Making Butter in the 1820 Kitchen

Stephenson House's wooden butter churn
One of the most popular activities in the kitchen at Stephenson House is butter churning. There is something about making butter in an old-fashion wooden churn that pulls everyone into the kitchen (or maybe it's the lure of good smelling treats wafting through the air). Most of our volunteers have helped with this activity and enjoyed the products of their labor. I guarantee fresh churned butter and buttermilk taste 100% better than any store bought brand. It will not have all the preservatives either.

Butter making is defiantly a hands-on activity where everyone can help. We often let visitors get their bicep workout in for the day by lending a hand in the churning process.

Stephenson House purchased its wooden churn from Beaver Buckets several years ago (www.beaverbuckets.com) and it's been in regular use ever since. There are other types of churns available on the market if you want to buy one or you can simply use an old canning jar.



What we use at Stephenson House......

  • Wooden churn 
  • Heaving Whipping cream (1-2 quarts, depending on how much we  want to make)
  • several pitchers of water for washing the butter (or someone to run back and forth to the well)
  • butter paddle
  • cheese cloth (precut squares that will fit over the top of the bowl used to pour the contents of the churn in. Do this before starting to churn.)
  • two large bowls
  • bucket 

We purchase heavy whipping cream from a local grocery store to make our butter. It is practically impossible to get anything other than heavy whipping cream to make butter unless you live on a farm with milk cows. Leave the cream sitting on the counter at room temperature overnight so it clabbers. We usually sit it out about 4 p.m. if we plan to use it by late morning the next day.

Once it's clabbered pour it into the churn. Now the workout begins. Take the plunger (the one attached to the churn, not the one in the restroom!) and start churning the cream in a steady up and down motion. Try to keep a rhythm as you churn. The process of churning the cream take anywhere from 10 minutes to three hours. We have found that the weather plays a big part in the success of our butter.


A docent churns butter in the 1820 kitchen. Notice the chunks of cream (soon to be butter) around the plunger opening.
When the cream begins to turn to butter there is a distinct change in how the plunger feels and sounds. The cream begins to separate from the fat, making the plunger harder to push/pull up and down. The opening where the plunger is inserted into the lid will begin to have chunks of butter form around it (see above photo). Remove the plunger and lid to check the contents of the churn at this point. There should be buttermilk and butter in the churn if it's ready. The texture of the butter should feel firm like butter at room temperature. If is to runny then continue churning until it changes. Be Warned....if you over churn the mixture, the butter and buttermilk will turn back to cream.

Our redware bowls, butter paddle and large pitcher.

Now the contents of the churn need to be poured into a large bowl covered with three to four squares of cheese cloth (layered on top of each other and large enough to hang over the sides). We prepare the bowl with the cheese cloth before we start churning so it's ready when the butter is done.

Bowl with four layers of cheese cloth.


Pouring the contents of the churn into our cheesecloth covered bowl. It's always good to have extra hands...here we have several willing helpers. The chunks of butter are very noticeable in this photo.



Scrap out any leftover bits of butter from the churn. Again, extra hands are wonderful...and a really LONG handled spoon.
Everything is in the bowl and ready to be separated.


Now grab all of the side of the cheese cloth and squeeze out the buttermilk.
You can see the buttermilk pouring out of the cheesecloth into the bowl. The butter is wrapped up in the cheese cloth in this photo. It will be put into the large redware bowl next and washed.

Now the butter needs to be washed to remove all the remaining buttermilk or it will spoil. You'll need lots of water for this step. The green bowl contains the buttermilk that we will use for biscuits or whatever cooking need arises.
Use a butter paddle or large spoon to turn the butter over and over in the water.

The water will turn cloudy quickly. Keep pouring it off into a waste container then add fresh water until the water no longer clouds. This will take a while but you'll want to be sure it's clean or it will sour.
Once the butter is clean, you may choose to add salt to help preserve it. We don't add salt at Stephenson House...it never lasts long enough to go bad.

The butter is now ready to use, as well as, the buttermilk. We usually have a large amount of butter at the end of the day. It is a great addition to the table and tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the store. Enjoy!

Now comes the real work....cleaning the churn. Ugh!

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