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Thoughts on Ghee (and Hay)

November 7, 2013

Fitting in ghee making is proving to be a drive on the learning curve.  Not wanting to be stagnant in my learning – cough, cough – I always usually learn when I get pushed up against a wall or slapped upside the head with a situation.  Get my drift?  I am resistant to change.  But (and my husband hates this trait I have) my mind takes pictures of everything and I file away little bits of useless (at the time) information.  And miraculously when presented with a new situation dilemma sometimes all that data in my brain melds into an aha! moment.

butter oil in the making

butter oil in the making

I realize it does sound a little whiny to “complain” about my freezers being full, but it’s a sad (no room for any more butter) and joyous fact.  All four freezers are stuffed to the gills.  Beef, pork, chicken, butter, berries, prunes, vegetables, mushrooms, pesto, garden seeds, pits, you name it, if it freezes good it’s in there.  The pit thing took up more space than I thought, hubby wants to make Slivovitz and I want to make bitter almond extract so until we get those projects going, I have bags of pits taking up space, along with many bags of the prunes I froze for my night-time snacking pleasure.  Nothing says redneck like a half thawed Italian prune in winter.  Delicious!  That’s my comfort food that came about just because us kids could never stay out of the bowl of prunes that my mom would put out to thaw.

Anyway, back to the ghee.   This is kind of a complicated thought process that has finally put some of those filed away tidbits into perspective for me.  It’s no secret I am into Jane for the cream and butter.  Don’t worry, she doesn’t care, she’s only into me for the grass and hay.  Friends with benefits, pure and simple.  I like reading about butter making, and on an online forum I read about this woman’s butter making woes.  It sounded pretty straightforward, temperature may be off, cream too new, not the right amount of cream in the churn, etc.  Her question concerned the time it took, an hour to churn and hour to work.  I offered some tips as many others did too.  What struck me was the hour to work.  Huh?  File this away.  Odd in my mind.  Most folks told her to ditch the churn and use a blender or food processor.

Fast forward to the freezer space dilemma here, no skin off my churning arm – my daughter and I traded vacuuming for churning – but churning isn’t just beating the cream ’til you get butter as my daughter soon found out.  There are nuances to the process that experience learned the hard way get you.  Cream too warm, the butter is greasy, cream too cold, and it won’t churn in a reasonable time.  I’m not that perfect that I don’t start out the wrong temperature either, it’s just that over time I learned how long is too long in the warm or cold water bath.  Again nuances come into play.  I learned churning subtleties as a child through osmosis.  You do soak up and learn things even if you think you’re not.  Of course, even with osmosic learning you still need to really perfect your technique.  I’ve been churning butter by hand since before many of my readers were born…gah.

It’s a well-known fact that I happen to think a butter churn does the best job, so I imagine it was with great trepidation that my daughter announced that she was going to use the food processor to make the butter.  I think she was a little surprised that I released the reins and said sure, as long as you wash the dang thing.  We only trot that noisy thing out to make cilantro pesto and vegetable bouillon, so I supposed finding another use could justify it existence a little more.

just out of the food processor - 4 pounds

just out of the food processor – 4 pounds

In my ghee research I talked to a neighbor who makes it frequently and part of the appeal of ghee was not having to work the butter.  That sounded good, as soon as the butter was “churned” I could start the ghee cooking.  So as things do, stuff happens or comes up.  The first batch of ghee in the crockpot turned out beautiful, but really was just clarified butter as the milk solids didn’t turn tan like they were supposed to.  Not a problem, I next moved to the stove and promptly went the other way and really got the milk solids brown, not tan, more like a dark chocolate color.  Note to self, DO NOT think you’re going to look up a quick thing on the interwebs and leave a pan of simmering butter on the stove.  Actually though despite the pan cleaning chore, that batch turned out quite tasty.  I did need to apply the Goldilocks theory here though and find “just right” setting on the stove, and give it more attention.  After all, no one (except the dogs) wants to see four pounds of butter disappear into a black mess, even if you used a food processor to make the butter.

My latest aha! moment came one batch when I just decided that I was too tired and it was too late to mess with the cooking.  I would just work the butter and stick it in the fridge, we needed butter anyway and it made no sense to be  getting into the freezer stash.  So I worked and washed, and worked and washed, and did that some more, until I finally gave up.  What normally took me 5 minutes at best to get clear water, was taking so much time.  Now that one hour butter working scenario I read about made more sense.  With the hand cranked churn, so often thought to be a quaint relic of the past, the technology had advanced enough to make the butter come a little faster than with the dasher method.  So it stands to reason that sure, put that churn up on display and move on to new and modern.  But maybe new and modern isn’t always the answer.

Dazey No. 8

Dazey No. 8

The churn is a fantastic tool not only for churning, but for getting a large portion of the buttermilk out of the butter.  They come with screens so you can drain off the buttermilk, then you can refill the jar with water and give a few cranks to “wash” the butter some.  Repeat if necessary.  After churning I can wash the butter, salt it, and get the remaining water out in about 5 minutes, packed in canning jars and put in the freezer in less that 10 minutes total for the working process.  Now I get it, it’s all work, it just depends on where you want to spend your effort.

I suspect, I won’t say I know, because I am not all engineery or scientific, just an observer of life, the butter churning is like the haying.  We don’t have much problem making sweet hay, because we haven’t moved into the higher horse power tractor realm.  Our aging International 40 horse tractor won’t run a modern disc mower that lets you cut hay balls out, day or night, we have to wait until the dew is dried and guess what?  The time of day when the dew is dry is when the plants have the most sugar reserves for the day.  We come at these conclusions a different way, I can’t see hubby out there with the Brix meter trying to decide if it’s time to cut or not.  Not that it wouldn’t work, it’s more like, if your boots are dry, you better fire up the haybine and flatten ‘er.

Making ghee certainly has a place on a farmstead, especially off-grid steads, due to the fact that it is shelf stable for some time.  I can’t say how long, because we only have been making it for a month.  It is handy though, since cooking off the milk solids gives you a cooking oil that can take higher temperatures, and it is crazy good for seasoning my cast iron pans.  I won’t pretend we are off-grid, we have freezers, fridges, computers, and an electric hot water heater in a thermal-siphon system in conjunction with our wood-fired hot water.  But the grid I want to be off of the most is the food grid.  That is an industrial infrastructure I want no part of.  Growing much of our own food is much more satisfying than thumbing our nose at BPA.

Besides all that political baggage/guilt trip, the ghee tastes good, and different than butter.  I’m finding the yield to be less by a pound, than working up the butter for the freezer.  So whether that speaks to Jane or the nature of the ghee beast I can’t say.  I have heard in baking it takes less ghee than butter, so maybe that’ll be an experiment for winter.  I have enjoyed the aha! moments with this new chapter in the butter pantry and I have really enjoyed the tasting part!  Melted ghee in cream of chanterelle leek soup – Divine!

26 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2013 11:42 am

    I’ve made butter in my Kitchen Aid mixer which completed the task quite quickly. What I seem to be having trouble with is after a few days in the fridge it develops a smell. I wash the butter several times till the water runs clear so I’m not quite sure what has happened. It didn’t so much affect the taste but the smell wasn’t pleasant. I have frozen the butter and even in the freezer it still develops this smell. The cream comes from a Jersey cow if that makes any difference. Would love to hear you thoughts?

    • November 7, 2013 12:33 pm

      Melissa, what I saw in the this last batch that I worked into butter, was that I didn’t get all the buttermilk out, even though the water appeared to be clear. Once I got the jar out to use a day or so later, there was milky water. Just on visual inspection I can see the granules are more granule-like from the churn and more clumped together in the butter from the food processor. Hence the hand churned butter is much easier to wash, and the other has the milk basically whipped into it instead of out of it. I had a friend who was a commercial buttermaker in the 50’s, and he commented once about how much they had to work the butter in the creamery compared to at home on the farm. He assumed it was the volume.

      If it’s not the washing issue, I would suspect: the cow, the cow’s diet, or the milk handling procedure. All are an important part of the process. The feed makes more of a difference than breed. Another thing too is the health of the cow, many cows are being touted as grassfed only, and that’s fine if the cow can maintain their health that way. But many are ketotic, they need carbs in addition to the protein in their diet and they don’t get it due to perceived benefits of the milk from grassfed only. So the milk or other dairy products can have an off-taste as a result. And my take is, if the cow isn’t healthy her milk won’t be either. Grassfed is a marketing tool, and unfortunately the cows suffer. Many cows do well on grass and hay only diet, but they have to have had the right start as calves themselves. So it’s really a complicated case by case issue, not something as simple as restricting a cow’s diet to grass or hay only.

  2. chrisgo permalink
    November 7, 2013 11:53 am

    I also love cooking with ghee and clarified butter–I’m sure yours is divine. Its perhaps a ridiculous question, but have you thought about using it to make some classic indian dishes? We love it for our hot curries, but you may like carrot (or beet) halwa “gajar halwa” which is essentially carrots, cardamon, and a few nuts (of your choosing) cooked in ghee and finished with farmers cheese. Its a a really interesting dessert you may like, that you can make with entirely “on farm” products. Also, my Russian partner swears by blini fried in “maslo.” [You know, there is an entire (ancient) holiday in Slavic culture related to butter–“Maslenitsa” or “butter week”] Happy buttering!

    • November 7, 2013 12:14 pm

      Chrisgo, you’re making me hungry! Now you’re giving me reason to expand my recipe file, all those foods sound delicious 🙂

  3. James permalink
    November 7, 2013 12:01 pm

    Gorgeous butter!

    This is a bit off topic but would horsepower in the form of draft horses work for some of your tractor work or working in the forest? I noticed the Belgians in the previous post.

    • November 7, 2013 12:43 pm

      James, thanks,

      You know we just didn’t have enough work to keep horses busy. Idle horses are not fun to deal with 😦 We tried but the occasional job wasn’t enough justify the upkeep. Love them though, they sure are pretty. I miss my old girls, but now we have a purebred Shitafino, and he’s a pretty good boy, doesn’t do much but stand around looking pretty, but his manure is a welcome addition to the compost.

  4. Laura permalink
    November 7, 2013 12:11 pm

    Goodness me, 4 freezers! Is there a post somewhere you can direct me to that details why you freeze instead of can or dehydrate? I new here…and I may be mistaken but I thought you ate foods out of your greenhouse in the winter.

    • November 7, 2013 12:39 pm

      Laura, I don’t recall a post on our freezer contents, but that’s a good idea. It’s not a one method fits all here, we can, freeze, dry, ferment, store, gorge on fresh, and eat out of the garden during the winter. The greenhouses are taken out of commission during the winter months: to save them from snow, give the land inside a rest and a chance to really get exposed to weather, and gives us a break too. For us, the early start and late finish on the heat loving crops is more important than a salad in December or January. So to that end we grow hardy greens and have given up our quest for lettuce and other store type foodstuffs in favor of more peasant type food that works with a minimal effort on our part.

      Thanks for the post idea!

  5. Bee permalink
    November 7, 2013 12:45 pm

    NIita, I love using the food processor for making butter. Most of the time it’s about 5 minutes, start to finish. I can have the cream a little cooler than for a churn, and I dump it into a strainer lined with heavy muslin set in a pan to catch the buttermilk. Next step is to wash under a spray hose from the faucet. The water is really cold, especially in the winter. I salt it, give it a good squeeze in the muslin to get most of the water out and then — believe it or not — run cold water over my hands and work the butter with my hands rather than a paddle. Works like a charm!

    • November 7, 2013 12:58 pm

      Bee, until we get done with our work trade I won’t be trying the food processor 😉 I’ve done that with the cold hands too until someone gifted me a butter paddle. I like both methods, and butter is a great skin softener although with everyone’s fear of fat, some may be scared of it 😉

      Love the comment about the cold water – I know exactly what you mean. Our tank is partially above ground, so it’s a tad warmer in the summer. Hubby works in a city water department, and folks just about die if their water is shut off for 1/2 hour or gets a speck of something in it, they have no idea what it’s like to monitor your own water supply. The tap is the last place I look for a water supply problem! One citizen called to demand bottled water so she could take her medicine, and of course, hubby had to deliver it. This was a planned water maintenance hour with mailers, door hangers etc, warning of the blip in the supply. It didn’t go over too good when he told the director to call her back and suggest that she get some water out of her toilet tank!

  6. Bee permalink
    November 7, 2013 12:47 pm

    Forgot to add; I find ghee keeps for at least two months at room temperature.

    • November 7, 2013 1:00 pm

      Bee, is it getting rancid? I have heard it keeps at least a year. It’ll be interesting to see how it keeps here, I am dating it and putting it on a shelf in the basement, and the temperature stays about 50F in there year round. We’ll see.

      • Bee permalink
        November 7, 2013 2:18 pm

        No sign of rancidity, but I’ve never been able to keep any past two months because we use it up too fast! I’m supplying butter for two households with a total of seven people, so I don’t have a lot of extra to turn into ghee. I got started making it when hubby had to be off milk products for a couple months and was having a fit because he wanted something besides jam on his toast. Now that he can have real butter again, he’d rather go that route most of the time.

        • November 7, 2013 3:20 pm

          Bee, that makes sense 😀 We don’t have too much on the shelf either, it seems to be going faster than I can stock it up and much faster than the butter does. Soon I’m going to pull some old berries and make wine, so I think my ghee days will be limited soon since I’ll have room in the freezer.

  7. November 7, 2013 1:11 pm

    Ghee! a lot there I didn’t know. Have you tried it with potted meat yet?

    • November 7, 2013 1:24 pm

      HFS, I actually have no potted meat on hand. Blimey! Except mincemeat – but that doesn’t need any more fat.

      • November 7, 2013 8:08 pm

        Mincemeat? Do you mean with real meat & suet mincemeat? Interested in what you do with that. I’ve kind of got a mincemeat fixation these days…

        • November 7, 2013 9:08 pm

          Jackie, I can eat it straight out of the jar. But usually pie once in awhile, or cookies, cake you name it. Pie is actually pretty strong for some folks, but a mincemeat cake usually wins mincemeat dissers over.

          Here is an old post from ’09 detailing my ingredients and prep, I didn’t include the recipe due to controversy about processing times and method.

  8. November 7, 2013 5:24 pm

    Mmmm, ghee in cream of chanterelle and leek soup. That sounds absolutely delicious!

  9. November 7, 2013 7:23 pm

    First, my, how I miss chanterelles! In Santa Cruz we gathered them every year by the armload. I sold them to local chefs as part of my grad school what if we are forced to live off the grid because there are no jobs in the humanities and wouldn’t that be great really in the long run panic. Miss that too. I used to make a lot of ghee, and it is wonderful stuff. In those days I also cooked a lot of Indian and I have never been much of a baker so I don’t know about subbing for butter. I look forward to reading more about your experiments, Matron. Your posts are always a treat!

  10. November 7, 2013 7:41 pm

    Thanks for the tips. I think you may be right about the buttermilk not being rinsed enough. It does stick together in a big ball and that’s probably why it din’t rinse properly, even thought the water looked clear. I don’t have a butter churn but next time I will make sure I will rinse it extra! Thanks for taking the time to reply:)

  11. Bev permalink
    November 7, 2013 9:47 pm

    We usually make mincemeat every fall using the meat from deer necks. I was gifted a recipe many years ago for a dessert. Comes in handy for any home canner of fruits in quart jars. Make an oatmeal crumble (butter, sugar, flour, etc.) Pat half in the bottom of a 13×9 pan. Open any jar of fruit you would like. Add and then put other half of crumble on top. Bake and cut in squares. My favoiite is to use mincement, Really yummy. I an intrigued about making and tasting ghee. It sound so good. I am always learning something new.from you. and your readers. Thanks.

    • November 7, 2013 9:54 pm

      Neck meat is the best! It’s hard to not eat it before it gets to the mincemeat. Your recipe sounds like something I need to try with mincemeat and it’s real simple to an apricot bar recipe I have. It’s pretty hard to turn down a crumble or crisp 🙂

      • November 8, 2013 3:01 am

        That’s a use I hadn’t thought of Bev – I am a lover of the crumble and crisp. I modified mine a bit and use it as ravioli filling – good! Thank you again for the link – you are a wealth of fascinating info 😀

  12. November 10, 2013 8:41 am

    My amazing grandfather bought me an antique Dazey churn, which I dearly love. Unfortunately, since we moved from Tennessee I haven’t been able to find a cow share, and if you’re going to make butter you may as well make it with grass-fed cream. It’s amazing–the difference between store-bought butter and real butter. You almost can’t call the pale, mostly flavorless stuff “butter.”

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