By Teresa Michaud
When I was a young girl, my mother would often ask me to make the whipped cream for the strawberry short cake. As I whipped, she made sure to mention not to whip it too much because it would turn to butter. Homemade products always caught my interest. I wanted to do that one day, make butter. I guess I am old-fashioned. To this day, I still love to make bread, make my own spaghetti sauce and can all my jams and vegetables.
My dear mother-in-law has been making butter on their family farm for many years. I had the luxury several years back to learn the art from her. She is a very hard worker and still insists on making the butter. I do not get the chance to make it very often. Sometimes, during the off-season, usually during calving when we milk only a few cows, I get the chance to make a few batches.
Last summer the chance to make a batch came up since my dear mother-in-law was going away for a couple of days. My husband asked me if I wanted to make some butter. It had been nearly one and a half years since I had made any and I jumped at the chance. This was full season when all the cows were freshened. When I arrived at the farm, Raymond said that he would be down at the potato house loading a load of potatoes so he would not be able to coach me. He asked if I remembered how.
“Oh yes, I sure do!” I lied, not wanting him to change his mind since I knew he was in a hurry. After all, how hard can it be? My mom was always afraid I would turn the whipped cream into butter by accident. Besides, I have done this several times before.
I walked into the creaming room and I took the big cold container of cream from the fridge. I tried to remember the steps. I warmed up the cream. You must know what happens if the cream is too cold? That is correct; it will turn into whipped cream. I poured hot water into a big pail, set the container into the pail of hot water, and removed the cover. I noticed that there was also a second container of cream in the fridge. I decided to churn it up as well. After all, if I was going to make butter I might as well make it worth my while. I heated up that container too. I did not quite remember how warm it was supposed to be. I checked the thermometer. It read 19 degrees. That should be warm enough.
I pulled the butter churn from the corner of the room. Raymond had made the churn out of an old stainless steel beer keg. He built it on the frame of the old wooden churn and added a little electric motor so we no longer had to turn it by hand. I rinsed it out with cold water so that, as it turns, the butter will not stick to the insides. I poured both huge pails of cream into the churn nearly filling it; I tightened the cover securely, and plugged it in. The motor strained and the belt squealed. I gave the beer keg a little pull to get it started. The stainless steel churn slowly began to turn, and then it hummed along flipping end over end.
I began cleaning up the creaming room, washing pails and disinfecting the creamer. The churn flipped along quietly. The gentle rhythmic sound of the cream swishing back and forth was soothing. A while later I could smell the little motor heating up. I looked at my watch. Ninety minutes had gone by. I remembered that it only took about ten to fifteen minutes to churn the last batch of butter that I made. Suddenly, the motor stopped. The smell of the motor was quite strong. Oh no, I think I burnt the motor. I opened up the churn to see what was wrong with the butter. The cream still looked just like cream. The butter was not separating at all from the buttermilk. I secured the cover back on tightly.
I jogged down to the potato house where Raymond was busy loading potatoes. I walked over to where he was shoveling.
“The motor stopped working.” I shouted over the noise. He put another shovel full into the hopper.
“Did you remember to plug it in?” he hollered back.
“Yes.” I shouted rolling my eyes. He continued to shovel several more shovelfuls into the hopper. I walked away and waited by the door, in the bright sunshine. I am so dead! I thought to myself. My mother-in-law will be so upset. They are so careful and they never throw anything away. I have seen her take the glue gun to an old plastic pail that none of us would have thought twice about chucking. That little motor was so old. I think that Noah used it to make feed for the animals on the arc.
Raymond finally came to the door where I was waiting. “What happened?” I sensed the irritation in his voice.
“Well…” I paused mulling over several scenarios, “the motor just stopped.” I finally answered timidly.
He walked briskly, using big long steps, to the creaming room. I jogged along behind halfheartedly. I had left the door open. As we entered, I noticed that the burnt smell had dissipated.
“Oh, here is your problem,” he said, after a few moments, “This wire broke off.” I breathed a sigh of relief. He took a few minutes to put on a new wire. “The motor is hot.” He noted, “How long did it run?”
“Er…n-n-not long.” I lied again, turning my eyes away. This is becoming a habit.
Raymond set his hand on the cover of the churn. A wave of panic swept over me. ‘Oh, no, please, don’t open it!’ I whispered to myself. He opened the latch and peered inside.
“Gee! You put too much cream! That will take forever to turn to butter.” He took the thermometer and sloshed it through the cream. “Wow, 20 degrees! That is too warm. We have got to bring it back down to 16.”
I put my hand over my mouth,
“16?” I asked slowly. Raymond tightened the cover back on and picked up the hose. He hosed down the beer keg with ice water for several minutes. Then he lifted the cover off.
“You should have only used one pail at a time.” He counseled as he checked the temperature once again and secured the cover back on, “If you make small batches it only takes ten or fifteen minutes.”
“What should I do?” I asked.
“Well, just keep going. Listen, I have to get back.” Off he jogged.
I plugged in the butter churn. The belt squealed. The keg would not turn. The belt was wet from the ice water. I gave the keg a good pull to get it going and still it would not turn. I had to make it go like in the old days. It was so heavy. I pushed it around several times. The pulley squealed then the barrel finally began to flip by itself. I was relieved.
Seventeen more minutes go by when I finally hear the loud sloshing sound that the butter makes once it separates from the buttermilk. I stopped the churn, poured the buttermilk into a container, and stored it in the fridge. We use this fresh buttermilk in any recipe that calls for sour milk, such as woopie pies or chocolate cake. The resulting product will be fluffier and lower in calories than using sour milk and you do not have to sour it. It will also make delicious pancakes. I poured a pail of cold water into the churn and plugged it in. The churn tumbled end over end washing the leftover buttermilk from the butter. I rinsed the butter again several times. I carefully removed the butter from the churn. There was so much butter. I have never seen so much butter! I opened the door of the creaming room to go to the van with a huge heavy pail and there was Raymond.
“All ready finished?” he asked in astonishment.
“Yup!” I gloated.
“That sure didn’t take very long. How did you do it?” He questioned. I just smiled. I did not want to dig myself in any deeper.
Once I got home, I weighed the butter to know how much salt to add. I plopped the butter down on the kneading table. I had a hard time to take the butter out of the pail. Kneading the butter is a long hard job. This is real work. I need to knead the butter to squeeze out the rest of the water and buttermilk that might still be in the butter. I added the salt slowly while kneading. I usually add one third cup of salt to five pounds of butter. The salt will help preserve the butter and give it a nice taste. Today the batch of butter weighed just a little over thirty seven pounds. Usually it weighs no more than fourteen to fifteen pounds. It took hours and hours to knead. I had to pay dearly for all my sins. Repent! Repent! I packed the butter at midnight – lesson learned.