Monday, December 2, 2013

Is it Butter?

This photo is of a butter churn
that has been passed down
from my great grandmother.
We are guessing vintage 1880 or 1890.
With the holiday season upon us, I thought I'd share a Christmas memory. We held our annual Christmas Girl Scout meeting at our assistant leader's home because she had a winding staircase and the tallest Christmas tree. She was also an excellent cook. That year, I was about ten and we made butter by vigorously shaking a jar with heavy cream in it. We sat in a circle and passed the jar around so everyone got a turn. I don't remember much after that. I assume we separated the buttermilk from the butter somehow, but for the life of me, I don't recall how. I do remember spreading it over a cracker and thinking how good it tasted.

With that memory fresh in my mind, I thought to share a bit more about churning butter. Historians believe the use of butter dates as far back as 2000BC. Pioneers had butter churns for making the process easier. I have the one my great grandmother used when she made her home at Fort Martin Scott.

Those making the long trek across our nation on wagon trains would place the cream in a bucket and attach the bucket under the wagon. The motion created by the moving wagon would cause the cream to become butter by the time the settlers stopped for the night.

And what about margarine? I discovered a very interesting article on regarding the history of margarine. See why this man went to jail for selling butter.

Excerpt from Once Jilted:

She searched for dried grass and brittle twigs to use as tinder, all the while feeling very unqualified to do the work she’d promised. What would Kane think of her if he knew she couldn’t even start a simple campfire? She kicked at the dried ground. What did it matter what Kane thought? She had to quit thinking about that man and concentrate on finding a suitor who wasn’t so opposed to marriage.

Her chore was interrupted by the arrival of Tom. His wagon clattered toward them. Stopping, he jumped down and hefted a large tin container to the ground. Shauna smiled. "Milk?"

Lefty paid him then sent him on his way. "I usually keep it in the creek, but I reckon you’ll want it close by for breakfast. I can move it out of your way afterwards.

"Thanks." She started to pick up a stick, when a thought struck her. "Lefty, do you skim the cream and save it?"
He shook his head. "Ain’t no time for churning butter if that’s what you’re getting at."
She nodded. Well, she’d be here for a while, and it only took a week to collect enough cream for a crock of butter. If she started saving now, she could offer the men a real treat in five or six days.
After gathering the needed fuel, Lefty showed her how to light it using only one match. He gave her instructions on feeding the flames until she had hot coals to cook with. Armed with new knowledge, she tackled the job with pleasure. Lefty meandered back to his own tent, leaving her alone to finish the morning meal.

While she waited for the right amount of heat, she explored the insides of the covered wagon. Whoever cooked before had not been very organized. A sack of flour rested in the corner near a bin of potatoes. To the right, she found a tin of sugar, while a container of lard was buried behind the bag of cornmeal. Though it took a while to scrounge all the ingredients, she decided on flapjacks for the morning meal. Lefty had shown her a four-legged flat griddle that was large enough to cover the fire pit. She dragged and situated the large cast iron plate over the glowing coals, leveling it with a rock under one corner.
After putting on a pot of coffee, she made sure she had all the ingredients she needed then mixed a large bowl of batter. Testing the griddle, she pronounced it hot enough and poured several spoonfuls of batter onto the sizzling surface. Next to the frying cakes, the water in the coffee pot began to boil. She smiled, pleased with her efforts.

"Ach, woman. Have you noo sense?"
She dropped the spatula, fell back on her bottom, and met the angry glare of Kane. "I’m cooking. Isn’t that why I’m here?" She righted herself and picked up the spatula, dusting off the grains of dirt.

"Aye, I can see that you’re cooking." He squatted beside her and placed one knee on the ground. "Has noo one ever taught you how to cook over open flames afore?"

She shook her head.

"Ne’er bend over like you were doing, lass. You’ll end up with your skirts ablaze or your palms burned. You have noo balance perched as you were."

"I thought I was doing just fine."
"Stubborn bird. Always put one knee to the ground like so," he said, indicating his own position. "This will force your skirts oot of the way and give you the balance you need. Try it."

She did as requested and found he was right. She flipped a perfect flapjack onto a plate and forgetting her annoyance, beamed at him. "Want to be the first to sample my cakes?"
An odd expression stole over his features. He rose without comment and walked away. She stared, dumbfounded. What had she said?


Caroline Clemmons said...

Ciara, when my daughter taught 4th grade, she had enough baby food jars for each student to make butter during their study of Texas history and loading a covered wagon for the trip to Texas. Great post and lovely excerpt that guarantees I'll be buying the book.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Well, you have me hooked! I have a dozen questions. So I guess the only way to get the answers is to buy the book! Very interesting post!

Ciara Gold said...

Thanks big time, Karren and Caroline. I remember baby food jars and using them for all sorts of projects. Kinda related but we also made ice cream using two coffee cans. The smaller can had the ingredients and it was put into a larger can that had the rock salt in it. And I guess ice? Wish my memory was better but we rolled the cans to each other until we had ice cream.

Jacquie Rogers said...

We churned butter quite often when I was a kid. Our churn was a jar with a screw-on lid that had a crank on top and paddles on the bottom. My favorite part was spanking the butter to get all the buttermilk out. Kids do love the opportunity to whap something. :) After spanking it, we'd salt it and yum--delicious on homemade bread.

Lyn Horner said...

Ciara, this is such a coincidence. My husband was wondering just the other day how and when people first learned to make butter. I'll pass on your info to him. Thanks!