ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Buttermilk: Bessie’s Misunderstood Stepchild Deserves More Attention

Updated on February 25, 2016

Buttermilk Cake

Long before anyone came up with refrigeration

Long before anyone came up with refrigeration, centrifuges and homogenization, buttermilk was “simply the liquid that remained after the butter had been churned out of fresh cream,” explains Debbie Moose in Buttermilk (UNC Press, 2012), throughout which she waxes poetic about the “magical” ingredient. Lots of elbow grease (those wooden butter churns didn’t come with a cord and plug), gravity, the formation of butter globules, and the resulting acidity of the liquid left behind set the stage for one of the South’s iconic ingredients. “In the days before refrigeration, buttermilk was left sitting out [in the churn]. … That’s when the second part of making buttermilk would take place,” Moose explains. “Bacteria in the air and on the wooden churn paddle would change the lactose in the buttermilk to lactic acid, and natural fermentation would take place.”

With today’s large-scale dairy production, the romance has been thrown out the window along with the wooden butter churn. Lowfat or fat-free offerings are more often than not watery stand-ins for the thick, rich and tangy buttermilk that fueled so many memories. But thanks to small-scale, local producers; modern-yet-gentler production methods; the renewed interest in resurrecting and preserving our ancestors’ foodways; and notable chefs’ appreciation for buttermilk, this thing of the past is gaining a future.

Fourth-generation dairy farmer Ginny Franks and her husband, Jimmy, make whole milk buttermilk at Southern Swiss Dairy in Waynesboro, Ga. Their Brown Swiss cows, described by Ginny Franks as “heat-tolerant, sweet but headstrong — just like a typical woman,” produce milk that’s higher in fat and protein than most. Ginny says, “We have customers who drive 50 miles to get our buttermilk. They say they can’t get anything like it in the store. It doesn’t have the same good taste.” Along with other local chefs, The Hungry Peach’s executive chef and co-owner Suzanne Vizethann uses Southern Swiss Dairy products. Her newest restaurant, Buttermilk Kitchen, is an homage to “how it used to be prepared, utilizing the leftover ingredients to make new things.” Case in point: Everything at Buttermilk Kitchen is made from scratch and served in a space adorned entirely with salvaged items.

Atlanta culinary consultant Lea Brueckner, who says she comes from a long line of “dairy nuts,” professes a vast love of buttermilk and cooks with it often. “I’m a big fan of yummy, thick buttermilk like Sparkman’s. It almost pours like heavy cream, it’s so thick,” she says. Family-owned Sparkman’s Cream Valley in Moultrie, Ga., starts with milk from artificial- and hormone-free, all-Jersey cows, also prized for their high solid-content milk.

While finding high-quality buttermilk is the first step, understanding it is the second and most rewarding. Cookbook author and nationally renowned food scientist Shirley Corriher says she owes her most famous biscuits to her grandmother’s baking prowess, but even more so to the “wonderful buttermilk” produced with milk from their Jersey cow, Liza-Jane. Atlanta-based Corriher not only sings buttermilk’s praises, but also can explain why it deserves them.

“Baking with it is just wonderful,” she says. “The acid [in buttermilk] will make your cakes and muffins set faster. If a cake sets a little bit faster it’s going to have a finer texture and it doesn’t lose as much moisture. Plus, I think you get better flavor in baked goods with buttermilk.”

Corriher’s aunts, along with a bevy of old Southern cooks, would soak chicken pieces in buttermilk before frying them. “Acids act as a tenderizer, but if it’s too acidic it will toughen proteins. The acidity of buttermilk is mild, and it also contains calcium, which sort of makes the meat go into a natural tenderization process,” she explains.

Moose agrees that home cooks should reach for buttermilk far more often than they do. “I don’t think people realize how versatile buttermilk really is,” she says. “So many have said, ‘I bought some to make pancakes and didn’t know what to do with the rest.’ You can do so much more than biscuits and pancakes. If you think about it more like yogurt than milk, a whole lot of possibilities o pen up. If you’re lucky enough to get hold of really good quality buttermilk, you’ll see how much it’s like yogurt.”

Just ask Vizethann. “I love it because it has so many applications and you can use it in so many ways,” she says. “You can brine in it, use it for baking, for finishing dishes to add tanginess — we even finish our oatmeal with it. Its great texture and tang makes for really good cucumber soup, tsatsiki sauce and salad dressing.” Or you could always just pour a glass, grab a hunk of cornbread and a teaspoon and enjoy a blast from the past.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)