How to make butter.

ButterWe occasionally get a gallon of fresh cow’s milk from a charming Jersey named Sultana; it is a deliciously heart-breaking reminder of hedonism lost.

The milk is not homogenized so the cream floats on top and the consistency of the cream changes from the bottom of the cream cap to the top—I have to break the cap, it is so thick. It is spoonable like sour cream, or even thicker than sour cream. Beneath that is cream as viscous as honey, then the cream you might recognize as whipping cream, then table cream, then cream that is hard to skim because a little milk finds it way into my spoon.

Now, if you are of the finer classes, with access to European groceries, this may be old hat to you. If, however, you were raised on North American Grocery Store Dairy, or like me, by hippies with goats, udder-fresh cow’s milk is quite a revelation.

For a small family, a gallon of milk can be quite a bit to keep up with, so despite the yogourt and cheese and the richest of cream in my coffee, we always have enough to make butter.

One big caveat here. Butter is spectacularly easy to make, if you own a kitchen mixer.

Most of my cheese and butter is made with dairy that has been frozen. So, from the gallon we skim off two or three cups of cream. We portion the milk into quart jars for the week, and freeze whatever is left from the week before, minus whatever was used on cereal or ice cream or baking or whatnot. The cream is scooped into old yogourt tubs for freezing.

My first butter was cultured butter—so the cream had started to become sour cream. Cultured butter has a bit of tang to it, which, being a fan of yogourt I like. C— prefers sweet cream butter, which I will get to shortly.

So. Allow your cream to come to room temperature, then begin whipping in the mixer. As it thickens I increase the speed until I can crank it up without splashing everywhere. At this point I go do other things, and come running when the foamy sounds of whipping cream turn to distinct splashing. The fat has solidified to butter on the whisk, and the buttermilk is splashing everywhere (use a splash guard and cover all the openings with plastic wrap).

Like I said, spectacularly easy. If you were going to bake a cake, you could probably stop here. But there is still buttermilk trapped in the butter, which will cause the butter to go rancid. So, I drain off the buttermilk and pour in icy water. Beat on a low speed—I often use the dough hook for this, but other people don’t so see what suits you. Drain off and refresh the icy water (I use water with little bits of ice still floating in it, hence the dough hook) and continue gently mixing until the water runs clear.

Now you need to get the last of the water out of the butter. This was traditionally done with two wooden paddles called Scotch Hands, but I use a wooden spatula and mash the butter inside a straight-sided bowl. You will mash little pockets of water that will run down the golden butter like tears. Part way through this process is the time to add salt, at a rate of 1/4 tsp. per each 2-4 cups of cream—in other words, to taste.

I roll the butter up into a log in waxed paper, then refrigerate or freeze it. It is fantastic—decadent and abundant.

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Notes on making butter:

  • I tend to start with about six cups of cream for each batch.
  • Here is an explanation from America’s Test Kitchen if you want to culture cream for butter— preferring that for some reason to my method of just letting everything sit around for a while…
  • Making sweet cream butter is exactly the same process, but with fresh cream. Here is an Instructables on that.
  • I recently had Whey Butter, which is made from the whey left over from cheesemaking. It is, in fact, kind of cheesy in flavour, and a little tart like cultured butter. Whey Butter does incline one to use a lot of it, smeared on anything that is near to hand. But—when I make cheese I tend to use the whey for ricotta, and I am not sure how much butter you get out of a couple of gallons of whey. This may be something that requires a more industrial scale of whey production—if anybody knows, please comment.



Homemade Bulk Food Measuring Bags

Orginally published on the Glenbrook North Zero Waste Blog (more about them at the end).

bulk-bag-pics-002I keep a lot of my dry goods in glass jars to keep them fresh and safe from insects. And, of course I hate garbage, so I like to buy in bulk. The thing is, it is annoying to buy five cups of corn meal from the bulk bin when my jar will only hold four cups—I needed a graduated bag to help me buy the right amount for my jars.

I started with a piece of unbleached cotton pillow ticking 20” tall and 13” wide. The ticking is intended to hold feathers, so the fabric is woven tightly enough that I can buy flour and not have it leak all over the place. I also designed this bag to not have any hidden corners to trap dry goods.

Wash and dry your fabric to shrink it before sewing.

First I tore a one inch strip off the long side for my tie. I pressed the edges in to the centre, then folded and pressed the tie in half again to make a long narrow strip with no raw edges before I sewed it closed.

Tearing off the edge for the tie left me with a piece 20” by 12”. I wanted to have the seams on the outside so nothing would get caught inside the bag, so I used a French, or lingerie, seam. For normal sewing, you put your fabric right sides together to sew the seam, then turn your piece inside out for the finished item, and for a French seam you put wrong sides together.  So for the French seam to end up on the outside, you still put the right sides together, and sew a seam ¼” from the edge. Then turn it inside out and sew a 3/8” seam. Now you have a finished seam on the outside of the bag.

bulk-bag-pics-003Fold and press the top edge over twice and seam it—again so that it is on the outside of the bag. No flour or corn meal will get caught in the fabric when you dump it into your jar.

Now flatten the fabric tube, fold the bottom end over twice and seam on the outside. Now you have a bag, but we are going to make it even better.

If you put a square of cardboard inside your bag, flat on the bottom, you will see two triangular little ears on the bottom of the bag. These are just like the little triangular ears you see on a drink box or Tetra Pak. You want to sew two seams to close off those triangular little ears. This eliminates two annoying little corners inside your bag that lentils would get caught inside.


Design Alert!!

I said if you put a square of cardboard inside your bag, you will see two triangular ears. But, if you put a rectangular piece inside, the ears will be long enough to overlap. Then, if you sew the ears together you get a great little handle on the bottom of your bag to help you shake the flour out of your bag. My rectangle ended up being 3 ½” by 2 ¼”, but try it out for yourself.

bulk-bag-pics1Your bag should be done now. Measure something like rice or beans into the bag, one cup at a time. Make marks for each cup with a permanent marker. Sew the tie on and enjoy shopping your bulk section.


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Glenbrook North was a community group I helped support while I was working at Metro Vancouver, and I want to share a little anecdote about this suburban cul-de-sac.

Metro provided a little infrastructure–signage and couple of composters, and the GNNWC was expected to weigh all their garbage and give Metro the data. So, while I was crunching the data I started feeling kind of sick—their recycling rate was plummeting. This was not good. But, as I continued, I found garbage was also plummeting. They weren’t recycling much because they had hardly any garbage of any kind. It was the Holy Grail of garbage, they had changed their consumption. Read the report here.