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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

The Milk and Human Kindness A Look At Butter Churns

The Milk and Human Kindness A Look At Butter Churns

The Milk and Human Kindness: A Look at Butter Churns

by Suzanne Lupien of Thetford Center, VT

Finding an old butter churn at a flea market, one that is still usable can be a lot of fun, and because there are so many types, it’s good to know a few tips to help you find one that works well for you. For one thing, the size of your butter churn must match your cream supply so that your valuable cream gets transformed into golden butter while it’s fresh and sweet, and that your valuable time is not eaten up by churning batch after batch because your churn is too small.

So the factors in choosing a butter churn are: size, cost, efficiency –- how long it takes for the butter to come — and care, cleaning, and maintenance.

If you have a very small amount of cream, say a pint a day, you might consider simply shaking the cream in a wide-mouthed half gallon mason jar — or better yet having your teenage son do it. It takes a bit more physical energy in the shaking, but you end up with beautiful butter and no dasher to clean, and therefore every speck of butter ends up in the butter dish rather than going down the drain with the wash water. I much prefer dasher — less churns for these reasons. Large, coopered “tumble” barrel churns are my favorite but their capacity is usually too much for the family cow scenario. If you are very lucky you may even find a ceramic tumble churn perhaps one small enough to fit your cream supply.

Many folks love their 2 1/2 gallon daisy churns with the little plastic propeller-type dasher. I personally do not favor this type as they are slow. I suspect people like them because their capacity is bigger than most glass churns – a little over a gallon. (Keep in mind that you can only fill a butter churn half full owing to the fact that cream expands as you go.)

I once had a 2 gallon glass motorized churn with a cylindrical metal dasher that worked like a dream. The old motor went on it and it was a simple matter to mount a new one. If you find one of these prize churns, treat it ever so gently, it’s a great loss should the jar get broken.

People think they can plug in their electric churn and then nip outside for a quick errand to the henhouse but I don’t recommend it. Things happen: if the butter comes and forms into a solid mass thereby stopping the dasher from turning you can burn out your motor in a jiffy. There are plenty of things to do right there in the kitchen while the cream is spinning.

I used to pooh-pooh the tall plunger style dasher churns but actually they work very well. And I’m sure they fit nicely into many multi-tasking kitchen plans like dandling a colicky baby on your knee and working the dasher with one hand. Or bottle feeding a baby lamb. Certainly you could be adding up the week’s farmer’s market receipts while churning, or calling everyone on the bake sale list while running your plunger churn, it’s not very noisy at all.

The Milk and Human Kindness A Look At Butter Churns

Ceramic butter churn.

Old ceramic plunger churns are surprisingly easy to find. They are distinguishable from crocks by their deeply cut-in rim, like bean pots, to receive the circular wooden lid with the central hole for the dasher handle. You could easily fashion the lid and dasher and be merrily making butter before you know it.

Old wooden butter churns, the classic tall narrow slant-sided hooped style, the tumble churns with metal hoops and a clamping lid, the table top drum style churns with the hopper top and the crank handle, and the cradle-like swing churns are all marvelous and very functional styles. However, in the intervening years the wood shrinks, mice chew and other little bug varmints’ drill holes and tunnels. Occasionally I’ve found one that looks like it would hold cream after the pre-requisite soaking in water, but it is hard to tell. I’ve got a beautiful three gallon barrel churn that leaks like a sieve even after I meticulously removed the hoops and snagged them up and re-riveted them. These barrel churns were advertised in Back to the Land catalogues so perhaps they’re are still being made (hopefully not in China!) and in any case they were produced up until 2000 so you may find one someplace. I love using these churns. The thumping of the dasher as you turn the crank sound like the team trotting along, it’s easy to pull the plug and drain the buttermilk and rinse and turn after adding cold water, and the ladder dasher is very easy to clean.

In my estimation, all hand operated churns do a much better job than the electric versions which spin the cream a bit too fast with the result that washing the butter is harder since it is often no longer in grain or kernel form, but rather like peanut butter.

Another drawback with the electric models is that cream always splashes up the motor shaft and gets up where you really can’t sanitize it.

To make good butter your equipment needs to be spotless, sweet and in good order. Your cream needs to be fresh, and not too cold. 50ºF works well.

In the next issue I will write about making good butter: skimming, and churning, and washing, and draining, and working, and pressing, and forming, and salting, and storing!

Spotlight On: Farming Systems & Approaches

Cultivating Questions A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Cultivating Questions: A Horsedrawn Guidance System

Market gardening became so much more relaxing for us and the horses after developing a Horsedrawn Guidance System. Instead of constantly steering the horses while trying to lay out straight rows or cultivate the vegetables, we could put the team on autopilot and focus our whole attention on these precision tasks. The guidance system has been so effective that we have trusted visiting chefs to cultivate the lettuce we planned on harvesting for them a few weeks later.

Littlefield Notes Fall 2012

Littlefield Notes: Fall 2012

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Why horses? We are knee deep in threshing oats and rye when I find after lunch that the tractor won’t start. Press the ignition switch — nothing; not even a click. I cancel the day’s threshing and drive thirty miles to the tractor store and pick up a genuine-after-market IH part. Come home, put in the new ignition switch and still nothing. When we need the horses they start right up, without complaint — every time.

Wild Potatoes and Calcium

Wild potatoes bring increased calcium for better tubers.Have you ever cut into a potato to find a dark spot or hollow part? Early research shows that these defects are likely the result of calcium deficiencies in the potato — and that tuber calcium is genetically linked to tuber quality.

Such a One Horse Outfit

Such a One Horse Outfit

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One day my stepfather brought over a magazine he had recently subscribed to. It was called Small Farmer’s Journal published by a guy named Lynn Miller. That issue had a short story about an old man that used a single small mule to garden and skid firewood with. I was totally fascinated with the prospect of having a horse and him earning his keep. It sorta seemed like having your cake and eating it too.

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

The Best Kept Secret, Revisited

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At the same time that U.S. commercial beekeeping is circling down in a death spiral, hobby beekeeping is booming and almost every beekeeping club in the country has at least twice as many members as it did twenty years ago. What this means is that if you are fortunate enough to live in a place with relatively clean and varied sources of pollen and nectar, the potential for a successful family-sized commercial apiary is better now than it has been for many decades.

LittleField Notes Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

LittleField Notes: Prodigal Sun & Food Ethics

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To my great delight a sizable portion of the general eating public has over the past few years decided to begin to care a great deal about where their food comes from. This is good for small farmers. It bodes well for the future of the planet and leaves me hopeful. People seem to be taking Wendell Berry’s words to heart that “eating is an agricultural act;” that with every forkful we are participating in the act of farming.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

LittleField Notes Fall 2011

LittleField Notes: Fall 2011

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There is a certain set of skills and knowledge that tend to fall through the cracks of your average farm how-to book. Books of a more specialized nature are also abundant but often seem to take a fairly simple subject and make it seem daunting in scope and detail. What follows are a few tidbits of knowledge that I have found useful over the years – the little things that will inevitably need to be learned at some point in the farmer education process.

LittleField Notes Farm Log

LittleField Notes: Farm Log

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My starting every column with a discussion of the weather set me to thinking about that old clichéd idea of talking about the weather; how it is all old men talk about downtown at the local coffee shop; how they sit for hours telling endless lies about how the snow was deeper, the nights colder and the hills steeper when they were young. However, clichés have basis in truth, and it is true that weather is a wonderful conversation opener.

Starting Seeds

From Dusty Shelves: A WWII era article from Farming For Security

English Sheaf Knots

English Sheaf Knots

Long ago when grain was handled mostly by hand, the crop was cut slightly green so seed did not shatter or shake loose too easily. That crop was then gathered into ‘bundles’ or ‘sheafs’ and tied sometimes using a handful of the same grain for the cording. These sheafs were then gathered together, heads up, and leaned upon one another to form drying shocks inviting warm breezes to pass through. In old England, the field workers took great pride in their work and distinctive sheaf knots were designed and employed.

LittleField Notes Hay

LittleField Notes: Hay

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Farming never fails to dish up one lesson in humility after another. Despite having all the weather knowledge the information-age has to offer, farmers will still lose hay to the rain, apple blossoms to frost, winter wheat to drought… If we are slow to learn humility in Nature’s presence we can be sure that another lesson is never far off.

The Brabants Farm

The Brabants’ Farm

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The Brabants’ Farm is a multi purpose farming operation whose main goal is to promote “horsefarming.” Our philosophy is to support the transformation of regional conventional agriculture and forestry into a sustainable, socially responsible, and less petroleum dependent based agriculture, by utilizing animal drawn technology (“horsefarming”), and by meeting key challenges in 21st century small scale agriculture and forestry in Colombia and throughout South America.

The First Year

The First Year

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Prior to last year, I had felt I knew the nuances of the land quite well and fancied myself as knowledgeable about the course of the natural world. Outdoors was where I felt the most comfortable. The fresh air and endless views of fields, hills and valleys renewed my spirit and refreshed my mind. I didn’t think there was much that could fluster me when it came to the land. Until I became an organic farmer.

Beating the Beetles – War & Peace in a Houston Garden

Blooming that is, unless the cucumber beetles arrive first.
And arrive they have … “At first I thought they looked like big, yellow lady bugs.” Paul said, “Then I looked…

Farm To School Programs Take Root

All aim to re-connect school kids with healthy local food.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT