Making Butter for the First Time, Courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder

I learned a new skill this week thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Ok, to be honest, Laura Ingalls Wilder provided the pioneering spirit, and a search on the internet provided all the concrete instructions I needed.  It all started with a bedtime story.

My current bedtime book for our kids is the classic Little House in the Big Woods.  When I was a child, my sister read many of the Little House books to me, starting when I was in kindergarten. Even though I was only five at the time, the stories in the book resonated with me, and I have strong memories of so many of the details in the chapters as I reread them now to my kids.

Last night’s reading was no exception.  We piled into my five-year-old son’s race car bed, four kids and a mom, reading before bedtime.  My two little ones practiced gymnastic feats, leaping off the tail end of the bed, while my five and six-year-olds listened.  Last night we read the butter-making chapter.

As I read, my kids looked at the drawing of Mary taking a turn churning the butter.  I read about cream sloshing in the butter churn, using bits of shredded carrot to tint the pale winter butter, and molding the finished butter with imprints of a strawberry and leaves, “Laura and Mary watched, breathless, one on each side of Ma, while the golden little butter-pats, each with its strawberry on the top, dropped onto the plate as Ma put all the butter through the mold.”  I always loved that part.  It was just like I remembered.  (Books are nice that way.)

Then I had an epiphany.  I stopped reading and said, “Hey, do you want to make butter tomorrow?”

Yes!  We have an abundance of cream in our fridge after a stop at Kappers’ Big Red Barn in Chatfield, Minnesota, a local dairy that sells their milk and CREAM in half-gallon glass bottles.  We sipped away a quart of cream already in our morning coffee, making Half and Half suddenly seem downright watery, but we had plenty of cream left for a little butter project.

So today, I did what every person in 2012 does when they want to make butter for the first time: head to the internet.  I found a great ten-minute butter tutorial video on YouTube, and I was set.  I took a pint of cream out of the refrigerator, and let it sit out to reach room temperature by the time the kids came home from school.

Three kids eager to help (for a little bit, anyway).

My three-year-old son put the whisk attachment on my KitchenAid mixer.  (He’s been cooking for two years now, so it’s fine.)  With all of the kids gathered around, we fired up the mixer and watched the cream become whipped cream: “Ooh, Mom!  Let’s just stop and eat the whipped cream!”  Not a bad idea, but we kept with our original buttery objective.  Whipped cream began to “fall,”  got clumpy and a bit watery, and then in a matter of seconds, there was a complete change.

Almost in an instant, the mushy mass separated, and there at the bottom of the mixer bowl was a pile of liquid (buttermilk!), and clinging to the beaters were chunks of butter!  Eureka!

When the butter separates from the liquid, turn off your mixer.

The whole process of turning cream into butter took maybe five minutes   Of course, when the magic moment of butter creation happened, my kids had already lost interest and I had to call them back into the room.  We make things in the mixer all the time, so the whole process looked fairly unremarkable.  We turned on the mixer and it made something.  Yep, just like always.

No, kids, this is different!  It’s amazing!  It’s BUTTER!  Even though it happened just as all the recipes said it would, there is still that bit of magic in doing something on my very own for the first time.

Fresh buttermilk, ready to use in baking.  One pint of cream yields approximately one cup of butter and one cup of buttermilk.

I poured the buttermilk into a jar to use later in pancakes.  Then just like I saw on the video, I pressed the butter with a spatula, working out the remaining buttermilk while rinsing it in cold water.  Salt added, I gave it a taste, and then another taste or two.  In a side by side comparison between store-bought butter and freshly made butter, there is absolutely no contest.  Fresh butter has a rich, full-bodied flavor, tasting like whipping cream in butter form (which, of course, it is).  Store bought butter tastes flat and bland by comparison.

Thank you to Laura Ingalls Wilder for the butter inspiration.  Making something for the first time is immensely satisfying.  I am still truly amazed that something that we use so often is really so easy to make.  I had no idea.  People make homemade bread, sure, but homemade BUTTER…wowee cazoweee.  And the funny thing is, with a good mixer, it’s extremely easy.  I made butter in less time than I need to cook a frozen pizza.  Who doesn’t have that much time to play around?

After my pioneering butter foray, am I converted to always making my own butter now?  No, probably not.  But I definitely will be making it again.  Watching cream turn into butter is pure cooking magic, and we all need a bit of magic in our lives.

I am not a baking blog, but I do love food.  After all of this talk about making butter, someone out there wants to know how to do it.  Here you go!

Homemade Butter
2 cups cream
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Allow cream to sit out and warm to 50 degrees or so.

2.  Pour cream in a mixer. Alternative: pour the cream into a jar you can shake.

3. Mix cream until it separates: You will see yellow chunks of butter floating in watery buttermilk.  Takes 3-5 minutes in a mixer.

4. Drain off buttermilk, save to use in pancakes, biscuits, or just drink it like Laura Ingalls.  It’s good for you.

5.  Knead butter chunks together with a spatula for a few minutes, pressing out the liquid.

6.  Rinse butter in cold water while kneading with a spatula until the water runs clear.  Buttermilk left in the butter will cause it to spoil more quickly.

7.  Mix in salt (if desired).

Congratulations!  You made butter!  Enjoy.

Finished homemade butter with buttermilk in the background. Flavorful, fresh, and delicious.


13 thoughts on “Making Butter for the First Time, Courtesy of Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. I’m so glad you stopped by my blog and left a comment today. I loved coming back and reading about your life. Although my kids are much older, we have many of the same ideas about parenting….chores, library, tents in the living room. Plus, I grew up in Helena, MT, married a guy from Duluth, and we lived in the Fargo/Moorhead area for years. Your live in MN is what we always imagined we’d have, but a job transfer brought us to the big city life.

    Plus, I realized I forgot about the buttermilk! Duh! Will def. try this again with the mixer and unhomogenized cream. Oh, and your blog for direction….

    Nice to meet you! Your family is adorable!

    • What a small world…and how amazing that you are just the reverse of us…You’re the MT girl that found a MN guy. I’m the MN girl that found a MT guy. Good luck on your next batch of butter!!

      We also discovered that using a pint of cream, it makes just the right amount of buttermilk and butter for the recipe for buttermilk biscuits in my BHG cookbook. So lately, we’ve been making buttermilk biscuits by starting to make butter.

  2. Thank you for stopping by my blog so that I could discover yours! I’m a happy follower now. 🙂 And I love that you’re doing Little House reading and activities at the same time! I’m planning to make butter and cook up a couple recipes from Little House soon with my 3 yr old and SO thrilled to read about your adventures with your kiddos. I’ll be back soon! ~Danielle

    • Thanks for visiting my blog, too! I just have to like someone who loves the Little House books like I do. : ) One of my very favorite parts of being a parent is getting to share the things that I love with my kids.

  3. We’re all most done with the Little House series for bedtime story, but my mom read them all to me twice twenty years ago so we may have to start it over! It’s been a favorite for everyone and we’re sad to be coming to the end. Even DD (manly man that he is) has become hooked on it. And yes, we’ve tried various experiments inspired by her story. It’s an excellent gate-way to learn about history and science, reading and writing.

    • I whole-heartedly agree with you on everything. Is there anything better than reading a book you loved to your kids? I know the feeling of the sadness when the book comes to an end. We read Farmer Boy this summer, and when we got to the last page, my 5 and 6 yr olds were both just so heart-broken that the book was done. They were even mad that the very last page wasn’t filled up all the way. I loved that I got to see them experience for the first time that feeling of loving a book and never wanting it to end.

      • Reading is one of our favorite family activities here, but we do tend to get a bit sad and moody when we close the cover and put the characters we’ve grown to love back on the shelf. Luckily we have no shortage of books so there’s always another one to start. But Laura is especially hard to say good-bye to.

    • Oh, how cool. My grandma taught me how to make French knots and also helped me with lots of sewing projects as a kid. I definitely would say there is a taste memory, because I know there is smell memory. My grandma’s house had a certain smell, and all of us remember it. A little bit moth balls, maybe, but a comforting smell just the same. Get yourself some cream and enjoy! It’s so good.

  4. The kids look like they’re enjoying themselves! Good idea to use the KitchenAid. My first experience making butter meant shaking the living daylights out of a mason jar. And now you have a good reason to make pancakes – and soon, too! 🙂

    • I love my KitchenAid! It’s just a magical device that makes so many good things. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely love mason jars, too. They’re good for about everything, too. But when it comes to butter, the KitchenAid definitely wins. It’s so fast, we’ve made butter and buttermilk several times since this post.

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