We made butter today, because some sort of foray into the home arts is necessary when you study pioneer times. And because it’s a history and a science lesson all in one. And because how cool is it to actually make butter?
We poured a cup of heavy cream into a small screw-top container. Then we shook it. A lot. Alex, Colin, and I took turns shaking.
The cream gradually felt heavier and heavier, until after about ten minutes it stopped sloshing. We opened up the container and found – unsurprisingly – whipped cream. We continued to shake, with difficulty and with a little doubt on my part. But quickly the whipped cream started to look curd-y:
And a few minutes after that, we started to hear and feel it slosh again. We opened it up and were startled to see big clumps of butter swimming in some buttermilk.
We kept shaking until we had a big lump of butter. Then we drained off the buttermilk, rinsed the butter twice with cold water, and squashed it into one big lump.
It was delicious.
Here’s how it works: the cream is laced with tiny globules of butterfat, each wrapped in a protein envelope. When you agitate the cream by shaking or churning, the protein wrapper breaks apart. Then the tiny globules of butterfat are able to adhere to each other when they bump together, and eventually you have visible lumps of butter. Cool, huh?
When Alex heard that the butter was unsalted she went dashing into the other room and returned with My Little House Cookbook. “There’s a recipe in here that uses unsalted butter!”
And there was: “Laura’s little maple cakes,” which are actually little muffins sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar and topped with a maple glaze. I had not really intended to make something sweet, given that we made one cake for Colin’s birthday yesterday and will be making another one on the weekend for his birthday party. But that seemed like a trivial point to insist upon when Alex was so excited.
Alex also read about half of If You Were a Pioneer on the Prairie today. I love, love, love that series… but it’s clear that that wasn’t where the bulk of learning happened today.