I Made Butter

I was talking to a friend of mine the other night about the importance of setting goals in life. Setting goals and trying to reach them is how we grow in life and how we keep from stagnating. We talked about how important it is to continue to learn things just so we can keep moving forward.

One of my goals for this year is to learn how to make things. Mostly the things I want to learn to make are food or kitchen related.  I don’t know why, exactly. I’ve never been the picture of the domestic in the kitchen. I can cook if pressed and will do so if I have someone for whom I can cook. If it’s just me feeding myself, my philosophy has largely been to put it in a bowl, pour milk over it and consume. It’s quick, it’s easy and I’m perfectly happy with it. My roots in the kitchen run deep, though.

My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother have always been at home in the kitchen.  My family has never been rich but recipes and cooking skills have been handed down with pride from one generation to the next. To hear the stories told, the matriarch of the previous generation was always more accomplished when it came to cooking. I regret that I can’t have Grandmamma (that’s “grand maw maw”) Harris’ biscuits. Apparently they were heavenly. My grandmother, Mamma (“maw maw”), made great biscuits but always claimed her mother’s were better. She herself made great meringue pies that my mother claims she can’t duplicate. Mom makes things like peanut brittle and pear honey and has written a cookbook with all the “family” recipes. I think she’s gotten more active in the kitchen since her retirement.

My father also isn’t too bad in the kitchen. He tells stories of his Grandmother Holloway and her icebox rolls and talks of how he would compete with his cousin to see who could eat more of them in one sitting. His own cooking is always a bit of an experiment, however. You never really know what you are going to end up with when he fires up a burner.  We like to tell the tale of when my father took canned tuna and married it to canned fruit cocktail and presented it as a meal. I personally don’t remember it but the story is told on a fairly regular basis whenever the family gathers. Rumor has it that it was as gross as it sounds.

I do remember muffins made with pistachio pudding mix and a particularly patriotic red, white and blue cake.  There was fresh made snow cream and grape syrup made from melted Smuckers.  He made us milkshakes that were basically colored milk with a little sugar in it. Most of Pop’s magic was accomplished with a generous dash of food coloring, now that I think of it.  But he was always cooking up something new.

Given that history, I feel like I’ve been letting down the side when it comes to the kitchen. I feel that it’s incumbent upon me to learn what I can in the kitchen in order to preserve the heritage and so that I can leave the same to my own children one day, God willing that I ever have any of my own. So I set a goal to learn how to make things

Tonight, I made butter. I have always had an appreciation for homemade foods, whether it be beer or bread or whatever. They seem to satisfy the palette as well as the soul. There’s little better than real butter on a fresh piece of bread and I know my brother has made butter in the the past. I figured it couldn’t be too difficult. Certainly the instructions for making butter make it seem relatively straightforward. “Put whipping cream in a jar. Shake like mad.”

Shake like mad? This I can do.

I made a run to Trader Joe’s today in preparation for the assault on Mt. Butter. Two half-pints of whipping cream, a strainer and  a Mason jar. That was the plan anyway. Unfortunately, there were no Mason jars to be had at either of the two locations I tried. I settled on a plastic bottle that doubles as a measuring cup and bore a “shaker” label.

This becomes a crucial piece of information a little later in the story. A plastic shaker is not the equivalent of a Mason jar.

Anyway, I get home and launch into a full scale cleaning of the kitchen. It seems improper to make anything in a disorganized kitchen. Maybe this was my OCD coming out or maybe it was just a delay tactic. I don’t know. I had to wait for the whipping cream to reach room temperature so I couldn’t get an immediate start anyway.

I cleaned my refrigerator, washing all the shelves and organizing my condiments by size and type.  I reorganized my pots and pans.  I unloaded the dishwasher. I took out the garbage. Twice.  I threw out no less then 7 two year-old bottles of salad dressing.

This last bit is odd as I do not eat salad, ever. Why I had 7 bottles of the stuff, I’ll never know. I think it’s because I’m a bachelor and bachelors are required, by law, to have a refrigerator full of condiments and beer.  I have three bottles of mayonnaise, six things of mustard (various types and flavors), two jars of pickles, four things of strawberry jam, four bottles of lime juice, three bottles of lemon juice, two unopened containers of maraschino cherries and two equally pristine containers of salsa. Somehow these things accumulate. I suspect them of multiplying through secret condiment carnality whenever the refrigerator door is closed.

I also have one metric ton of butter. Literally. The last thing I need is butter. The picture below is all the butter that was already in my fridge.

The butter that was already in my refrigerator.
The butter that was already in my refrigerator.

Why do I want to make butter, for crying out loud? I might as well make my own mustard.


Having appeased the obsessive compulsive voices in my head, I was ready to proceed. I poured the now lukewarm whipping cream into my shaker, pressed down the lid and started to shake. The instructions I’ve read called for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes of vigorous agitation and, being me, I assumed 45 was more appropriate than 15. I settled in for three-quarters of an hour of vicious and aggressive palsy.

45 minutes is a long time to shake anything. I quickly decided I was going to have to find something I could do with my unoccupied hand…k. Let me stop right there. I know some of you and I know where your minds are right now. Stop it. “Master butterer” jokes are just too easy at this point.

*Ahem*. As I was saying, I quickly decided I was going to have to find an alternate task I could accomplish whilst continuing to churn my butter. Updating my Facebook status happened to be the first thing that came to me,  as I felt it necessary for the entire world to know that, yes, I was following up on my promise to make butter.

This is when I took my eye off the ball. We’ve already established that a plastic shaker does not a Mason jar make. Whereas a Mason jar has a nicely threaded lid that can be screwed on tightly, a plastic shaker has a lid that snaps shut. Given this, it is possible for the lid to be removed by the simple application of repeated vertical force.

I found this out the hard way.

Five minutes later, carpets once again free of whipping cream and string of swear words fading into echos, I resumed my activity with one finger firmly atop the container. For the next half-an-hour, I churned.

Eventually, I began to feel the thumping of something more than whipping cream in the jar.  I opened the container and poured the whole mess into a strainer. I probably got two or three teaspoons of buttermilk but, by and large, the contents of the shaker were solid. I wanted to be sure, however, so I scooped it all back into the jar and shook it for another five minutes. Can’t be to sure about these things, right?

Straining the buttery goodness.
Straining the buttery goodness.

I also drank the buttermilk, by the way. It was a lot sweeter than the buttermilk from the store. The one time I remember being given buttermilk, it was really disgusting. This wasn’t bad at all. I kinda’ wish there’d been more.

Anyway, I strained it all out again, put it all back and started mixing in cold water to wash out the remaining cream. Leaving in the cream causes the butter to turn rancid faster, so I’ve read. Being a tad bit on the cautious side, I repeated this step for something like 15 minutes. There shall be no rancifying cream in my butter if I have anything to do about it.

Lastly, I strained out all the water, created a container from some aluminum foil, packed the butter in and dumped it in the fridge to solidify. I have to say, it turned out really well. I made myself some toast and eggs and the butter tasted really fresh. It actually tasted like butter too. This was something of a relief and a surprise to me. I was pretty sure I’d failed.

Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.
Eggs over-easy, toast with fresh butter.

Except for the minor catastrophe involving the flying lid, it was a fairly satisfying endeavor. I’m sure I’ll repeat the experiment some time in the future. Hopefully this is just the beginning of my activity in the kitchen. One of these days, I’d like to make my own bread to go with the butter. If I ever make that happen, I’m sure you’ll read about it here.

Until then, I raise my glass to those that have gone before me. To my mother and father, to my grandmother and my great-grandmothers, I honor you for the legacy you have passed down to me and I will strive to keep it alive for the next generation of Staffords, Holloways, Harris’ and Wrights.  So help me God.

9 thoughts on “I Made Butter”

  1. Chuck, I am impressed.

    I’m also reminded of a Far Side cartoon (or one of the same ilk) about “When Food Goes Bad”, where there is an armed gang of bad food in the fridge, making life miserable for all the good food. Your fridge sounds like a neat and orderly community, in which any morsel of good food would be delighted to live.

    Interesting that real buttermilk tastes a lot sweeter than storebought. I wonder if it’s a salt issue?

  2. I am proud of you. I think I will go make some butter. I have lots of Mason jars, and next time you are here, I will supply you with one or more. Your buttermilk tasted different from what you buy in the store because store-bought buttermilk is no longer the leftovers of churned butter. It is called “cultured” buttermilk and they make it with enzymes or bacteria or something like that. Since you want to make bread, may I suggest that you start with Beer Bread. Some how I feel you have that ingredient already in your fridge. You will find two Beer Bread recipes in Your Mama’s Cookbook–one for rolls and one for loaf bread. Go to Walmart or Target first and get yourself a couple of muffin pans (12 muffins per pan) or a loaf pan and grease really well. Make according to the directions. I have tested almost all the recipes in the cookbook, but not these. I included them for the benefit of novice cooks like you with a lot of beer on hand. A Methodist preacher’s wife does not buy beer at a supermarket in her home town, even if it is just for making bread, so you will have to test these on your own. Caution: Buy fresh Bisquick or self-rising flour, as these do not keep well for long periods on the shelf. Let me know how the bread turns out. If it is good, I may go over to Bunn and buy some beer.

  3. Oh yes, I meant to tell you that cornbread is easy to make as well. I generally buy white (not yellow), plain (not self-rising), medium-grind cornmeal, not a mix, but that is just my preference. I always bake mine in an iron skillet, but it can be done in another kind of pan. (If you want to buy an iron skillet, get a 10 to 12-inch size and be sure it is already seasoned. If it is not, go to the “Tips and Warnings” section of Your Mama’s Cookbook and note numbers 3 and 4.) You will also need a mixing bowl. Iva’s Cornbread and Batter Bread are good. You might even try the Spoon Bread. Yummy with homemade butter! Use a 9 x 13 Pyrex baking dish for the Spoon Bread. Good luck with learning to cook.

  4. Thanks, Ma, and all. Oddly, I saw a recipe for Beer Bread the other day but was thinking Cornbread would be my next attempt at something in the kitchen. I guess you and I share the same quantum entanglement I share with Sid, Mom.

    And, yes, I do have the main ingredient of beer bread in the fridge. Most of it is left-over from my June birthday party.

  5. Interesting Charlie. In self defense, I made some great sphagetti in my time, many waffles with syrup and peanut butteris a great combination that our family enjoys except for yomomma And the discipleship of these waffles goes much further as others have learned by imitation, And snowcrean with various kool aid flavors was good, and condensed milk did a good job. I plead no defense on the tuna fish-fruit cocktale issue. And I imitated the great family traditon of seafood gumbo as a bachelor and I dont remember doing it for the family. It may have to do with the lousy kid who wouldn’t eat seafood until he went off to state college.. I mention state college to unmistably target the culprit!. My Dad, Uncle Pete Aunts Gladys, Aunt Alma, and Aunt
    Ruby all made geat seafood gumbo. And so did
    Uncle Taterbug. And I used to belong tp that great and honorable tradition. And when I was a bachelor preacher I had a teen age nephew to run away from his New York home to see Uncle Sid. And he agreed to go home after several days of seafo gumbo for breakfast , dinner and supper..( I was stlll deep South in those days.)
    Joey gladly went home after of days old end of gumbo. And you always made a big pot when you make gumbo. Uncle Pete, to my estimation is the family champ at making seafood gumbo. He has been known to put over a hundred bucks of stuff in his gumbo . He has a 60ish daughter who has a special pair of overalls for the occasion as she downs her customary three bowls. And what about that woman that runs my kitchen? SHE HAS NEVER TRIED I MAKE A GUMBO! She did consent to put brother Pete’s menu for gumbo in her highly popular and successul cook book. ( Last sentence truthfully inserted so as to avoid too much kickback of highlighted sentence. ) But it is one fine cookbook And she si a great cook. . My copy of Pete’s recipe , in my hand writing reads, ” Have sixteen old nephew peel the shrimp. “He is a long retired airforce colonel. By the way, as we never devein the shimp, a divinity buddy of mine claimed that I eat shrimp shit. I asked him if he ever deveined an oyster before
    eating. He said , “no.” You can imagine my statement in defense! Yodaddy

  6. Hey Charlie,

    Found this link when I checked out your Song in My Head post. I remember Paula telling me once that you had a blog and I didn’t follow through on it. Glad I have found it. Enjoyed your butter making story and especially the cleaning of the fridge part had me cracking up. Russ and I were challenging each other to clean the fridge just last weekend. It remains in the same science experience state it was then. Maybe we need to let our inner OCD loose and clean it out to make room for some homemade butter.

  7. Please send this to the crew at Threedonia.com. They are often giving toast stories and this has the buttery fun facts too. They would really enjoy it!

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