30 April 2014

There is a season, churn, churn, churn

Leave your food processors and stand mixers unplugged and make butter the hard way.  Be humbled and astounded by the mere fact of butter.

Make your own creamy pale yellow butter.  The bonus prize is all that lovely buttermilk.

The big piles of snow shoveled and plowed over the last few months have reduced themselves to piles of dirt, grit, gravel, chunks of asphalt, Tim Horton's cups, and unpaired mittens.  Forget the disappearing snow or the fact that we're getting more days above freezing than below.  Fog is the hope and promise of spring, don't let anyone ever tell you it's gloomy.  

Sure, there's still snow in the woods and a chance of flurries in the forecast, but it's been over a week since we've been able to see the sun through all the fog.  Gulls are mostly seen in pairs.  The crab boats are busy.  The garlic and rhubarb are emerging.  Moose-on-the-road reports have increased suddenly.  These are the most reliable signs of spring in this corner of the world.

A sure sign of spring: gulls are most commonly seen in pairs right now.

We had one actual nearly-warm and almost-sunny day in April.  Since then, no matter how cold it's been, we refuse to have more winter.  Joggers are out in shorts, people have stopped scraping their windshields, last year's popsicles have finally sold out of the stores.. if you don't believe this craziness, Little Red Chicken can confirm it.  Between the defiance-induced cold exposure and the population-level sugar high that comes with that mythical chocolate-egg-laying rabbit, we're giddily unhinged this time of year.  

There was a bit of Newfoundland silliness last week on twitter, starting with a quip about a butter-throwing local prison gang.  Quite frankly, it's hard to imagine a proper gang in Newfoundland's prison system.  Calling themselves the St. John's Mob makes it almost, well, cute.  I know they're probably feeling serious as all get out but it's all difficult to take seriously when their serious riot was negotiated to an end, reportedly, by the provision of two cigarettes*.  That's not even one cigarette per gang member.

*proof, perhaps, that no good can come of the no-smoking-in-prisons-rule... if inmates are willing to riot for two cigarettes, causing nearly $100,000 of damage, maybe there's a better solution to workplace health & safety issues, because, butter or not, it doesn't sound like safety increased.  

Here's something: two news stories I came across have referenced the butter throwing.  One story reports butter, another story reports margarine.  As though they are interchangeable.

Here's something else: when someone in Newfoundland says "butter", unless you ask for clarification, it is impossible to know whether they mean butter or they mean margarine.  Mind-boggling-ly, it's as though it makes no difference.

I'm not even going to waste blog space to debate the relative merits of butter and margarine.  There is nothing good about margarine (unless you have an allergy to butter or you are vegan).  Butter is superior in every way.  No contest, no question.

So I got to thinking about this unhappy state of things, where butter and margarine stand as equals.  There is something completely mucked up about our relationship to food if we treat these as two sides of the same coin.  They aren't even the same currency.  Have we become so distant from our food that we just shrug and say, "butter, magarine... whatever"?  Probably not you, dear lovely food-friendly readers, but nonetheless, I propose this exercise in getting up close and personal with our food:  this week, make some butter.

In fact, leave your food processors and stand mixers unplugged and make butter the hard way, so you can be humbled and astounded by the mere fact of butter.

How to Make Butter in 2 Easy Steps

 (+ 1 Demanding and Time-Consuming Step)

Putting a whisk ball or marble or other food safe object in your jar
means you are getting more work done with every shake.  We haven't
conducted the proper scientific experiment, but we think it makes the
 butter making more efficient.

1.  Fill a jar 1/2 to 2/3 full of whipping cream.

2.  Tighten the lid so it won't leak out.

3.  Shake it until it turns into butter.

It's that easy, even the hard way.**

**okay, you aren't quite done because you have to strain off the buttermilk, then wash and salt (optional) the butter...

We cultured our cream first by inoculating it with yogurt whey and letting it sit out on the counter overnight.  This is a completely unnecessary step for getting butter, but it will make the butter european-y in taste (tangy rather than sweet) and it prolongs the shelf-life.  Don't get hung up on shelf life though; you will use the butter before it goes off.

(Get a load of how clever this was:  we put some plain yogurt with active bacteria in a gold mesh coffee drip filter over our jar of cream and swished the jar around once in a while during the evening, then left the set-up overnight.  In the morning: cultured cream in the jar + yogurt cheese in the filter.  Use yogurt cheese like you would use cream cheese.)

Put your cream in the jar, screw the lid on tightly, and start to shake.  

After a bit of shaking, the whole jar will be white and full.

Keep shaking.  Take turns shaking.  If you have miniature humans in your house, particularly competitive ones, give them each a jar and see who gets to butter first.

Like any of us, you're a busy person.  You haven't got time to stand around your kitchen all day, shaking a jar of cream.  Especially a jar you are still handling with some skepticism.

So don't stand in your kitchen.  Take your jar of cream with you when you walk the dogs.

Miss Bella is a bit skeptical about whether this walk is actually for her benefit.

Shake the butter while you're running errands. 

Another sure sign of spring: potholes.  Take advantage of the plow-ravaged,
bumpy roads... seriously, take that jar of cream-turning-to-butter everywhere.
Just keep shaking.

If nothing seems to be happening, carefully unscrew the lid and put some sort of clean object in the jar.  Something that will move through the thick cream to amplify the effects of shaking.  (Fefe Noir has essentially zero patience, so we stole the wire ball with a counter weight out of our fancy whisk and dropped it in the jar.  Fefe is convinced this made the difference between getting butter and not.  I think we would have ended up with butter anyway, just not as quickly.)

If you are still waiting for the butter magic to happen, fire up Netflix and shake your jar while you watch Julie & Julia.  (How is it possible we'd never watched this before?).  What better movie for butter making?

Eventually, the thick whiteness will begin to tinge with yellow and start
to clump up.

For a long time, you will have a jar completely filled with white.  Then you'll think maybe you're seeing a tinge of yellow and some large air pockets.  You'll think that alternatively you may be losing your mind.  Then you'll notice a definite change of colour and it will feel more liquid again.  Then, in what will seem like a sudden shift, you will have butter.  Clumps of lovely pale yellow butter sitting in buttermilk.

Congratulations, you performed a miracle.  You made your own butter.

Then, all of a sudden, it's butter.  I don't know if Julia Child would approve
of such rustic pursuits as actually making it yourself, but she obviously
approved of butter.
The rest of it now is really tying up the loose ends.  The butter making has already happened.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and drain the buttermilk from the butter.  Pour the buttermilk into clean containers and store in the fridge until you use it.  

Strain the buttermilk into a container for storing.  There are a million ways to
use it, and it's very difficult to buy genuine buttermilk in supermarkets.

Gently knead the butter to press out all the milk solids.  If you want to salt the butter, knead in about 1/2 tsp of salt per pound of butter... or more or less to taste.

Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Wash the butter by kneading it in the ice water, draining out the liquid and refilling with clean water, until the water is no longer milky.  Put it in a lidded container or wrap it in waxed paper or otherwise store it like you would store butter.

Washing the butter in ice water keeps it from melting from the heat of
your hands.

Use the butter before it goes rancid (a week or so if unsalted, a bit longer salted, quite a bit longer cultured, salted or not).  Never mind the shelf life, you made this butter, use this an excuse to butter everything until it's gone.


Where are my days?
Where are my nights?
Where is the springtime?
I wanna fly, I wanna fly, I wanna fly.
~ John(athan) Denver Seagull... ;)

Make your own butter (optional culturing) on Punk Domestics


  1. You've noticed the winter denial too?? Ok good, I thought it was just my neighbourhood. I always have leftover whipping cream in my fridge after I make homemade ice cream and I CAN'T BELIEVE I never thought to do this. Ashamed. I think if you throw butter around in prison, your sentence should be extended. But no biggie if you throw margarine around. But I have the feeling there's no real butter up at the Pen. Down with margarine! And also the St. John's Mob! (tee hee hee St. John's Mob...)

    1. OMG you could have hot-buttered buttermilk pancakes topped with ice cream!

  2. I got into butter making last year and I'm enjoying eating the fruits of my labour. I'd never hear of inoculating the cream with whey. Instead, I put my (raw) cream in a closed jar and leave it on the counter for a while until it sours and thickens. This turns it into something akin to crème fraiche. That's when I start shaking it.
    I have one question for you, though. I'm wondering... If I've shaken the jar for a while and then stop for a few minutes or more for whatever reason, will I have to start over again, or does the shaking I did before still "count"?

    1. I put it down after I've stopped shaking it for a while here and there... early in the process you might lose some ground but if you're starting from creme fraiche it should be thick enough to hold the air for a while. Absolultely once it's thick enough to have expanded through the whole jar, you should be okay to leave it for long periods of time even. I started a batch once while I was making morning coffee, then stuck it in the fridge for a couple of hours before I got back to it and I don't think I lost any ground.

      I think the yogurt whey speeds up the creme fraiche process but I've never done it without... I can sense some experimentation in my future!

    2. My tired arms thank you. I used to think that I absolutely had to finish once I started.

      I'd be curious to know if you see any taste difference between the two different methods.

  3. By the way, I put a marble in the jar, but the whisk ball sounds safer. I once had a marble make a small hole right through the side of my jar...

    1. Funny... I've started using 2 marbles because the whisk ball hangs on to the butter and I felt like I was losing some. But now I'm thinking I should go back to the whisk!

    2. I'm thinking that my "holey"experience was probably just a fluke due to a flawed jar. I've read about dozens of people on the net who make their butter with the jar/marble combo, and no one ever mentioned this problem. By the way, it wasn't like an explodion or anything. The marble just kept going, and I lost a little cream. I put the piece of glass back in the hole and saw that there was none missing, so I moved the cream to another jar and finished the job. I think I'd rather risk another marble incident rather than have to clean a whisk ball every time.

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  4. I love your pothole idea. Maybe I'll just take my butter on a bike a ride. That should do the trick, given the ravaged state of Winnipeg's streets.
    A friend of mine had bought some cream when she did her grocery shopping, and then took the bus. She had butter when she got home!

    1. Hilarious about the bus ride. I think you should give it a try when biking... we recently bought a water-bottle-holder-belt and are planning to take some cream on a run soon to see how that works. :)

  5. I could try the same thing, although I usually make a point of avoiding the potholes. Hmm, I think I'll stick to my arm workout...


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