Ever since I first spied an old butter churn in my parent’s antique shop, I’ve wanted to make my own butter.
I remember that churn distinctly. I was perhaps 12 years old, and I would gingerly turn the crank handle and imagine the metal paddles spinning through waves of thick cream. From where does such desire spring?
My young eyes saw magic.
Whereupon my parents scratched their heads, bewildered that I would be interested in such things. In the end, the churn got sold – and here I am, 40 years later still remembering that churn with a sense of loss.
And yet in all that time, after living a life devoted to the old ways, and growing a steady repertoire of ye ole home arts, I find it remarkable that butter-making has eluded my grasp — until now!
In searching for the perfect birthday present, my husband – unaware of my childhood whimsy – remembered my delight last summer, when we visited The Peter Burr House and not only witnessed a butter-making exhibition but got to taste it, spread across a piece of freshly baked, heritage bread, still warm from the brick, outdoor oven.
Voila! My husband devised the perfect birthday present. Yet again. He has a special knack for finding me the PERFECT birthday present every year. Yes, indeedy. I’m a lucky woman.
Thus to my utmost delight, my husband bought me everything I would need to make my own homemade butter – including the cream!
Knowing my predilection for pure ingredients, he had arranged for “home-delivery” (just like the good ole’ days) and ordered one gallon of of fresh, non-homogenized, whole milk from a local farm that raises only the happiest of happy Guernsey cows. These cows can often be seen lazily grazing in sun-drenched fields, sporting glossy black & white coats, with never a need for things like hormone injections or antibiotics.
The kit came with simple instructions. However I felt they cheated just a bit by calling for a carton of heavy whipping cream … which my husband supplied too. “Just in case,” he said.
“Just in case?” I slowly turned the carton of cream, my nose puckering a teeny, tiny bit. “But this cream won’t be from HAPPY cows.” My hubby, long accustomed to my idiosyncrasies, merely shrugged his shoulders.
The instructions stated that it would take 10 oz of cream (regardless of source) to yield about 4 oz of butter – basically, the equivalent of one stick of butter. I had no idea how much cream could be extracted from one gallon of whole milk but I was willing to find out.
Eagerly anticipating the delivery of happy-cow milk, I searched the windows until I saw an unfamiliar car turn into our drive.
The milk had arrived! Neither snow nor rain nor heat ….
I ran out into the rain and greeted our friendly, neighborhood milk-lady, grinning madly and chattering about my birthday butter churn.
I had everything I needed. BUT first things first. I had to separate the cream from the milk.
I poured the 2 half gallon containers of whole milk into a glass gallon-jar with a spigot and left it to sit still so the cream could rise to the top.
Twenty-four hours later, I carefully ladled the cream into another jar — barely amounting to 10 oz worth of cream. Hmmmm. It didn’t seem like much, given all that milk. Maybe I shouldn’t have refrigerated the milk?
Luckily, my husband is a smart man – and I invoked the “just in case” clause of my gift, regarding a certain carton of heavy whipping cream.
So I added 10 oz of store-bought cream to the 10 oz of happy-cow cream already waiting in the glass butter-churn and let it rest on my counter until it reached room temperature – which in my case, lasted for about two hours, because I went shopping at Aldi’s for a large, round loaf of Pane Turano Italian Bread. Its mission? To serve as the perfect showcase for my highly anticipated, soon-to-be, newly formed, fresh churned butter.
*Important Note* The cream must be brought to room temperature before you start churning, otherwise, it won’t properly form into butter and you’ll end up churning for a LOT longer than necessary, all the while wondering why the cream isn’t magically turning into butter. Ask me how I know this…
Returning home, bread in hand, I duly turned my attention back to the room temperature cream sitting idle in my butter churn. It was “time to make the donuts” — ahem, butter.
I had always envisioned butter churning as a chore, requiring long hours of hard labor. Of course, my only prior knowledge had been via pictures in books or film that most often showed pre-Victorian era women-folk sitting beside a large wooden, barrel-like urn continuously working a plunger that paddled its way through gallons of cream.
But come to find out? Churning was easy! And surprisingly fast too.
I turned 20 oz of cream into 8.5 oz of butter in less than 10 minutes of actual churning.
But I didn’t know what to expect at first go, so I brought the whole apparatus into the comforts of my living room and – unlike the days of old – there I sat in cushioned splendor, churning to the tune of a favorite T.V. episode of Supernatural.
In a span of only 3 – 5 minutes, the cream became frothy.
I giggled with glee, just like a little kid who wakes up on Christmas morning. I continued to crank the handle, admittedly a bit faster than was necessary, but I couldn’t contain my excitement. Magic was unfolding.
A couple minutes later, the churn paddles glugged as liquid began to turn solid. They spun stiffly, pressing bits of butter en masse against the glass walls. I continued to churn. Within a few short moments, the whole glob of butter released its grip against the glass and clung to the paddles, now spinning freely in the remaining milk -which incidentally, is called “butter milk”.
With the churning done, I poured off the butter milk into a quart-sized canning jar — I’ll use that later for making scrumptious buttermilk pancakes, biscuits, scones, etc. — and scooped the butter into a large ceramic dish.
Before shaping the butter into a stick, bar, or other form, it’s important to “wash” any remaining buttermilk from the butter – otherwise, it will turn the flavor bitter and reduce shelf-life.
It’s takes three washing’s, and I found that using ice water worked best.
I poured water over the butter, about 1/2 – 2/3 cup each time, and used the two wooden paddles to work the butter, squeezing and pushing out any remaining butter milk until the water became milky in color. I then poured off/discarded the water, and repeated the whole rinsing process two more times.
And presto. A perfect ball of fresh butter!
At this point, I could have flavored the butter in a variety of ways but I chose to keep my first batch simple and mixed in just a pinch of salt (I used canning salt due to its fine texture, but I could have used any salt).
The last step is shaping.
Again the choices are many, but since my kit included a perfectly sized glass butter dish, I molded the butter into a rectangular shape. I also found that refrigerating the molded butter made it easier to later move to its final resting place – the table top, butter dish.
The whole process from beginning to end – including cleanup – took less than half an hour. Not bad for a first timer. Hereafter I’m sure I’ll find ways to streamline the process, becoming more efficient – and adventurous too.
I have dreams of elegantly shaped butter pats wrapped as gifts to friends, or delicately flavored butters in pretty jars encircled with colorful ribbons. My herb garden sings with possibilities – try me, taste this. The choices are limitless.
But for now? I’m quite content with my first 8.5 oz. of freshly, churned butter.
With that said, I must bid you adieu. There is a large, crusty slice of Pane Turano that is waiting to be buttered – and I call first dibs.