View Exhibit

Milk Gourd

Display: Liquid Refreshments
Culinary Technique: fermentation

Date: c. 1970

Dimensions: 3" h" x 13.75" w x 2.5" d

In Kenya, community practices and locally available plants and cow breeds determine how traditional fermented milk foods are prepared. Mursik, a soft cheese- or yogurt-like food, adds fat and protein to the daily diet. The Maasai and Kalenjin people believe that it strengthens the immune system.

In a complex preparation process, a woman scours a hollow, long-necked gourd with water and branches from a special tree, then rubs the inside with a burned stick of high-tannin tree bark. The smoking embers help preserve the milk, add flavor and color, and make the gourd airtight. She then pours in boiled milk, corks the gourd, and leaves the milk to sour, periodically draining off whey and adding fresh milk. Gourds ripen for a month in a cabinet that holds many such vessels, each marked with carvings to personalize and identify them.