Country Kitchen: Buttermaking Today & Yesterday

Country Kitchen: Buttermaking Today & Yesterday

By Mary Emma Allen

Butter churning was an eagerly anticipated event in my childhood when I visited my grandmother and aunt at their farm. There I learned the patience needed to turn milk into tasty butter.

(I hadn't realized how this event dated me until I talked of butter churning to a group of fifth graders and discovered they had never seen a churn nor were aware of how one worked.)

Buttermaking With Auntie

My aunt would set pans of top milk out the night before. After breakfast, she poured the milk into the tall, wooden dasher churn. This had a hole in the lid for the four-bladed dasher.

Then up and down, up and down the dasher was driven by hand. I'd start out full of energy, thinking the butter would come soon. But after awhile my arms got tired and my aunt took over.

Butter started to form eventually, small specks accumulating on the dasher and slides of the churn. Then the load became heavier and heavier as more butter formed.

Working the Butter

Auntie scooped it out into a wooden bowl. Here she washed and washed the butter with cold water, working it with a wooden ladle to get all the whey out. Any whey left in the butter could cause it to have a rancid or strong taste eventually.

Once the whey was rinsed out, she lightly salted the butter.

History of Buttermaking

Buttermaking goes back for hundreds of years. The exact origin of this culinary art is not known but this product made from milk is mentioned in the Bible.

In Hindu marriage ceremonies, dating back to the 8th and 9th centuries B.C., butter also was important. Butter, honey, and milk were served at the bridal feast. Also the bride's carriage might have the axle greased with butter.

Various Churns

The exact beginnings of th ebutterchurnalsoareunknown.Butinthis country, at least, the dasher churns like my grandmother and aunt used were the oldest. The crank churns came after the dash ones.

Some of these crank churns usually were glass containers with a screw-on lid. Wooden paddles were hooked to the handle by a series of cog wheels.

Other Butter Implements

Each homemaker usually had a "butter stamp." With this she stamped designs on the mounds of butter. It is believed "butter stamping" originally came about when farm wives took their butter to market. Each woman stamped her own design on her butter to identify it.

If you have an old-fashioned butter mold, you might like to try using it to form squares of butter when serving a dinner. I have one which I've used for decoration on my kitchen wall. On the bottom are impressions which would form on the top of the square of butter.

Flavorings for Butter

Here are some flavorings you can add to any butter to give it a unique taste for sandwiches, toast, or hors d'oeuvre.

*Poppy Seed Butter - To each 1/2 cup butter, add 1/4 cup poppy seeds. Caraway seeds may be used instead.

*Chive Butter - To 1/2 cup butter, add 1/4 cup chives and 4 drops Worcestershire sauce, if desired.

*Cheese Butter - To 1/2 cup butter, add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or 1/2 cup sharp cheese spread.

*Mustard Butter - Stir together 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup prepared mustard.

*Olive Butter - Mix together 1/2 cup butter, 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons chopped olives.

*Nut Butter - To 1/4 cup butter, add 2 tablespoons finely minced nuts.

Article (C) 2004 Mary Emma Allen

About the Author

Mary Emma Allen has been writing cooking columns for 40 years. She and her family compiled a cookbook to preserve their food heritage. She teaches workshops to show others how to do this, along with scrapbooking their family recipes. Visit her web site for more cooking articles. Contact her at

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