Butter

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There’s nothing quite like the taste of freshly churned butter on a homemade biscuit with jam! Since I don’t have a dairy cow, I rely on others to provide me with the cream needed to make butter.

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Unlike me, my mother grew up on a farm with dairy cows - not a large herd, but as many as nine at one time.  With a family of seven, milk was a staple of their diet.  They drank it at most meals and made bacon gravy, ice cream (after they got an ice box), used cream for their coffee, and of course, made butter.  The excess milk was sold to Mayfield’s Pet Dairy Company and a check was sent to the family once a month.  The dairy wagon, drawn by horses, came by their farm twice a week to pick up the full milk cans.  Granddaddy sowed four acres of timothy and clover and harvested it to feed the cows when grass was not available during the winter months.  Once my grandparents began working off the farm it was my aunts, Karen and Joyce, that typically milked the cows.  While my mother milked occasionally, her job was to cook their meals, so her younger sisters were given the early morning and evening task of milking.

Aunt Joyce and Aunt Karen

Aunt Joyce and Aunt Karen

On a recent visit to Aunt Karen’s, she shared a story about one of their milk cows.  One evening, she and Joyce walked down to the pasture to bring one of the cows and her calf back to the barn for milking.  But the mama cow was very protective of her little one and not too fond that someone was in the field with her.  As my aunt got near the calf, the mama cow lowered her head and charged at Karen.  Knowing the damage she could do with her horns, Karen ran for the nearest fence and tried to clear it with a single leap.  Unfortunately, her leg got hung on the barbed wire and Grandpa had to come rescue her.  Granny wrapped the wound in a torn sheet and Grandpa gave his son (my grandfather) a lecture on sending young girls down to the pasture to fetch crazy mama cows.

(Back row left to right) My great grandparents, Guthrie and Ethel Mae, my grandparents, Jess and Loretta and my Great Uncle Henry. ( Front row left to right) Aunt Karen, Uncle Robert, Aunt Joyce, and my mother, Margaret Lue.

(Back row left to right) My great grandparents, Guthrie and Ethel Mae, my grandparents, Jess and Loretta and my Great Uncle Henry. ( Front row left to right) Aunt Karen, Uncle Robert, Aunt Joyce, and my mother, Margaret Lue.

I’ve got several churns, one of which was passed down through my family.  However, the small amount of cream I purchase to make butter is far too little to pour into such a large churn.  I also have an antique glass churn, but the underside of the lid is so rusty, I’m afraid the milk would be riddled with rust by the time I cranked it into butter.   In the past I shook the cream in a large jar til it turned to butter.  But since shaking is a tiring task, I decided to use my little food processor…and let me tell you, that’s the quickest and easiest way I have ever made butter. 

One of my grandfather’s milk cans (top left), vintage hand-cranked churn (top right), a pottery churn given to me by a friend (bottom left), and the churn my Aunt Karen gave me (bottom right)

One of my grandfather’s milk cans (top left), vintage hand-cranked churn (top right), a pottery churn given to me by a friend (bottom left), and the churn my Aunt Karen gave me (bottom right)

So, if you’ve never made butter, here’s how it goes…Pour your cream into your food processor with the blade inserted in the bottom. I used a high speed setting and let it go until it turned to cream. If you’re looking for whipping cream, your job is done.

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However, if you want butter, continue to let the food processor do its work. You’ll notice that the solid cream begins to break up and the liquid buttermilk will begin to separate from the solid yellow butter.

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Once butter has formed, remove it from the processor and place it in a bowl. Pour the buttermilk off. This can be used to make biscuits or pancakes. However, this is not like the buttermilk you purchase in the store – it’s thin and sweet, but worth saving. With the butter left in the bowl, run very cold water over it and knead with your hand. Some people use cheese cloth for this, but I find too much butter sticks to it. As you knead, the water will turn cloudy since there is buttermilk still left in the butter. Pour this off and repeat the process until the water runs clear. Pour the water off and add salt if desired.

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Now you’re ready to shape your butter into sticks or balls, or fancy designs if you’ve got molds to do so. Keep refrigerated. How long it will last depends on how thoroughly you removed the buttermilk. If a lot of buttermilk remains, it will sour within a week, otherwise it can keep for up to 2-3 weeks in the fridge. Sometimes I wrap some, place it in the freezer, and pull it out as needed.

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While I love the farm life, I don’t envy the job of milking at daybreak and twilight. But I’m glad somebody does it so I can enjoy the pleasure of butter making and eating.

Wisconsin dairy farm we visited while on vacation. Now that’s a lot of milk!

Wisconsin dairy farm we visited while on vacation. Now that’s a lot of milk!

RecipesKaren Shaw3 Comments