Artifact Corner: Episode 31 – Butter Churn

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. March is Women’s History month, and to commemorate that, we will be spending this entire month focused on the stories of women. Our artifact this week is something that would have been in almost every home for hundreds of years, a butter churn. Our butter churn is made by the Haxstun Ottman Company from Fort Edward, NY. This piece of pottery is easily date-able, because the Haxstun Ottoman Company only lasted for five years, from 1867 to 1872. It is a stone glazed jug with a wooden lid and plunger for agitating the cream. Let’s take a look at the making of butter, and women’s roles in processing raw materials.

Life on a farm was very hard work. The divisions of labor meant that women were almost always responsible for making food for the family. While today we can simply go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients needed to make dinner, a woman two hundred years ago had a much harder time putting dinner on the table. One of the many tasks that fell to women was the making of butter. Milk and cream are very perishable items, especially when you have no system of refrigeration. Turning the cream into butter and meant it could last longer in your families larder. When making butter, you will add salt, which is a natural preservative.

So, how does one turn cream into butter? Making butter requires a little bit of preparation. First and foremost, your churn and any other tools you will be using must be clean. To clean your butter churn, you can make a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. Scrub your churn thoroughly. The cream that you will be turning to butter needs to be at room temperature, between 55 to 65 degrees. If the temperature is too high, the butter will be loose and not separate fully from the buttermilk. Once your churn is clean, and your cream is up to temperature, it’s time to start churning. Do not fill up your churn more than 2/3’s full, because your butter will fluff up a bit in the churn. The average time to churn butter is about 30 minutes of nonstop and rapid motion, which can be very tiring for the person churning it.

Once the butter has become firm, it is important to rinse the butter. The butter should be placed in a bowl and stirred in cold water, repeating this process until the water remains clear. This removes any remaining buttermilk, which can cause the butter to spoil more easily. Now you can place your butter in a mold or any other small container. Butter can last as long as two weeks without refrigeration, as long as it is kept in a cool place. It was often consumed before it had the opportunity to go bad.

Women would churn butter, make bread, make beer, and all of the other staples of life on a regular basis. Each of these processes was time consuming and labor intensive, but utterly necessary for keeping the family running. You too can churn your own butter today, but it would be much easier to use a modern stand mixer. Our butter churn is in lovely condition, with beautiful hand painted blue foliage on the side. It hearkens back to a time when a woman work feeding her family, was never fully done. Thanks so much for stopping by.

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,