I have an old pancake recipe (circa 1930) that I would like to try. However it includes as an ingredient "sweet milk." Having never seen such a thing in stores. I'm trying to find the best substitute for this ingredient.

Given that the "milk" readily available in the 1930s was probably much fresher and full fat (and perhaps unpasteurized), I'm thinking that the best modern substitute would probably be whole milk or perhaps half-and-half. Would this be the correct ingredient substitution to make? And would a 1:1 ratio be acceptable?

  • it could also be evaporated milk - comes in cans and is sweetened. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:19
  • True. But regular milk has 12g of sugars which seems plenty sweet, especially considering the palate of the times. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:27
  • I have seen "sweet cream" used to contrast with "sour cream" and just meaning cream, but not "sweet milk" in that sense. One clue might be the amount - if it just happens to be the amount of evaporated milk in a tin that would strengthen my hunch. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 14:36
  • 1
    sweet milk is what we call now "regular whole milk". Traditionally there was also "soured milk" and "buttermilk", with different consistency and taste.
    – roetnig
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 15:06

4 Answers 4


It's normal whole milk.

'sweet' was used to distinguish it from buttermilk in older cookbooks.

  • 2
    My grandmother referred to 'whole milk' as sweet milk. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that when milk was delivered in the mid 20th century, it came in a bottle and had no designated fat content - if you wanted cream, you would 'skim' it off the top of the bottle after it had settled. Now we buy the different parts of milk separately. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 19:06
  • Would it be safe to assume, then, that the alternative recipe that calls for "sour milk" is, in fact, a buttermilk pancake recipe? Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 0:24
  • 2
    @ConfusedEngineer : no, it's milk that's been left a little too long. It's similar to today's buttermilk, but not quite, as it hasn't necessary thickened to the same degree. Back then, 'buttermilk' referred to what was left over after churning butter, which is probably closer to today's skim milk.
    – Joe
    Commented Apr 10, 2014 at 14:58
  • @ConfusedEngineer sour milk or soured milk was whole milk left at kitche temperature for a day or to. "Cream" certainly has higher fat content than "milk"
    – roetnig
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 15:08

when I was small (1950's) , the older folks referred to milk as either buttermilk or sweet milk.... including store-bought milk . People drank a lot more butter milk back then , so if you asked for a glass of milk , people very well might ask you to clarify - "Would you care for sweet milk or butter milk"? Sweet milk is now just called milk .

  • Grandmother asked what I wanted to drink with dinner, sweet milk or regular milk. You can guess that as a suburban kid I did not get what I expected as 'regular'
    – Pat Sommer
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 22:23

I grew up on a farm. We always had a milk cow. We used the terms "sweet milk" and "milk" interchangeably. It was whole milk. Mother would pastuerize it. We did not have the capability to homogenize it so the cream would rise to the top. We always stirred it before pouring a glass. The alternatives were buttermilk or clabber. Buttermilk was what was left after the soured milk had been churned and the butter removed. There were always small particles of butter left in it. Clabbers was the soured milk before it was churned.

  • Interesting. (that old school 'buttermilk' had bits of butter in it.) Is there something typically available to those of us not on farms that would make a good substitute for it in recipes? I had assumed 'skim' milk, as the cream had been removed as butter, but now I'm thinking it might be closer to 1%.
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 17:28
  • And in case you're not allowed to leave comments (and so this is easier for other people to find ... and because many users on here don't like long conversations in comments), I've put this up as a 'Question', so you can instead post an answer to that: cooking.stackexchange.com/q/76470/67
    – Joe
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 18:06

I always called condensed milk sweet milk, that's what my granny called sweet milk. Carnation sweetened condensed milk.

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