Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Churning Butter

By Paisley Kirkpatrick
Taking essentials for granted is easy. If we need something, we drive to a store and purchase it. How easy is that? During the holidays someone blessed us with a large plate of Spritz cookies. My Danish grandmother could make those cookies so they'd melt in your mouth. I can remember seeing large glass canning jars sitting on the shelf in her pantry filled with 'S' and 'J' shaped cookies. They are one of the warm, fuzzy memories I have of my grandmother.
She migrated to this country as a young woman and settled on a farm in Nebraska as a new bride. I have seen the photos of her sitting at her butter churn. My father could remember the days it was his turn to work the churn and winced as he'd relate his experiences. Can you picture yourself having to make your own butter? They didn't produce margarine in those early days either. I know that by the time grandma was making her butter cookies for me to eat, she could drive to a local store and buy butter, but when my dad was young, those cookies took a lot of effort.
I decided to check out what it entailed to make butter. Believe me, I am so thankful I can pick up a box of those butter cubes and be done with it. It makes you realize how many conveniences we have today. I often spoke to my father of all the inventions he'd realized during his years - conveniences we take for granted today.
As I mentioned before, making butter took time and energy, but it only needed simple equipment. After the cows were milked, the milk was left to settle in a cool place in shallow dishes so the cream would rise to the top. After half a day or so, the cream was skimmed off and ready for churning. Small home producers would wait and collect a few days of milking to have enough cream to make the effort of churning worth it, besides they thought a little fermentation would ripen the flavor. The cream couldn't be left waiting too long in the summer because there were no facilities to keep it cool. The homemakers tried to schedule churning twice a week during the heat of summer.
Skimmers were used to lift off the cream. These worked well if they were shallow with a thin, almost sharp edge. During the last couple of centuries, skimmers were often saucer-shaped with perforations to catch the cream while letting milk drip back into the pan.
Churning constantly moves the cream. This is what actually produces butter by separating out the yellow fat from the buttermilk. A stick called a dasher or churn dash was moved up and down by hand in an upright container, usually made of wood or earthenware. The stick might be perforated, or it could have a wooden circle, or crossed boards attached, but even with those to help beat the cream, this method took a long time.
When I got married forty-four years ago, my new mother-in-law asked that I always have real butter on my table. They lived in Wisconsin, a dairy state, so I guess it wasn't uncommon for them to always use the real thing. The kicker of the story is my husband has always preferred churned margarine.
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  1. Paisley, my grandmother lived on a farm until I was six. My grandmother kept a cow and chickens for her "pin" money. She had a milk separator, a large metal contraption. Then she churned with a set of paddles in a large jar. Sometimes she'd let me turn the handle. She also had the old-fashioned butter churn your photo illustrated, but used the newer model. I don't know what happened to the glass one, but I bought one similar at a garage sale because it reminds me of my grandmother.

  2. Thanks, Caroline. I remember when we toured the Bidwell Mansion in Chico, CA, they let the kids use the butter churn with the jar and paddle. We really have no idea how lucky we are these days. I'd give up butter before churning it twice a week I'm afraid.

  3. I have an old butter churn in my attic right now. Someone would love to have it, I'm sure, but it just sits there. It was my grandmother's, back in the 20's and 30's probably, from my estimation. Even when I was a little girl and we visited Granny and Papa on the farm, Granny would sit with the churn on the floor between her knees and pumped up and down. At ages 4-8,she'd let me do part of the work. In one back room in their house, the had one of the big mild separators, and I love to stand and watch the process. Papa-my "pawpaw"--would load the metal mild containers onto his wagon, pulled by his mules Kit and Jude, and take off down the road to sell the mile. But Granny kept all the cream...and she did put it to good use.
    What memories, Paisley--I just love this post.

  4. Thank you, Celia. Isn't it amazing the things that can spark those memories. My Danish grandmother fits what I imagine all grandmas should look like. I love the memories if have spending with her.

  5. Oh, Paisley...I probably would just have done without butter. I'm lazy. lol No, back then you just did what you had to do, and everyone pitched in. My mom talked about doing that. Thanks for making me appreciate being able to go to the store--I will remember this when I go tomorrow.

  6. Thanks Cheryl. I put butter on the list when hubby went shopping at Costco yesterday. Bless all the modern conveniences we take for granted.

  7. Paisley, Growing up my family had dairy cows and we churned our own butter but we didn't have the churn you see that lunges up and down. We had a wooden and tin churn that sat on a counter and you turned a handle that made paddles inside turn around and around. Then the butter was place din a large wooden bowl, my grandmother worked it while sprinkling salt into it, then we made one pound pats and wrapped them in waxed paper.

  8. That is very interesting, Paty. I imagine women had good arm muscles in those days. What a happy memory for you.

  9. My New Year's Resolution:
    I promise to re-read and edit my comments from here on, and forever after.

  10. My father had a small diary and he set up a radio and always turned it on to fast music when he milked. His cows shifted feet sort of in tune with the music. I always wondered if the music helped shorten the butter churn time, but he said it didn't.

  11. Hi Delores, I can picture the cows sorta dancing as they are milked. It would have been even more fun if they swayed their tails to the music, too. Thanks for stopping by.


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