The principle is simple, really – agitate cream long enough and it will turn into butter! What happens during concussion (a fancy word for shaing or agitating) is that the fat blobs suspended in the cream start bashing into other fat blobs, and eventually they all join forces and make the transformation into butter.
You can use many different tools to churn your butter – I like to use a simple Mason jar with a good tight lid. You can use a clean mayonnaise jar if you wish – after all, it’s free and you are recycling it! It´s a fun challenge to shake until you just can’t go on, then pass it on to another family member, round and round, until it’s ready. It’s good exercise and kids really think it’s a kick. If you prefer, you can use a whisk or even an electric mixer to agitate the cream, but my personal results have never been very good with those methods. In the olden days in the Middle East, leather bags were filled with cream and strapped to galloping horses! When the riders arrived at their destination, viola, they had their butter.
If you plan on making butter for your family on a regular basis, you will want to invest in a churn. A hand churn resembles a large pear-shaped glass jar. A paddle attachment is screwed on as the lid, and a crank handle is turned to create the churning action. If you wish, electric churns can also be purchased. And if you are really adventurous, you can still find those old wooden upright churns used in pioneer days!
Start with fresh cream, slightly ripened (ripened is a nicer word than soured, but that’s what it means). To ripen your cream, leave it at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or until it starts to look shiny and tastes a bit acid. Do not let it set out longer than 24 hours, or it will become sour tasting.
If you are nervous about safety during the ripening process, you can pasteurize your cream first. Using a double boiler, heat your cream to between 180 and 200 degrees, and hold it at that heat for 40 minutes. Let cool for 12 hours, then add a little bit of sour cream, yogurt, or buttermilk to the pasteurized cream before you start churning it.
You want your cream to be about 60 degrees F. If it’s too warm, your butter will be soft and won’t keep well, if it’s too cold, you´ll be churning forever to get your butter formed. When your cream is the right temperature, pour into your churn and get moving! Within about 15 minutes, it should start feeling heavier. If not, check the temperature to see if you are in the right range. Churn for another 10 to 20 minutes, and you’ll start to see the cream separating into buttermilk containing very small butter ‘pellets’.
Once you see these pellets develop, stop churning. Pour off the buttermilk (you can use it in any recipe calling for buttermilk or you can drink it), and rinse the butter with cold water. The easiest way I have found to rinse the butter is to line a colander with cheesecloth, lay your butter in it, and gently run cold water over the butter and through the cheesecloth. At this stage, you are rinsing away all traces of buttermilk, since any that remains on the butter will make it taste sour. Now plop your butter into a bowl, and start working it with a wooden spoon or a butter paddle. Add salt at this stage, about 1/2 teaspoon per pound. This will help retard spoilage as well as add flavor. Keep working the butter until all the granules have blended together, and any stray moisture has been worked out. You can form it into any shape you wish at this stage – you can make a simple block, or press it into molds if you want to make fancy little individual pats. When you are done, wrap your butter in wax paper and keep it in the refrigerator, away from air and light.
Making Cheese, Butter, and Yogurt
This Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin is a good booklet to keep handy in your kitchen. You’ll probably find as you progress towards a more simple way of living that you’re collecting lots of Storey Country bulletins. I have quite a few myself, and I find them extremely handy as quick reference guides.