I love making new things because they give me hope. It’s inspiring and even freeing to think that new and fresh things can be made in a world where so many things seem to be going wrong. Whether it’s knitting a new scarf or blanket or baby hat, photographing a toddler or the birth of a baby, making a pitcher out of clay, writing a poem, or baking from scratch–the creative inspiration of making something from nothing is hope. Maybe it’s about the illusion of control, or the present moment, or the relaxing and therapeutic effects of making something with the hands… either way, in a world where the complexities of people hurting and violence and social exclusion and loneliness seems hopeless, the simple act of making fresh butter somehow makes me feel a little better.
When I was young, we always had a block of butter in the middle of the breakfast and lunch table. With German and Swiss meals, the lunch table was often spread with cold cuts, Swiss cheese, rye bread, pickles, mustards, sliced tomatoes, and always, some butter. I remember visiting my Oma and Opa in St. Gallen when I was 9 or 10, and for breakfast every day in their small Swiss apartment kitchen, having a piece of braided bread loaf with butter (Butterzopf = butter braid in German) and a drop of honey, and a piece of chocolate on the side. (For a 9 year old, chocolate for breakfast was a bit of a dream!)
This week my creative energy was poured into making fresh butter. My roommate and I had been hoping to try this, and since everything is better with butter (according to Julia Child) and I am also a popcorn addict (especially later at night with a glass of milk or a warm tea), the thought of making fresh butter flavoured however we wanted intrigued me. There were so many kinds of butter we could make–the hardest part was deciding: from savoury to spicy to sweet, and including toppings for toast, as well as sides for dinner, and dessert… sea salted butter, cinnamon sugar butter, lemon-herb butter, roasted garlic butter on fresh oven-hot bread, salted caramel butter, strawberry butter, and more. We decided to start with sea salted butter and cinnamon butter, the first for lovely dinner bread or popcorn, the latter for breakfast toast or evening snack on graham crackers.
This best part of the butter-making was, of course, the friendship and house bonding. While S and I made butter, shaking and shaking those jars (thought my arms would fall off) and laughing and talking, T stayed on the couch half asleep, and humoured us by laughing with us and asking how much longer we would keep this up, and taste-testing the crackers and butter we brought her every few minutes. In a community house where everyone is on a journey of some kind and we are always deepening our relationships, the fun projects like making butter can give us reasons to celebrate and a ‘moment in life’ story we have in common.
The other memorable part was that this butter-making evening became a bit of an experiment. It was a Friday evening, and the night before my first 5 km race, and perhaps I was feeling some anticipation jitters, but whatever the reason, we decided to compare two methods of butter-making and soon we were off to a competition in time and method, enjoying a bit of a ‘butter race’. The first method was a plain recycled glass jar with lid (probably a large jam jar), half filled with 35% cream. The second method was a kitchen gadget I had found the day before in a kitchen store, when looking for a jar to make smoothies with my immersion blender. With a two-in-one role, the jar in the store had an opening big enough for my immersion blender and small enough that my green smoothie would not spray all over my kitchen, and also just happened to be a butter-making jar with a wooden churning tool, as well as a rubber bottom that could be removed to get the butter out.
So we started both methods, each jar half-filled with cream, and the churning of one and the shaking of the other began, with the clock running…
Tips: so here is what we learned. We should have let the whipping cream warm up to room temperature before shaking it; instead, it was fridge-cold when we started. This means it took about 35-40 minutes instead of 10 or 15 minutes. We also learned not to worry if the butter still seems fairly moist in the jar or bowl, because one night in the fridge leads to the perfect texture. Finally we found out we had a clear winner! The churning method was splashy and spilly (I ended up putting silver wrap under the lid to keep it from spilling out so much), it took much longer than the shaking the jar method (almost twice the time), and it was harder on the arm to church up and down, then to shake a jar back and forth or side to side with gentle yet steady momentum. If I had to choose a winner going forward, it would be hands-down a plain old glass jar and lid.
In the end, I realized I had given myself more of an arm workout than was probably advisable on pre-race night. Luckily my roommate took over her jar AND my jar for the finishing stretch of butter-making, so I could have a rest.
The end result was wonderful and yes, I did feel hope from making something new in the world. And of course, it was so nice to eat fresh butter that we watched separate and solidify, instead of taking it from silver wrap from the store refrigerator (now we just need a goat for our backyard). The sea-salted butter had a light, creamy, fresh flavour that was delicious on oven-baked naan with garlic and parmesan, or on morning toast with blueberry jam, or on baked potatoes with cheese, and of course… on many bowls of popcorn. Also tasty was the cinnamon sugar butter on graham crackers, on pita crackers, and on toast (especially at 2 am when I could not sleep)!
Next time, I’m going to try making some garlic butter, and hopefully before November’s over, some pumpkin spice butter to go with the pumpkin pies we are hoping to make … pie dough and croissant dough from scratch are next on my list. And then hopefully fresh pasta. Stay tuned!
And remember, whatever it is, and wherever you are, it’s better with butter (and a piece of Swiss chocolate on the side).
Recipe for butter:
- 35% cream from the store (unless you can get your hands on a cow or goat or fresh milk, which I hope to do from an Amish farm near Putnam soon).
- Pour the cream into a glass jar and close the lid tight.
- Shake the jar back and forth or side to side in front of you, and keep it going at a moderate and steady pace, for approx. 10-15, or until you noticed the contents of the jar starting to thicken and get heavier.
- When the watery substance (whey) separates from the rest of the container, pour this out and what is left is the butter. If it still seems moist, you could use a cheese cloth to press out more of the moisture, or simply put in a bowl and into the fridge overnight.
- For sea salt butter, add approx. 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sea salt to approx. 1 cup of cream before you start shaking the jar.
- For garlic butter, add crushed garlic to the cream before you start shaking the jar.
- For cinnamon sugar butter, add approx. 2 tsp of cinnamon and 4-5 tsp of white sugar and mixed into the already prepared butter. Add more sugar to taste.
There are so many more kinds of sweet and savoury butters you can make. I hope you will be inspired to experiment yourself and comment on this blog on how it turned out!