"Oh, yes, I remember Junket.", Segrave-Daly, now an adult and a culinary dietitian who works for dairy farmers in Central Pennsylvania, remembers "pudding cabinet" in her mother's kitchen, somewhere back in the '70s.
"My mom had Junket (rennet tablets), alongside Jell-O and tapioca," she said. "Back then it was a staple, used to make cheese at home during the time when people worked in the kitchen all day long."
She describes the Junket-pudding as having a flavor more like cottage cheese than that of a sweet custard.
"It's old-school custard," she decided.
"Actually," she explained, "you are curdling milk with rennet, an enzyme, to make Junket desserts. It has kind of a tangy taste to it.
"Nowadays, our taste is for sweeter things than it was then. Someone raised on Jell-O pudding would find Junket a learning curve of taste."
Junket looks thin, almost watery, said Joan Smith of Palmyra. She has been eating it, made out of a box, since she was an infant. She's now 62.
"Vanilla is my favorite flavor," she said. She is surprised other people don't eat Junket daily for snacks or desserts. Her children liked it. However, her husband is not fond of it.
"I have eaten it," said Steve Lutzke, a manager of Chris Hansen's laboratory in Milwaukee, Wisc., where rennet is produced.
Rennet makes the Junket products come together. "Rennet is an enzyme," said Lutzke.
"Think of Little Miss Muffett and her curds and whey. How did she get the curds?
"Rennet allows you to change a liquid milk to a solid cheese, a custard or a pudding," he explained.
"You can make cheddar cheese with a lot of rennet because it causes milk to thicken. You can make a pudding with a little bit of rennet. When the enzyme reacts with the milk, the proteins are more readily available," he said.
About the time of World War II, when protein was expensive and scarce, Junket was popular with mothers who were looking for inexpensive and tasty ways to get their children to eat protein, said Lutzke.
A company booklet published in 1933 suggested that Junket, eaten between meals, does not interfere with mealtime appetites or overload the digestive tract. The booklet was found on e-bay by Sandra Eldridge, a retired Junket employee who has assembled historical materials about the company and its products.
People with digestive problems would call the factory, she said, to buy Junket products they couldn't find in their own areas of the country. These rennet-based custards, puddings and ice cream offer a pre-digested form of milk to people who find digesting dairy products difficult, particularly the young and the elderly.
Junket-brand ice cream mix is still sold and is an easy way to make a creamy cold dessert, without getting out the ice cream mixer and all the apparatus.
According to the Junket Web site, www.junketdesserts.com, you can make ice cream by freezing a milk and rennet mixture in a shallow pan or an old-fashioned ice cube tray (no plastic dividers), putting it back into the freezer and then whipping air into the slushy mixture with an ordinary mixer.
Junket began with cheese, in Denmark, in 1874, according to the Web site.
Chris Hansen made rennet extract for the cheese-making industry in Denmark. In 1878 he came to the United States and chose Herkimer County, N.Y., as the site for his company's headquarters because that was the center of the U.S. cheese industry at that time.
Today, Junket is still manufactured on an island (Hansen's Island) in Little Falls, New York, 20 minutes east of Utica. The island lies between the Mohawk River and the Erie Canal and is "only big enough for our factory and a few parking spaces," said Anita Benson, who's in charge of quality assurance for Redco Foods Inc., now the owner of the Junket brand.
The Erie Canal is a working canal, "Boats go by all day," said Benson. Three hundred employees worked there at one time, she said. Now about 100 people work there, making both Salada Green Tea (95 percent of its output) and Junket (just 5 percent of its product output). "We make mostly Danish Dessert, Junket Ice Cream and some Junket Tablets," she said.
Today's rennet is made from vegetable-based, rather than animal-based rennet. It's kosher.
"Yogurt today is very similar to Junket of the past," said Lutzke. "Yogurt is made by a similar process but you use cultures," he said.
The taste is unusual and hard to describe, said Smith, who said the taste has changed somewhat since the rennet base switched from animal to vegetable sources.
"I like vanilla and I put it in little custard cups. That's all I have ever done with it," said Smith. "You either like it or you don't. I like the mouth-feel when it melts in your mouth."
"You can do fun things with Junket. It cries out to be decorated," said Lutzke.
Suzie Woolworth of Lancaster remembers Junket from childhood. "Whenever we had to stay home sick," she said, "my mother would make Junket pudding and cover the top of it with lots of cubes of purple grape Jell-O."
Descriptions of the taste, according to Lutzke, are varied because, he said, "People describe flavors in different ways, depending on their experiences.
"That's the charm of food."