We usually purchase buttermilk in a waxy carton or a plastic container. And it’s good, yes, it’s good. It’s good for restoring your system after a virus. It’s good for swallowing big clunky vitamins. It’s very good for baking. Buttermilk out of a wax carton, though, is nothing like the buttermilk we enjoyed, poured from a Sprite bottle.
My delight in buttermilk goes way back…
There was a favorite spot in Mamma’s kitchen in the 1940’s, a chair right beside the wood cook stove. If one of us ten children came in shivering from doing cold chores, we might get that seat in a cane bottomed chair for a short time but if it were churning day you could only sit there if you kept the paddle moving up and down in the big brown crockery churn. Once Mamma started the churning it had to be continued until the butter “came.”
First thing after breakfast on churning day Mamma scooted the brown churn up close to the stove to let the cream get warm and bubbly. The cream had been skimmed day by day from the milk until the crock was at least half full. The cat always stationed herself close by on churning day, certain there would be dollops of cream on the floor when we who weren’t in rhythm took over the churning.
It was mid morning before Mamma pronounced the cream “ripe” and ready to churn. It had to be just right and she knew exactly when that was. She hummed while she churned and I think that may have had something to do with her staying in perfect rhythm. The cat never got a drop while Mamma was churning. But when I grasped the handle and began pumping it up and down, splatters hit the floor and the cat went to licking. It took a minute for me to get a steady pace and even then I’d skip a beat now and then.
Even before I was allowed to churn, I hung around watching the fascinating process. I’d want Mamma to lift the lid and see if butter was forming yet but she would put me off saying she knew it wasn’t time. Sometimes she’d sing the “Butter Coming” song, an ad lib song that went something like this: “Come, butter, come; come, butter, come; Brenda’s at the garden gate waiting for a butter cake; come, butter, come; come, butter come.” The rhythm of that song matched the rhythm of the paddle thunking up and down, up and down. And the rhythm even now as I remember it gives me a sense of rightness and peace.
There was a difference in the sound of the thunking when the butter did “come.” It was a duller, heavier sound as the paddle hit nice islands of butter. Mamma instructed one of us to get her a large spoon and a bowl. We’d peer in the churn to see rich yellow butter floating in the buttermilk. Mamma dipped it out, then washed it in cold water, meaning she carefully worked the milk out of the butter as it coalesced into mounds of pure gold.
I loved to watch Mamma spoon the butter firmly into her butter mold as she held it upside down. She packed it and packed it and smoothed it evenly before turning each cake out on a saucer. Each butter cake had the embossed design of the mold on top, a beautiful flower and leaf.
Often, it seems to me, Mamma baked fresh hearty loaves of wheat bread on the same day she churned. The combination, fresh butter on warm bread, was almost too good to bear. Add some grape jelly and you’d be in heaven!
Now if there were more milk than we could take care of Mamma would start a batch of cottage cheese. She’d keep sour milk warm on the edge of the stove until it clotted, then strain it through a cloth for an hour or two until the beautiful white curds appeared like a snowy mountain. Nothing was wasted. Even the thin watery stuff strained from the cottage cheese (called whey) was placed outside for the birds to enjoy.
For supper quite often, we children lined up on a long bench where Mamma and her oldest girls could serve us–guess what?–buttermilk and bread. To use a line of awkward grammar, I never didn’t like buttermilk. I positively loved it!
Mamma gave her churn and butter mold to my younger sister Suzanne when she and Bill got married and bought their first cow. It was a good choice. Suzanne is the only one who milks a cow, warms a churn by the fire, then churns for an hour or however long it takes, then molds the butter cakes and even makes cottage cheese.
When we were at the Dovers’ they offered us buttermilk to take home. Suzanne assured me that the buttermilk would keep fine for our 300 mile trip even without a cooler. A butter cake would not fare so well so we went ahead and ate fresh bread with butter while we were there!
Suzanne looked around for something to put our buttermilk in. Her two-quart jars were all needed for her several milk customers. Spying a Sprite bottle in the recycle box, she grabbed that. We hoarded that buttermilk, rationing it to ourselves to make it last as long as possible. I’d forgotten just how wonderful “real” buttermilk is with tiny globs of butter in it. Now I’m spoiled for drinking that thin stuff that comes in waxy cartons. Give me thick buttery milk in a Sprite bottle any time!
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:….Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:2,5