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.
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?
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.
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.