Sunday, November 13, 2011

13 November 1957 “Recession Butter: A Churner’s Tale”

buttergirl Often Butter is tied in a comical way to the 1950’s. ButterSteak

There have even been really bad modern commercials that somehow seem to represent a past that never was, spreading sticks of the stuff everywhere. Meet the Buttertons:

The irony of this situation, is of course that butter is actually better for you than margarine, yet this myth still exists today. In fact, at the turn of the last century heart disease was rare. By the end of the 1960’s it was one of our number one killers. The irony being that it was during the 1950’s that advertising told mother’s that margarine was better for you and it saw a large increase in use.

A researcher named Ancel Keys was the first to propose that saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet were to blame for coronary heart disease. Though this has still yet to actually be backed up or shown to be true, though countless millions have been spent to check this fact, we are still largely in belief that butter is bad for you and a diet in lower saturated fats is better for you. Ironically, however, “As a result, since the early 1970's, Americans' average saturated fat intake has dropped considerably, while rates of obesity, diabetes, and consequently, heart disease, have surged.”

Here is a great list of reasons butter is actually good for you:

  1. Butter is rich in the most easily absorbable form of Vitamin A necessary for thyroid and adrenal health.
  2. Contains lauric acid, important in treating fungal infections and candida.
  3. Contains lecithin, essential for cholesterol metabolism.
  4. Contains anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage.
  5. Has anti-oxidants that protect against weakening arteries.
  6. Is a great source of Vitamins E and K.
  7. Is a very rich source of the vital mineral selenium.
  8. Saturated fats in butter have strong anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
  9. Butter contains conjugated linoleic acid, which is a potent anti-cancer agent, muscle builder, and immunity booster
  10. Vitamin D found in butter is essential to absorption of calcium.
  11. Protects against tooth decay.
  12. Is your only source of an anti-stiffness factor, which protects against calcification of the joints.
  13. Anti-stiffness factor in butter also prevents hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland.
  14. Is a source of Activator X, which helps your body absorb minerals.
  15. Is a source of iodine in highly absorbable form.
  16. May promote fertility in women.9
  17. Is a source of quick energy, and is not stored in our bodies adipose tissue.
  18. Cholesterol found in butterfat is essential to children's brain and nervous system development.
  19. Contains Arachidonic Acid (AA) which plays a role in brain function and is a vital component of cell membranes.
  20. Protects against gastrointestinal infections in the very young or the elderly.


Now, despite its good or bad qualities, butter has been around forever. It is, in its simplest terms, the fat solids removed from the heavy cream of the milk. Agitating such cream separates the butter from the milk, leaving you with buttermilk.

ButterChurn Butter churns have been made from everything from ceramic and stoneware, to wood and glass.butterchurnwood butterchurnglass Any means necessary to creating a motion that results in the butter and milk to separate.

Now, there are different types of butters depending on the cream used. Before factory made butters were introduced first in America in the 1860’s, the cream used to make butter was fermented. One collected the milk from the cow or goat or sheep and it would sit and ferment.

“During fermentation, the cream naturally sours as bacteria convert milk sugars into lactic acid. The fermentation process produces additional aroma compounds, including diacetyl, which makes for a fuller-flavored and more "buttery" tasting product. Today, cultured butter is usually made from pasteurized cream whose fermentation is produced by the introduction of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc bacteria.”

In the 1970s cultured butter was made by incorporating bacterial cultures and lactic acid. “Using this method, the cultured butter flavor grows as the butter is aged in cold storage.”

Today, however, pasteurization is the norm and butter made from pasteurized cream is called Sweet Cream Butter. This is often what is available from the store.

Ghee, is an Indian clarified butter made by “bringing the butter to a high temperatures of around 120 °C (250 °F) once the water has cooked off, allowing the milk solids to brown. This process flavors the ghee, and also produces antioxidants which help protect it longer from rancidity. Because of this, ghee can keep for six to eight months under normal conditions.”

Now, my main reason for discussing butter today was to show you how easy one can make it at home. This was not something I have always done, but necessity is the mother of invention, or at least in my case, the Mother of Need. As all of you know, grocery prices continue to rise. Butter, at least in my area, is literally twice as costly as when I began my experiment of 1955 in 2009. Then I could buy one pound of butter around $2. Today that same butter costs $4 and that is the cheaper store brand. This lead me even to consider the very cheap margarine. I saw a one pound package of a store brand for only 75 cents. This is a HUGE savings and almost lured me into is wretched quality with that low price. But, I realized it is better for me to trim the fat (pun intended) in other ways, such as reducing meat purchased and adding more beans and other protein sources.

Now, making butter at home is not hard and can be quite fun. It can take really only about half an hour total and then you have your butter for the week.

This tutorial I used the pasteurized store brand heavy whipping cream. Obviously, if one can get organic raw cream, a more wonderful tasting butter can be derived, but I wanted this to be an easy ‘anyone can try it’ exercise.

butter3 So, you can use your mixer or your blender. I have used both, but actually prefer the mixer. You can see here I am just using a Stop & Shop brand Heavy Whipping Cream. I like to not buy from larger chains too often, but I wanted this to be a good easy access tutorial. One can do it with basic whipping cream from a local convenient store.

However, if you enjoy it and would like to make your own butter more often, it is true that Butter from grass-fed cows contains higher levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene (which is responsible for the yellow color in butter). And it not being pasteurized would also allow you to ferment and get a truer old better quality butter. But for this purpose, what you get from heavy whipping cream is still a better product than the butter for sale at the store. And you can flavor it and mold it however you like.

Now why I first decided to make my butter as part of my weekly savings in my shopping was this:

  1. one pound of butter costs $4
  2. one quart of cream costs $4.29 From this you get one pound of butter and 1 1/2 –2 cups of buttermilk

So, really I am paying 29 cents more but getting the same amount of butter, better quality and the buttermilk adds to my milk allotment for the week going into various things. How I am currently looking at it is I have a buttermilk Bread recipe that requires 2 cups butter milk and makes two loaves. So, for that 4.29 plus a bit more for the flour and yeast, I am getting

  1. one pound butter
  2. 2 loaves buttermilk bread

So, to me, it is worth it both for economy and taste/quality.

So, as I said, one quart of cream makes one pound of butter.  So in other terms one US quart is =

  1. 0.946 liter  or
  2. 0.833 British quart

Pour your quart of heavy whipping cream into your mixer and set it on med. It is best to have the milk at about room temperature or around 55 degrees. If you do this straight from the ice box (fridge) it takes longer. I did it once and it took 35 minutes as opposed to about 15. Though some sites claim it can take only 10 minutes, but my mixer is very old from the early 1950’s, so perhaps it is not up to a modern version.

butter4 At first, of course, you get whipped cream. That is, after all, what whipped cream is.

butter5 Then it begins to form stiffer peaks until it starts to form thicker chunks. And you can see it becoming more butter yellow. Though it is true that it is not as yellow as butter made from organic unpasteurized butter which is allowed to ferment, it still begins to take on that lighter yellow we are familiar with from commercial grocery store cream butter.

At this point, as well, you are just watching and enjoying. It isn’t as if it is hard work to pour in cream and turn on our mixer. Think of our ancestors churning away. Although, I have to admit, that seems also a way to have a sort of relaxing zen afternoon, churning away. But, for busy modern people this is a very realistic process, just pour and turn on mixer.

butter6 So, now depending on cream temp when you begin and your room temp and speed of mixer, anywhere from 10 –30 minutes you will begin to see it hit this phase where it suddenly goes quite wet and sounds as if you have added water or are mixing up a runny cake.butter7 You can really see the liquid now separating from the butter.

Once you have reached this state, you simply pour off the butter milk. The first time I did it I put a cheese cloth over a funnel into the container I was pouring to catch any little clumps. butter8Now, I can’t be bothered and I just use my fingers to hold most of it back, as some of the chunks into the buttermilk just makes a nicer product to cook with. You can see the butter chunks on the side after I just drained my butter milk into my bottle. Pancakes, biscuits, and bread made with this butter milk is heaven!

So, simply drain out the excess water. At this point add a bit more water back to the drained butter, say about a 1/2-1 cup or so, and run the mixer again. Be careful not to splatter, I put a towel around the mixer to help with that. Then drain this water down the sink. I don’t add this rinse water to my butter milk. You are meant to rinse it until it runs clear, but honestly that is only if you want to have a lot of butter stored longer. Some liquid left in your butter does not hurt if you are going to use it up in a week or so. Which I do. Therefore sometimes I don’t even rinse it, just drain the butter milk and go to the next step.

butter9 Now, with your strained butter, put it on a plate. This works best in a wooden bowl and spoon, but again, I wanted this for anyone to do. So here a spatula and plate work fine. You are simply going to work the excess liquid out at this state to make your final product.

butter10 You can use a towel or paper towel. I prefer an actual towel, but that is up to you, I think paper towel or paper napkins would work fine. You are just sopping up the moister. I just press down and then turn over and press down again to get most of the moisture out. You can see the pattern from my towel in it. This shows you the possibilities for molding and patterns. Homemade butter lends itself to such beautiful presentations. And there are many butter molds available, but you could use anything that has a pattern or shape you like.

Now, it is at this point that I usually add sea salt. Sometimes I make unsalted butter to bake with or you can add anything you like. Chopped nuts and maple syrup is wonderful. Or cinnamon and honey. Or chives, garlic, lavender, you name it. Mix it in after you have removed the excess water and work it into the butter. You could break it up into a four varieties easy enough.

You could easily enough just spread you new butter into a container to use, like soft butter from the store. Or you can shape it into any shape.

butter11 Here I shaped it roughly into a block, butter12 then cut that in half. This makes two 1/2 pound sections.

butter13 I like to take 1/2 pound of it and make a stick out of it wrapped in waxed paper and the other half loose in one of my Pyrex dishes. I leave the Pyrex dish on my counter for toast and other spreadable needs and the 1/2 pound goes into my fridge for baking. 

It is Very easy and cost effective and worth a try. You simply turn on mixer, wait, pour, dab with towel and put in container and you have butter and buttermilk. You should try it.

I thought I would shared these easy flavored butters from my 1950’s Dionne Lucas Cordon Bleu Cook Book. You could really add anything to make a good butter.



I hope you enjoyed this and would like to give it a try. As homemakers we have to look to what is the smartest way to deal with higher prices and buying less. It should not mean we sacrifice taste and joy in cooking.

Happy Homemaking.


  1. wow.....i'm going to have to try this! love the idea of making up some herb butter as well. thanks so much for taking the time to create this tutorial!

  2. I sometimes make butter from cream that we get from our DIL's cows. It is really good butter, just a little warning though. My homemade butter only keeps in the fridge for a week before it goes sour, just like milk sours.
    For me, I don't guess I get out as much of the milk as commercially made butter makers do. And the milk solids that are left will sour.

    So I hope you enjoy your butter, just don't want you experience the same disappointment after your work as I did once.

  3. I actually churned butter by hand a couple of times. It used to be so cheap that it would be economically unprofitable to me to make it myself as the cream cost more than butter, but recently the butter prices went up, so I'll look into butter making again.

    Greetings from Holland

  4. Thanks for posting all that. I have always used butter and never cared what anybody said. How nice to know it really is good for you, too.

  5. We're a butter family and I have no inclination to switch. I've never bought into the hype about butter being bad for you. It seems obvious to me that God gave us butter to enjoy and because it serves a useful purpose in our bodies. Actually, many useful purposes as you outlined so well. Thanks for the great list of the benefits of butter.

    I'm going to try to make butter with my five year old. I think she'll be fascinated! :-)

  6. My mom married in 1948 and by the time I arrived in the 1970s, she was firmly entrenched in the margarine camp. When I started earning my own money at 16, I started buying butter because I just couldn't stand margarine.

    I've found a couple of stores here that carry cultured butter, but the least expensive brand is $6 per pound. I'm wondering if you could make a cultured butter by adding a little cultured buttermilk to the cream the night before. I think that will be a worthwhile experiment. :)

  7. Does your butter that you leave in the dish on the counter go rancid quickly? I've thought about investing in a Butter Bell to keep it fresh at room temperature but have heard mixed reviews about them. We don't go through butter fast enough to use it up in a week, but would love soft spreadable butter at all times.

    I'm firmly in the butter camp, after reading a few years ago that, chemically speaking, margarine is only one molecule away from being plastic. eek. I'm glad the myth about saturated fat being bad for you is finally beginning to gain mainstream traction. Although it should be noted that saturated fat from meat sources that have been grain fed *is* less healthy....but finding, and affording, grass-fed meat and dairy is difficult. Hopefully that is changing too as more people get on the raw, grass-fed bandwagon. Great post!

  8. Kari-that is interesting. I will have to look into that. I mean one makes yougurt with a started culture from the store, so it might work.

    Betsy-I forget to mention that my 'left out' butter is not that smooth. My kitchen is basically unheated except when the stove is on. I might live a 1950's life but parts of my house still live a Victorian life-little insulation and no heat. However, in the summer, what I do, is leave a bit out on the counter and for a few days it seems fine. But again, think cool place. My kitchen has some cool spots as well, because it wasn't built when people wanted a sunny place to enjoy but needed cool because there was no refrigeration.
    Another fun and easy trick I use is when you are making toast, but a dab of butter in a dish and set atop the toaster. As your bread is toasting it makes it spreadable. Watch it though as it will melt, but when that happens I don't mind melted butter poured on my toast, would you?
    Then keep the majority in your fridge or a cool place.

  9. I also forgot to mention that if one were to see margarine before it is colored, that would probably put them off as well. It is a grey slurry that looks like dirty sludgy water. Not a pretty look and certainly not healthy for you.
    Isn't it funny that that modern add makes it seem so many 1950's families were swimming in butter, when by the mid 50's a very large portion of homemakers were buying margarine as there were SO many ads and campaigns about it being better for your family.

  10. I grew up on margarine and it wasn't until I got married that I even tried butter (tried it, loved it, and will never go back). I've never made my own, but now am tempted. Thank you!

  11. Betsy - We have a Butter Bell and have used it for years. We LOVE having spreadable butter all the time. I would guess every seven to ten days we go through a stick of butter (because we like our toast). I've never had the butter go rancid, even in the hot summer.

  12. The first time I ever made butter was in kindergarden...some 28 years ago or so. I'm going to make butter & use it in one of my Betty Crocker cake recipes. As for margarine, I don't believe everything online BUT...

    Cheers to good 'ol traditional days :) Thank you for keeping it real! Yaaahhh!!

  13. I've made butter only twice: once as a curiosity, & the second time because I had cream & needed some butter, & could not justify driving all the way to the store to get some!You've given me just the impetus to make it again...thanks!


  14. I can't wait to try this! Homemade butter with homemade bread sounds wonderful.


  15. Thank you! I have always wanted to try this.

  16. As an update to my earlier comment, I did try making the cultured butter and it is really good! I added a tablespoon of buttermilk to the cream and let it sit on the counter (in a sterilized jar) overnight, then made the butter this morning.

    One thing I was surprised by is that the buttermilk from my butter is the taste and texture of cultured buttermilk. Since I haven't tried making the sweet cream butter (yet!), I don't know how they compare.

  17. My wife and I like fish a lot, but I must admit fish can get pretty bland sometimes. Can't wait to try the flavored butters!

  18. kari-thanks for that tip on the cultured butter, I shall try that too! Let us know what you think of the comparison between the two buttermilk
    Flower lady's husband-I adore fish and and flavored butter will certainly enhance its loveliness, good luck and let us know what flavors you chose.


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