Prospect Park Archives

The Prospect Park Dairy’s Throwback Menu

March 15, 2019

Today, Prospect Park visitors can enjoy a range of tasty bites around the park, from King David Tacos to the Bluestone Cafe, but when the park first opened in the 1800s, the Dairy was the place to eat. 

In the late 1800s, before pasteurization, fresh milk was a near-delicacy for Brooklyn residents, accustomed to a gray, watery variety of milk produced by most city cows. When the Dairy opened in Prospect Park, a herd of cows grazed in the park and provided “wholesome milk, cold or warm” to grateful park picnickers, according to the Brooklyn Park Commissioners. 

 In the summer of 1871, it was reported in the Annual Report of the Brooklyn Park Commissioners  that “11,000 quarts of milk were disposed of by the glass, or in larger quantities to pic-nic parties (sic), or family gatherings, for which purpose the grounds in this vicinity of the dairy cottage were a favorite resort during the summer.”

Dairy customers could purchase a variety of snacks for their picnic, some of which may seem odd by today’s standards:


In addition to the custard cups, sardines and pickled oysters, denizens could order cold beef, ham, tongue and sandwiches in advance, and “biscuits, crackers, cracknells, maccaroons (sic), ladies’ fingers, almonds raisins, figs, prunes, etc.” were available “at usual grocers’ and confectioners’ charges.” Tables and seats were provided at the Dairy without charge, and croquet equipment, hoops and various table dressings could be rented on site. 

About the Dairy, Prospect Park creator Frederick Law Olmsted wrote, “A man from any class shall say to his wife… ‘My dear, when the children come home from school, put some bread and butter and a salad in a basket and go to the chestnut tree…We will walk to the dairy-man’s cottage and get some tea and fresh milk for the children and take our supper by the brook-side.’”

The Dairy was a hugely popular Prospect Park attraction during this time, not least because picnicking was prohibited in Central Park. Though the Dairy was razed in 1935 by then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, picnicking became synonymous with Brooklyn’s Backyard, and continues to be a preferred pastime of Prospect Park visitors. 

View a gallery about the history of picnicking in Prospect Park. 

Planning your picnic in Prospect Park? Check out the park’s current food offerings, which include the Bluestone Cafe at the LeFrak Center at Lakeside, King David Tacos and more. 

The Dairy’s menu was located by our friends a Turnstile Tours! Prospect Park Alliance and Turnstile Tours host a series of walking tours that examine the many layers of natural and human history to be found in Brooklyn’s Backyard. Learn more and get tickets for a park tour today.