by Darlene Litchie - August, 2003
researched by Audrey Ballageer 2002
Butter has been made for thousands of years by churning the fat from whole milk. It is mostly made from cow´s milk, but can be made from goats, sheep and buffalo.
Very early buttermaking consisted of churning the milk of goats in a leather skin bag that was swung back and forth to agitate the milk and separate the fat. By the 1800's, as buttermaking was a household necessity, many different styles of churning were developed. The most simple type was a large crock with a lid and a wooden dasher that was pushed up and down until the butter was churned. There were many other types developed. All were done by hand and some worked well and others left much to be desired!
Most of the early Manitoba pioneers had one or two cows for milk and cream, to feed their families. A machine to separate cream from milk, called a Centrifugal Cream Separator, was developed around 1856. However, most pioneers would not be able to afford such a wonderful machine until later years. Enterprising housewives took the freshly milked milk and put it in large flat pans to cool, and as the milk cooled, it came to the top. They were able to skim this precious cream to make butter for the table. The milk that was left was either used for the household or to feed the young calves and pigs.
Housewives´ work was surely lessened when they could afford a cream separator. The freshly milked warm milk was put through the separator after each milking. Cream came out of the small spout of the separator and skim milk out of the large spout. This was much more efficient than the hand skimming.
The cream would be collected until there was enough to half fill the churn. The results were much better if the cream was two or three days old and a pleasant bit sour like todays´ sour cream. There was a very fine line at this stage because the cream could soon become almost rotten and would not make pleasant tasting.
As butter churning was a tedious job, sometimes taking a long time to churn, many a child was made to help as some of our older people will attest! Also, there are probably many stories of children being punished by being given a half jar of cream and told to shake it until there was butter!
As cream is being churned into butter, it keeps getting thicker and thicker and sometimes it becomes very hard to turn the churn paddles. All of a sudden the cream “will break’ and the churn will be filled with butter and buttermilk. Buttermilk is a whey-like substance left from the cream when the other fat becomes butter. If the cream is the right amount sour, the buttermilk will tasted good to drink, but usually it is very flat tasting.
After the butter is churned, it is removed from the churn and put in a large pan. In early years there were wooden pans just used for butter and many utensils. The butter is worked by hand of paddle to get the buttermilk out. After that, it is carefully washed two or three times with cold water, trying to remove as much water and left over buttermilk as possible. Salt is added and worked in to flavor the butter.
The butter is now ready to be shaped into blocks for storage. Today it is frozen. In early days it was kept in a cool cellar. Many housewives sold butter to the local store for groceries. A special butter mold was created in the shape of todays´ pound of butter. It was carefully pressed firmly in this mold so that there would be no holes or spaces. A special type of parchment paper was used to wrap the butter.
Many pioneer families lived from the money earned by making butter to sell or by selling cream to the large city creameries who made butter commercially.