Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

The Milk is Blinked!

the milk is blinked or blinky

blinked, blinky
A adjective Usu of milk; soured.
1956 Hall Coll. Del Rio TN You cain’t drink it. It’s blinked. 1961 Seeman Arms of Mt 38 We are a long way from a cow; besides, without ice, the local milk turns “blinky” almost at once. 1973 Pederson et al. LAGS blinked (Cocke Co TN); blinky (Cocke Co TN). 1975 Chalmers Better 66 Souring milk is blinky. 1986 Pederson et al. LAGS 18 of 27 (66.7%) of LAGS speakers  using blinked were from E Tenn; 4 of 11 (36%) of LAGS speakers using blinky were from E Tenn. 1995 Weber Rugged Hills 37 When we first moved here, Ruby-Noah introduced us to an expression that took us a while to figure out. Eventually, however, I realized that when she said “blinked milk” she meant milk that had gone a little sour. “My father truly enjoyed blinked milk,” Ruby-Noah told me. “He’d put it on a big piece of corn bread for supper.”
B noun Soured milk.
1917 Kephart Word-list 408 blinky = milk slightly soured.

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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I grew up in a family that used the word blinked for describing milk that had gone bad. Pap and Granny both used the word to describe milk that had spoiled or just had a funny taste to it. These days there’s so many preservatives in milk you’d think it’d never go bad, but it does on occasion.

I never gave any thought to how the term originated, but a few weeks back I found the following description in an old Foxfire Magazine:

 

“Blinky milk-that’s sour milk. Turning milk creates eye-bubbles. When the bubbles start blinking at you it’s read to churn.”

Foxfire Fall 1988 – Mountain Horse Sense 165

 

Wonder if that really is the origination of blinked milk? Makes sense to me.

Tipper

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36 Comments

  • Reply
    Perri Morrison
    January 13, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    I used to milk the cows for my granny and great-uncle as a kid. Our kin always used the word blinky for milk that was to be churned. We had an old barn cat or two, and they would line up for their squirts. They were pretty blinky, too, because I couldn’t always hit their mouths with the squirt!

  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    January 13, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Interesting! Never heard of it.
    I have heard “turned” for food that’s “turned bad”.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

    • Reply
      Carol
      September 13, 2019 at 4:17 am

      Staying at The Kimpton Hotel in Edinburgh Scotland where they leave a small bottle of milk in the small frig in each room. I almost poured some in my coffee when out of the blue the words “ this milk has gone blinky ” popped into my head. I hadn’t heard that expression in over 50 years. My parents used that term We had a milk cow and had more milk and cream that we knew what to do with. We’d drink it of course, but also churn butter, whip cream to put on cake and pie and cereal. We’d set gallon jars in a corner of the kitchen counter until it “clobbered” and then have big glasses of clabbered milk with big squares of hot corn bread all soggy in the glass. My dad liked warm chocolate cake in clambered milk. As his chubby daughter, I preferred my warm cake with tons of butter or whipped cream.

  • Reply
    Sherry
    January 12, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    I have heard and used the blinky term for milk going sour all my life! Boy would l love to have some real good homemade butter. We lived in Kingston, Tn. for awhile and a fellow my Daddy worked with at the plants in Oak Ridge, had a farm near us. We would go there and get the butter they churned and it was to die for. I remember asking my Dad why his friend was called “Grapevine.” He said that he lived so far back in the mountains he had to swing on grapevines to get to town! 🙂
    As for the violets…my grandmother always grew lots of violets and she did have a green thumb and they were soooo very lovely. She would give me one ever once in a while and I would try to care for it, but I must get the prize for killing African Violets!
    Sweet story…when Memaw passed away, her youngest daughter, my aunt, was hoping she would have some violets at the gravesite, but the rules of the cemetery wouldn’t allow the planting of flowers. She visited the grave just outside Oak Ridge, Tn. and as she approached it she was so blessed to see that her grave was covered in a blanket the most beautiful tiny violets and no other grave around had them!

  • Reply
    EAA
    January 12, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    I am an uncle. When I remembered my mother rooting cuttings from African violets I decided to try it myself. I had one plant that, I think was retrieved from a hospital room. I started taking cuttings off that one plant. I thought the cuttings would be all the same color and to have different colors I would have to buy more plants. The original plant was the perfect violet color that gives the plant its name. About half of the cuttings were the same color. The other half were various other color. I took cuttings off the new plants as they grew and not all their offspring were the same color as their parent plant. At one time I had well over 100 pots of African violets in a wide range of colors from cream to royal purple to variegated and every last one of them came from the same plant.
    I gave most of them away and my wife got tired of having the rest in the house, so now I have none.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 12, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Tipper,
    One more thing and I will quit posting comments. I wonder how many of all you Appalachian folks had Grandmothers, Aunts, Mothers and maybe Uncles that kept African Violets? Seems to me that it is/was a mountain thing to get ahold of an African Violet. Then as it grew, pass the cuttings around to all the relatives when they would visit. When visiting a home with someone that had a variety of plants and the “blessed green thumb” one could go home with a collection of leaves to root! ha My Aunt and Grandmother from NC as well as my husbands Grandmother from Alabama were pure geniuses and growing these plants. Of course, my Mother was no novice at this either, as I watched her clean the delicate leaves, water them and mix their violet homemade formula, Probably passed to her from her Mother. No, I don’t have it!
    The reason this came to mind. The person taking the leaves to root would try and write down the names on a piece of paper to put with the leaf for travel. Also, they had to stay warm too! But, not under the car heater!
    It occurred to me that Mom brought one home, the color being “whitish, bluish, cream” color and Grandmother said she thought it’s name was “Buttermilk”!
    Funny how your post brings back memories of our beloved people and their hobbies, too!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    quinn
    January 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Never heard of blinky milk, but back when I had dairy goats in CO, if I had more than needed I’d keep back some of the milk in a shallow pan in the barn overnight, then feed that clabbered milk to the pigs and hens next day. Sometimes I’d soak whole corn in it overnight, too. I don’t recall who told me not to feed milk to the stock unless it was clabbered. Of course this does not apply to feeding baby animals who haven’t yet been weaned – or to the cats who loved a little milk still fresh and warm from the goat 🙂

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Tipper,
    and Ethelene, after reading your comment, I wondered about your square butter molds. The molds we had were round sometimes with a carved stamp in the cap of the plunger. This made a beautiful cake of butter, so to speak. Brought out for company most of the time! I have a couple of these from my Grandmothers estate. Mom would make butter the modern way, but she used a cornered oblong mold, one had a simple design in the plunger.These looked like one pound butter shapes that you sometimes see today for sale at Amish stores. I reckon now all you can buy in the store is in those little quarter pound shapes in a one pound package!
    My neighbor just rounded out her butter with her hands, weighed them and placed them in the freezer for sale to folks that bought her eggs milk and butter. She rarely missed the weight as she had been making them for so long. She told me she still weighed them because as she said, “Would you believe, I have one customer takes the butter home and weighs it!” So she said she didn’t want to cheat anyone, not even by a small speck of an ounce! Bless her heart! Sometimes when you would buy a frozen one, you could see her thumbprint in the frozen butter. Wow, did she make some good butter.
    My Grandfather made my Grandmother a long mold with several sections for soap. When ready I have seen them pour the lye soap into that oblong sectioned mold. Mom used to bring it home, saying it would clean just about anything. Not good for tender skin. However, Moms complexion was always clean, clear and smooth. She hand washed her face, sometimes with a bit of Grandma’s lye soap flake she had left. That probably took off a layer of old skin! ha
    Thanks Tipper,
    and Ethlene loved your post!

  • Reply
    Luann
    January 12, 2017 at 2:18 pm

    Yes, I’ve used the word ‘blinky’ but had not heard blinked. When I was in grade school we had a Jersey milk cow. Oh the butter and cream we had!!
    Have also heard of something ‘going on the blink.’ Hadn’t thought of the two being connected tho.’

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    January 12, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Tipper: All of these comments are interesting. BUT that SUCCINCT comment posted by that Tim Mc at 8:09 am is the funniest comment I have ever read!
    Thanks for making these cold days seem pass on by quickly!
    ew

  • Reply
    EAA
    January 12, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Blinky, blanky, clabbered, turned milk turns into butter, buttermilk, yogurt, cheese and other yummy stuff. It blinks or blanks because of naturally occurring bacteria already in the milk when it comes out of the udder end of a cow. It is called lactobacillus. It eats on lactose (milk sugar) in milk turning it into lactic acid which gives buttermilk the sour taste “tang”. It also reacts with baking soda causing the formation of the carbon dioxide bubbles which makes your biscuits rise.
    If kept refrigerated the lactobacillus’ growth is stunted so it “keeps” longer. There are other, less friendly, bacteria in the milk that develop in the cold milk. These can make you sick. So if you want your milk to sour properly you leave it in a warm place where the lactobacillus can thrive and smother out the dangerous stuff.
    Today’s factory produced milk is essentially dead when it gets to your home. Pasteurization kills most of the bacteria in milk. A few survive but are slow growing which means the milk lasts longer but these are the most dangerous kind and if they take over in your gut can kill you. Processed milk doesn’t go blinky or even sour. It rots! Purposely soured milk has a slight acid smell. The smell of blinky raw milk won’t make you gag. If fact you might have to taste it to see if it has turned. Spoiled pasteurized milk has the odor of the gut wagon at the back of a chicken processing plant.
    My mother used to take raw milk, added a little bit of buttermilk and set it in a warm place to blink. In 24 hours or less it would get thick and could be churned into two of the best foods in the world. Sour cream butter and sour cream buttermilk!
    I don’t think today’s milk has preservatives but it does have “supplements” which the government forces the milk factories to add. One of the supplements they are NOT allowed it add is lactobacillus. Read about it here https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/790.html
    I’ll bet you knew I would have an opinion on today’s topic.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 12, 2017 at 12:07 pm

    Tipper,
    My East Tennessee friend that lives a holler or two over, down thru the pasture, past the silo and over the trot bridge, in the first brown house… absolutely can smell and spot blinked milk before she drinks it! Just amazing! I’ve heard her say, “Well, this quarts goin’ to granny fer butter!” I would say, “Why?” She would reply, “Hit’s blinked!” Ha When she started buying store-bought milk, she went straight home with it and put it in the refrigerator, no “lolly-gaggin'” around town with milk in her car. She swore half the milk in the stores were already starting to “blink”! Did she like “buttermilk”? Nope, like me she only cooked with it!
    When I was in fourth grade, a well-intentioned teacher decided some of us (not me as I grew up with it) needed to learn how to make and to taste “buttermilk”! That old gal loved the stuff! This is how I remembered her doing it! Well, the whole milk was left out in the classroom in a crock until it got very warm, bubbled and turned blue…(blue john)…We were lined up to walk by the crock and take a peek at the clabbered/blinking milk. When I looked at the blue like thick skim on top I nearly gagged right then. The smell was terrible! Definitely not like my grandmothers sweet smelling buttermilk! When the teacher felt, (after stirring around a bit), that it was ready, she chilled it. That afternoon she lined us up again. She had these pointy paper cups, some of you will remember these from the forties/fifties! She dipped everyone out a taste! Some absolutely refused, but were chided by their peers as “chicken”! It came my turn, not wanting to be teased, I took my turn, took my sip, ran as fast as I could to the classroom sink and spit it out! Others followed me, some not making it to the sink, some barely making to the metal trash can. This experience turned me against buttermilk and to this day I can’t drink it. Before that like my Mother and Grandmother would eat it with crumbled cornbread. I don’t think this teacher knew what she was doing. I think even like buttermilk it will eventually go bacteria laden and bad!
    Thanks Tipper,
    I use the term blinked when the need it deserved! I have my Grandmothers buttermilk/butter crocks with the wooden plunger and also her much fancier (ha) electric floor stand buttermilk churn that she used into the fifties! No, blinked milk for me!

  • Reply
    Gary Powell
    January 12, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Granny said the milk was blinky whenever it started to have an off taste. Of course this was whole raw milk in the country.

  • Reply
    Ken
    January 12, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Tipper,
    We had a Guernsey Cow (black and white) and after milking her, we put it in the Spring. I guess I was up in my teenager years before we even had a refrigerator. I remember tasting “Blinked” milk and boy it’ll get your attention. We churned our own milk, made butter, and drank Buttermilk. I still like that stuff.
    When I lived in Asheville, I worked at Die-Mold Corporation in Oteen (behind the VA Hospital. One day I was talking with a friend and he asked me if I had ever had “real”
    butter. I told him “not since I was a kid” and the next day he brought me 42 molds. For months my family and friends had Butter. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 12, 2017 at 11:09 am

    I loved and enjoyed reading your research on “blinked” “blinky” milk. And like Foxfire description, we knew when to churn when the milk went “blinky”. This was our custom before we got electricity: We had a springhouse, and we would put pitchers of milk, with a “milk rag” (a triangle, hemmed, from a bleached-out flour sack), tied securely around the top of the crockery pitcher. Later, when we got gallon jugs (sometimes my Daddy would measure his sorghum molasses he made for everybody in the community at his cane-mill, sorghum syrup-making mill, into gallon glass containers. We would use some of these for milk to the springhouse, after we had the gallon jugs.)
    Anyway, from the springhouse, we would “fetch” the cold milk, skim off the cream that had risen to the top into the large crockery churn, so plenty of butter could be made later from the cream, and then drink the “skimmed” milk. If we happened to leave a jug or pitcher too long in the springhouse, it might become “blinky” or “clabbered,” too. But seldom did we have “blinky” milk that had been cooled in the extremely cold water of our “bubbling” spring. (I’ve written the story of “How Daddy Found the Spring” for Blind Pig before!). Then, whatever was left from the jug also went into the churn until it really became “blinky” (clabbered) and was ready to churn and make into beautiful molded squares of rich country butter–and left the buttermilk for making biscuits, cornbread–and for my Daddy to drink! He preferred to drink a class of cold buttermilk, and eat it with cornbread crumbled into it, than to have it in what we called “sweet milk” (before it turned blinky or we made buttermilk from it [really, the “buttermilk” is milk minus the butter!]. All the milk was utilized around our farm house. And we had plenty of it, because we husally had four or five “milk cows” to tend and get rich milk from every day. We sold the excess from what our family would use to the “milk man” who came by week-days and took the large tin milk can we left filled from whatever we had from our family’s need. He left us another can empty for that day’s supply to be picked up the next day. This (small) source of income helped with things we needed to purchase at my Grandpa Bud Collins’s country store! Many good memories of milk, the springhouse, driving cows to pasture, and taking those pitchers and jugs of milk to the springhouse for cooling before the days of electricity and refrigerators! Milk and water (with coffee for the grown-ups for breakfast) was our main drink in our growing-up years. If we had lemonade, or tea, (because we didn’t have ice to go in it), it was a rare treat. Tea was mainly served hot, as was coffee. I love these memories. They take me back to a happy, secure, well-provided for youthful days (we were poor but didn’t know it, because we had everything we needed!!) Now that I am “fourscore and more” I look back and am so grateful for my Appalachian upbringing. Selah!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 12, 2017 at 10:36 am

    Tipper–Although I’ve seen the word in writing on multiple occasions, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in speech. I’ve heard soured, clabbered, or “off” to described bad milk.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 12, 2017 at 10:31 am

    I’ve always heard and used blinky, but have never heard blinked. Maybe that’s because I always use blinky milk to cook with, so it never has time to get plumb blinked. And, yes, modern day grocery store milk will turn blinky if you don’t use it quickly enough.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    January 12, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Although I think all my Kansas origins relatives used the term “blinky” , I most often heard it from my mother (til her last days)) and her mother — I still use the term and now my husband does too. Grandma Frank would get real excited when milk turned blinky because that meant she’d be having either corn bread or biscuits and “sourt” or “clabbered” milk soon – a dish she really enjoyed.
    I always associated the term with the blinking and face twitching which occured when those of us who didn’t appreciate Grandma’s delicacy got a taste of “blinky” milk.
    The fermentation going on in the milk can be good for one’s insides but I prefer to use it in pancakes or biscuits than drink it.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    January 12, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I never heard that word used for milk but something like a machine on the blink. Since my people came from east TN, they probably did use that word. Although, I just remember them saying soured or the store bought milk was spoiled when I was growing up and that was very rare. And yes, even today it can go sour if left in the refrigerator way past the use date.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    January 12, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Another term I have not heard for many years since a time when many had a milk cow. I loved clabbered milk, and I liked helping churn. Unfortunately, I tried later in life to drink it after the store bought variety curdled, and I became very ill. Most of your posts always seem to conjure up a simpler time before the government started protecting us from ourselves. For a short time each morn I can get away from all the negative news and lose myself in the wonder of an extraordinary culture. You have captured it in a way nobody else can.

  • Reply
    Pat d
    January 12, 2017 at 9:35 am

    We would never have blinky milk in our house, my husband goes through almost 2 gallons a week. Drinks a big glass 3 times a day no matter what he’s eating. But I love the term and will try and remember it.
    And, Tipper, thank you for sharing your part of this country with us folks here in West Texas. May you and your family have a wonderful year…

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I have heard blinked used but we called spoiled. To be honest we called it spoilt!
    I remember mother referring to clabbered milk. I’m not sure if that means spoilt milk or something to do with making buttermilk.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I have heard blinked used but we called spoiled. To be honest we called it spoilt!
    I remember mother referring to clabbered milk. I’m not sure if that means spoilt milk or something to do with making buttermilk.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I have heard blinked used but we called spoiled. To be honest we called it spoilt!
    I remember mother referring to clabbered milk. I’m not sure if that means spoilt milk or something to do with making buttermilk.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

    I have heard blinked used but we called spoiled. To be honest we called it spoilt!
    I remember mother referring to clabbered milk. I’m not sure if that means spoilt milk or something to do with making buttermilk.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    January 12, 2017 at 9:11 am

    We called soured milk blinky, clabbered or blue john. I will be watching for the bubbles to blink at me rather than smell of the milk that has been in my fridge past it’s expiration date. Now that I know how blinky originated, I will have to researched blue john.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 12, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Well in southeastern Ky we always said ‘blinky’. It has been a long time since I heard the word. That’s probably because it went with milk from own’s own cow and not the preserved variety from the store, as you mentioned. A more generic term one might hear these days is “off”.
    I had never heard or read any explaination for where the term came from. I have heard folks who do auto body painting refer to something they call ‘fisheye’ which I think means bubbles in the paint. It is undesirable because it makes the painted surface rough.
    When the sweet milk turned blinky, we just let it convert to buttermilk rather than throw it out.

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    January 12, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Blink/blinked referring to milk is a new one for me. Like Miss Cindy, I’ve heard and said that something is “on the blink” if it isn’t working. We used to say that about machines at the glass plant all the time.
    Milk either soured or was “spoilt” for us. Although, my Grammar (my Dad’s mom) saw the supernatural in bad milk. For her, milk that had gone bad was “witched.”

  • Reply
    TimMc
    January 12, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Makes me want to Gag, just thinking about it.

  • Reply
    larry grifith
    January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I’ve heard my Mom say the milk was blanked. I asked my wife what her family called it. Her Mom, Dad, and Mamaw Evans called it blinked. I called it sard (soured) or spalled (spoiled). I’m not sure if I spelled it like I pronounce it, but that’s close. I like the word blinky. I’ll use it.

  • Reply
    larry grifith
    January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I’ve heard my Mom say the milk was blanked. I asked my wife what her family called it. Her Mom, Dad, and Mamaw Evans called it blinked. I called it sard (soured) or spalled (spoiled). I’m not sure if I spelled it like I pronounce it, but that’s close. I like the word blinky. I’ll use it.

  • Reply
    larry grifith
    January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I’ve heard my Mom say the milk was blanked. I asked my wife what her family called it. Her Mom, Dad, and Mamaw Evans called it blinked. I called it sard (soured) or spalled (spoiled). I’m not sure if I spelled it like I pronounce it, but that’s close. I like the word blinky. I’ll use it.

  • Reply
    larry grifith
    January 12, 2017 at 8:05 am

    I’ve heard my Mom say the milk was blanked. I asked my wife what her family called it. Her Mom, Dad, and Mamaw Evans called it blinked. I called it sard (soured) or spalled (spoiled). I’m not sure if I spelled it like I pronounce it, but that’s close. I like the word blinky. I’ll use it.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    January 12, 2017 at 8:00 am

    I remember hearing ‘blinky’ when the milk began to sour. Yes, today’s milk can spoil if it gets too warm.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    January 12, 2017 at 7:51 am

    I have never heard the term. But then we didn’t keep a cow.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 12, 2017 at 6:53 am

    That sounds reasonable however I never heard the term used in reference to milk being ready to churn. I only heard it used for milk going bad, on the blink is the phrase that was used. I never heard it in the past tense.

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