
For many women in rural Kenya, the treatment and storage of milk is a traditional skill. Dairy researchers in the country have recently started studying the processes that pastoral women use in the processing of milk.
THE TREATMENT OF MILK
Pastoral women use a range of processing methods whose length and complexity depend on the nature of settlement. Nomadic pastoralists like the Maasai and Samburu have shorter milk-processing procedures and shorter-lived products. Settled pastoralists like the Tugen, Kipsigis and Nandi have more elaborate processes which preserve the milk for relatively longer periods
Different pastoral groups likewise use different methods to prepare gourds for storing milk. In preparing the gourd, the Tugen women, for instance, make a brush from the stick of the sosisondo tree to clean the inside. Brushes made from this tree are hardy and may last for up to two years before replacement. Samburu women use the curved mid-rip of the stalk of palm leaf. The curved end is chewed into a brush-like tool for use, and is ideal for cleaning out pumpkin-shaped gourds
Leaves with a rough texture, used to dislodge the fat embedded in the inside walls of the gourd, have a scouring effect. An alternative to the leaves is a handful of small stones The gourd is not considered clean until it has been washed out 3 or 4 times in warm or cold water. It is then ready for drying, in a shaded area, for at least a day.
Charcoal, formed from the smouldering embers of branches from the Ite tree is used as a milk preservative. Women use the embers to coat the inside of the cleaned gourd. The charcoal has various effects. It lines the inside of the gourd, reducing its porosity and therefore making it airtight. The smoke from the embers also has a preservative effect which prevents undesired bacterial multiplication that causes spoilage, while allowing natural souring The charcoal smoke imparts a special flavour to the milk, and a bluish colour which is of high aesthetic value to the consumer. Having prepared the gourd, women pasteurize the milk by boiling. The pasteurized milk is left to cool before pouring into the gourd. Mothers training their daughters in the treatment of milk emphasize that hot milk is never poured into a gourd Finally the gourd is corked to render it airtight, making it possible for the milk to be preserved for up to a month
MILK AS A MEANS OF SURVIVAL
Milk has a special significance for pastoral people who treat it as an important element of food security for their families The gourds are put in a lengut (wooden crate) in a corner to serve as a drink cabinet. Visitors are served milk from this cabinet, which in some houses may store up to 50 gourds. On occasions such as weddings or circumcision ceremonies, milk is served abundantly as a refreshing drink. To symbolize the importance of milk to survival, brides are presented with gourds.