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Behind the Times and Nuancing the Farmlife

February 2, 2013
Guernsey butter

Guernsey butter

It was one of those days, I needed to skim 5 gallons of milk to make butter.  Oh no wait, I needed to skim 5 gallons of milk to make room in the refrigerator for the evening milking.  (Jane is currently at 3 gallons a day but it adds up fast when you need room for food in said refrigerator too.)  Oh no wait, before I skim those gallons of milk, I need to wash out the 20 quart stock pot so I have somewhere to put the 5 gallons of skim milk.  Oh no wait, before I wrestle that stockpot into the sink I need to wash the breakfast and lunch dishes.  It’s not the milking that takes so much time really with a dairy cow, it is the washing of all the minutiae that goes with home dairy.  Buckets, straining cloths, jars, churns, colanders, and stockpots.  Thank heavens I milk by hand!  No milking machine to wash.  Almost every day is one of those days in this deliberate life.  I say deliberate because it is entirely of my choosing.  I chose to keep a milk cow all these years, so you’ll hear no complaining from me.  My cows are my saviors many days.

A friend called on that day, and I explained I was busy and going to churn.  She suggested that I use a food processor to make my butter, it would be faster and save me time.  I thanked her for the suggestion but continued with my plans to churn.  I hate washing my food processor 😦  It may seem quaint to continue to use a hand cranked churn, but the churns I use that date from the 1920’s and 1940’s really are elegant in design.  The jars are designed for maximum effect, either the square jar or the tulip jar working in tandem with the paddles can make quick work of butter making, if you have your cream properly aged and the correct temperature.  I don’t know really if a food processor would save time, the churn lid has a screen for draining the buttermilk and subsequently the wash water.  No colanders, no cheese cloth, just the churn and my butter bowl and paddle.  I am going to venture a guess that the churning part is faster with a food processor, and your arms do get a workout for 10 or 15 minutes with a churn, but I am betting the cleanup takes a lot longer with the modern method and tools.

I realize this makes me sound like I don’t like doing dishes.  It’s not that I dislike washing dishes, it is more that when I churn my butter by hand, I see the differences in the cream as the process moves along.  As soon as you give your work over to a machine ( or at least to an electric or fuel powered machine) your mind and body move to a different task or plane of thinking and feeling.  I want to feel my butter when it comes.  I watch it carefully as I switch from arm to arm.  Is it frothy? I feel the jar – too warm?  Too cold?  Is it washing yet?

Most of the time though while I am watching the cream change into butter, I am thinking of days like this.

15 minutes old - Blake

15 minutes old – Blake

making hay

making hay

Oftentimes instead thinking of the cows though, I am lost in the memories of the sights, sounds and scents  haymaking days like this.  It felt decadent to make Ruthless a birthday cake with a lots of butter and cream.  Mostly because all the memories, feelings and sweat wrapped up in that pound of butter from the birth of a calf so we could get milk, to the summer task of stocking the pantry for the cows.  The churning part seems small in comparison.  My daily worries are wrapped up in a lot of tasks that all fit together like a puzzle, I need to pay attention to all the pieces, if I put my cream in a food processor I would be watching the machine, and in too much of a hurry.  And look at what I might miss.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2013 2:39 pm

    I love this post. It speaks to me of how we have moved so far from our food….. modernization and machinery have taken away the art of working with our food and the love and care that should be going into it. I am “with you” 100%…. bring me the butter churn…..I’m ready.

  2. Bill Miller permalink
    February 2, 2013 2:57 pm

    It is all part of the flow and process of life, whatever style you have chosen. I often found myself in my incarnation as a mechanic having to make a tool that would enable me to create a jig that… & etc.
    I much prefer the pace on the farm, as slow as I am anymore. The processes are much the same though. Sharpen the saw to cut the dead tree to chop the wood to feed the stove, all in the house that Bill built.

  3. February 2, 2013 3:13 pm

    Reblogged this on bookofshadowsandblessings.

  4. February 2, 2013 4:30 pm

    I love those square jar churns – so elegant and functional – though I never had enough milk on hand to need one. Maybe one day.
    Meanwhile, what you say about churning is similar to what I feel about making bread. I understand why bread machines are popular, but I’ve also thought folks who have only ever used a bread machine are missing out on physical pleasure of kneading, and especially that magic moment of feeling the dough suddenly become…dough! Over 30 years, and It never gets old for me.

  5. February 2, 2013 4:36 pm

    That’s a lot of milk, lol. I’m with you – I love old fashioned hand powered things. I still water my cows with a hand pump – takes 15 lovely minutes.

    I hate washing fussy appliances too. If it can’t be submerged in water, I don’t want anything to do with it. But I wouldn’t mind at all washing that butter churn 🙂

    The more deliberately I live, the more oddly confusing I find the thought of living any other way.

  6. Chris permalink
    February 2, 2013 5:28 pm


  7. February 2, 2013 5:32 pm

    I came here by way of Poppy Underhill, what a wonderful enriching post! I call those chores that lead to more chores Dominos… a whole day of it becomes a Domino Day.
    5 gallons a day, whew!

  8. February 2, 2013 6:16 pm

    Oh I know this puzzle.. i have a tiny kitchen so am constantly making room.. making room.. but even when i am milking at -2 (yesterday) it is never a chore.. c

  9. February 2, 2013 8:28 pm

    Gosh that was well said. You and I and all your other blog readers are happily caught up in the rhythmn of lives that require much hand work, much husbanding, much cleanup. But ask any one of us, we’d all say “no regrets.” Your example and your enthusiasm is very affirming.

  10. February 2, 2013 8:41 pm

    Your post is so interesting! I am a 77 year old grandmother and I plan to start milking our little Dexter cow soon when she has her calf. I am in the process of teaching my grandchildren to milk. Winnie, our little Dexter, doesn’t quite give a gallon, but it is enough to teach the children to milk and enough to make cheese and have some to drink. I used to milk her before my knees got so bad, but now I have two knee replacements and I can walk again! Thank God! And I am ready to milk again! But I forgot what temperature is best to make the butter come? Thank you again for your post! Sarah Corson

    • February 2, 2013 8:55 pm

      Hi Sarah, yeah for you and Winnie! According to my dairy thermometer, 60 – 62 is optimum. Some say room temperature, I say that depends on the room 😉 If mine is too cool, I put the churn in a pot of hot tap water, if it is too warm, I use a pot of cold tap water while churning, it only takes a couple of minutes to change the temperature with the cream moving around.

      Happy milking!

    • February 3, 2013 3:35 pm

      Thank you for sending me the temp for making butter! Sarah

  11. February 2, 2013 9:05 pm

    Unfortunately, I have lived the life of hurry up, buy your food, hurry up heat your food, hurry up eat your food and hurry up wash the dishes so you can go watch TV to relax. It’s how I was raised. (Boo) Your post reminds me of a day when I was in fourth grade…(Oh so long ago) Our teacher decided to show us how butter is really made. FIFTY years later, I remember that day and how that butter tasted on the crackers that she brought so we could taste the fruits of our labor.
    I loved that day!

  12. quilterj3 permalink
    February 3, 2013 3:50 am

    Loved the memories while churning! I grew up milking, learned at 8years old and later by machine, we helped with chores, night and morning. I even won a hand milking contest in college.
    My husband promised me the milk cow someday but when we moved to a small farm 20 years later I deferred and raised dairy replacement heifers instead. Working with them was fun and work, my pleasure was going to the barn and being with them. Married now for 55 years I turned and asked if there is still time to have our milk cow, his answer “maybe” if we sell a couple of ponies!

  13. RSW permalink
    February 4, 2013 6:32 pm

    Well said. It’s far too easy to forget the many threads that come together to make the daily weave of life. My husband doesn’t understand what I “see” when I walk the winter fields or how satisfying and calming it is to the soul.

  14. Sonya permalink
    March 16, 2013 11:43 pm

    I love your blog. This story sounds so much like me. I could not find inexpensive churns or paddle churn replacements. So I read an article about butter and this woman used her KitchenAide Mixer with the paddle to make butter. I tried it and fell in love, I could still watch the process without the labor lol. Thank you for sharing your stories.

  15. Theresa Katuski permalink
    March 17, 2013 10:35 pm

    The thoughts in this post are humorous and engaging. I have toyed with the idea of getting a milk cow – not sure on the commitment part. I struggle with the war between farm life and city life. I have a young family, and the kids go to a in-town school. With that comes hockey, video games, tv, novelty toys, and stupidity.
    Have to walk a fine line between blending in with town folk and living how I desire on the farm.
    My ideal would be:
    -one trip to town a month;
    -wear my chore clothes into town without out of place;
    -no such thing as “brand-name clothing”. This one concerns me much; some kids walk down the street and from hair to shoes everything is a pricey branded article.
    This is hard on my kids sometimes; they never complain but they must know that they don’t look as sharp as other kids. I try to keep them understanding that rhere are more important thongs in life; an expensive ball cap doesn’t make you smarter, funnier, or happier.
    – iPads be damned! Lol. My middle boy turned nine, and dad thought it good idea to buy him iPad for bday. I expressed my concern; didn’t sway the final decision. Son plays minecraft to levels of obsession if allowed. I’m sure he forgets to breathe he’s so intent on that game!

  16. March 19, 2013 12:01 pm

    I make butter in half gallon canning jars, which will thread nicely onto a standard blender in place of the pitcher. Seeing as how I keep the cream in those jars, the only additional thing that needs washing is the blades and sometimes the base of the blender.

    • March 20, 2013 9:22 am

      So you screw the blender bottom on the top of the jar and turn it over to make your butter? Jar half full like a churn?

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