PTLS Historical Museum invites you to a milk can dinner

Showing you the basics you will receive at the annual PLHS Milk Can Dinner, Museum Director Georgia Dysterheft knows that not a plate will be empty on Aug. 14 — except when you finish eating.

PINETOP-LAKESIDE — After a year of cancellations, every non profit on the Mountain needs a fundraiser to help them stay afloat. But, not everybody will have a FUN raiser and that’s what the Pinetop-Lakeside Historical Society (PLHS) is bringing back...a tradition started here in 2010 called the Milk Can Dinner which is a lot of fun.

For those that are new to the Mountain, you might as well dig right in and discover some of the things that make the Mountain, the Mountain. This is one of them.

Though most could not remember when the first Milk Can Dinner began, researching the date, it appears the first time it was done for the PLHS was in 2010 at Woodland Lake Park. It was the catalyst used to raise money to help complete the Pinetop-Lakeside Historical Museum and was described as “a stew-like concoction cooked in an antique milk can.”

Many who had never heard of such a thing came out just to see what it was, and with Joyce Cox and Company (Justin and Eric Cox) in charge, it was expected to be something pretty special. It has been said that the Coxes have a reputation for their expertise in family-style cooking.

It was such a hit that it has been the one annual fundraiser for the PLHS ever since — missing only last year due to the pandemic.

Joyce Cox, away on a family reunion last week, shared in a text how she first learned about the milk can and brought the idea back to the Mountain.

“Our family became aware of the Milk Can Dinner 30 some years ago while attending a family reunion at the Gomm Ranch in Afton, Wyoming. It was a defunct dairy farm that had been turned into a family reunion/group camping destination.

“We had free reign of the house and the outbuildings and they had left instructions for a unique dinner idea: ‘Go out to the barn and grab a milk can….’. The instructions then went on to detail putting together this unique and delicious dinner. Upon our return home from that family reunion, I began to look for my very own milk cans, and was successful.”

By the way, old dairies always had milk cans, but today they are hard to find. Joyce is always looking for more (hint, hint).

Cox said it is such an easy-type dinner when feeding a group, and has used it at countless family reunions and football parties, a retirement party, a 40th class reunion, and introduced it to the PLHS.

The recipe is simple. According to Cox, “You scrub and layer potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, corn on the cob and a variety of sausages in a milk can….2 qts of water.. that’s it. The instructions indicate you cook this over a fire, a pleasant but often difficult task to pull off.”

Since the event will be held at the Timber Mesa Fire Department (#13) in Lakeside, there will be no concern regarding cooking over a fire.

Her method, when not doing it for the PLHS, is to use her gas camping burner which she says much easier to control. She cautions, however, that with her method, even a brisk wind can impact the cooking time which she says is normally about 40 minutes.

Then, what Cox calls the best part of the dinner takes place — the dump.

Having prepared a banquet table or tables with a 2×4 perimeter, which they cover with picnic-style plastic tablecloths, Cox says “two strong, over-mitt-clad helpers pull it off the heat and dump the contents onto the tables.”

Having already given each attendee a plate, fork, napkin and cup upon arrival, they are ready to select what they want to put on their plate. Butter, sour cream, salt and pepper are the toppings.

But, that’s not all. They have watermelon and scones — scones not like any you may have ever had before, but are well known to those who have ever visited Walker’s Cafe in Rigby, Idaho. Though the establishment is no longer there, Cox says, “their scone recipe is alive and well.” She describes the scones as “fluffy, fried, golden pillows of sweet dough and honey” which complete the milk can experience.

Most of the Cox family will be on hand to help with the event – her husband, Leigh and some or all of their children who have helped at one time or another — Eric Cox, Bryce Cox, Rebecca Montoya-Wright, Justin Cox, Katie Seguritan and Kimberly Gwynn and their families.

The PLHS board members — Kirk Webb, Gloria Gunther, Sally Trout, Carol Espe and Vicki Sedillo -will also be on-hand to help. They have done a lot of preparation making raffle baskets that are sure to pique your interest. One that will definitely draw interest is the “Taste of Pinetop” basket. There will also be door prizes.

Monies raised from this event will go solely to the operation of the PLHS which is run by volunteers.

The PLHS is a 501© 3 non-profit organization whose mission is “to collect, preserve and exhibit historic artifacts, documents, and photographs of Pinetop-Lakeside and the surrounding area in Arizona’s White Mountains from the earliest of time to the present.”

Tickets for the Milk Can Dinner are $10 for members; $12 for non-members; a family of four for $25; and a family with one child under 16 is $20. Tickets can be purchased at the Museum which is located at 1973 Jackson Lane in Lakeside, just down from the Lakeside Post Office on the left, and is open Tuesday – Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., or at the Town of Pinetop-Lakeside.

Reach the reporter at

Barbara Bruce is a reporter for the White Mountain Independent, covering arts and entertainment on the Mountain and the Pinetop-Lakeside town government.

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