Grandma's Butter Churn
As a boy growing up in the rural area of Western North Carolina my family always had cows and we enjoyed fresh raw milk. There was always plenty of milk in our refrigerator and I remember the early 1950s when my Grandparents did not have electricity nor a well. They only had a spring where gallons of milk were placed to keep them cool. The water was very cold and even on the mountaintop where they lived my grandparents spring never ran dry and became a source of many an adventure in my younger days.
My Uncle who was just a year older than me and I would play in the branch below the spring. We could turn over stones and find lizards and periwinkles and inside the spring, we could often see crawdads. We might use a piece of string and a wiggle worm to drop inside the cold spring which was just over two feet deep. The crawdads would grab hold of the worms with their pinchers and we could pull them right out of the spring with no difficulty at all. We were careful not to let the crawdads pinch us because the old wives tale was if pinched by the crawdads they wouldn't turn loose or let go until it thundered. For the record, neither me nor my uncle were were ever pinched but we sure did torment those crawdads.
As a youngster one of our chores was to carry water from the spring to the house for drinking and family use. When hot water was needed the spring water had to be placed in a dishpan or kettle on the wood cook stove. My grandmother's wood heater was a Roman Eagle that also had a water well on the right side. We filled the cook stove well each evening and by the time breakfast was eaten,we had hot water to wash our faces and get ready to catch the school bus.
Sitting near the old wood cook stove next to the wood box was Grandma's churn. The cream from the fresh milk would be skimmed off and put into the churn which held about 2 gallons. The churn was always covered usually with a cloth made from a flour sack to keep flies and other insects from falling into the cream which would eventually clabber. The clabber had a very acrid,sour smell. At the right time the clabbered cream would be churned in the ceramic churn and in the process butter was made. Grandma would use a wood plunger and her rhythmic motions were almost a lullaby especially if there was rain and we found ourselves housebound.
Grandma's cows which were most often the Guernsey or Holtein lines made pretty yellow butter. There is nothing to educate a big cat head biscuit or a piece of hot corn bread as the butter that my Grandmother made when I was a boy. Added to some sour wood honey, Karo syrup, molasses, or one of Grandma's great jams or jellies and stirred to a creamy mixture, no country boy ever ate finer vittles. Fresh butter was always on the table, covered with a nice glass dish and soft enough to spread on biscuits, corn bread or to add to one of her great strawberry cobblers.
Those days are only a memory now but recently churns similar to my Grandmothers and were stored in my basement have now become decorative tables which sit next to our living room chairs. The lids long gone have been replace with plates to fit and make for a nice addition to our living room décor for sitting that second cup of coffee in the morning. The churns are a reminder of our heritage and those days when as youngsters we saw our grandmothers with a steady rhythm sitting at the churn laboring to make country butter.
My Grandmother used a wooden mold when she made butter. The butter she made was sometimes packaged and bartered for flour, sugar, and coffee at a local store near town. She also sold eggs to bring in a little extra cash. I sometimes miss those days and especially the butter milk from the churning. Nothing is so satisfying as a big cold glass of country churned buttermilk which I might add goes fine with hot cornbread and a big onion.
A great tune Milk Cow Blues.
After the butter had been harvested from my grandma's churn the remaining milk was now buttermilk and ready to be poured into those gallon pickle jars. In the 1950's with no electricity or refrigeration in much of Western North Carolina, the buttermilk was placed into my grandparents spring. Their spring was divided into two sections with the left side that was used for drinking water and would be used inside the house heated in the wood cook stove well or on top of the cook stove in a kettle for washing dishes. Grandpa called the right side spring the milk spring and in the summertime maybe a watermelon or cantaloupe might be put into this spring.There is nothing quite like a slice of watermelon that had been in grandpa's milk spring for a few days! Between the two sections of my grandparent's spring,a Holly tree grew and my grandparents farm was called Holly Springs farm. and a neighbor made my grandparents a special sign that hung on the entrance driveway.
When I would stay at my grandparents in the summer we ate cornbread and buttermilk almost every night for supper. The cows would sometimes eat wild onions while grazing in the pasture. A strong pungent wild plant the taste of which would find its way in their milk. Fresh green onions from the garden solved that problem when we ate our milk and bread and it was nice to have the option of sweet or buttermilk with our cornbread. We opted for the buttermilk when the cows had been eating those wild onions.
Buttermilk can be thin or thick depending on how much cream had been in the churn and allowed to clabber. Although a gallon did not last long, buttermilk seemed to taste better when it was thicker and had a more acid taste that gave a little burn to the taste buds.
Maybe we all have been blessed to enjoy biscuits made from buttermilk. These are so fluffy and light and go well with some good jelly or jam. Also buttermilk pancakes are very popular in many restaurants.