Museum Talk

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When doing museum tours at the Buffalo Island Museum in Monette, I am constantly amazed at the everyday items of yesteryear that are completely foreign to children today. One of these items is the butter churn. Most of the children can tell me that butter is from cows and you can buy it at the grocery store, but butter has an amazing history.

Butter was made in churns like this one on display at Buffalo Island Museum.

Evidence for the use of butter dates back to 2000 BC, and there is mention of butter in the Bible. The butter churn itself may have existed as early as the 6th century.

The word 'butter' supposedly comes from 'bou-tyron' which means 'cow cheese' in Greek. The earliest known methods of making butter comes from the Arabs and Syrians. Their original practice was to use a vessel made from goatskin for a churn. The animal was skinned, the skin sewed up tight, leaving an opening where the cream was poured in. They suspended this from tent poles and swung it until the "butter come." It takes 21 pounds of fresh wholesome cow's milk to make each pound of butter.

In the 19th century, butter was made chiefly by hand using butter churns. There was a lid with a hole in the center to fit over the handle of the dasher. The dasher was a wooden pole about three feet tall fastened to a wooden paddle shaped like a plus sign. You got the butter by dashing the paddles up and down in the cream. This usually took a long time. Many times this job was assigned to a child.

Butter is the fat found in cream. It is made by churning the cream, which causes the fat globules in the cream into lumps of butter. The remaining liquid is buttermilk. Once the butter has formed, it is removed from the buttermilk, washed in cold water, and gently kneaded to make the butter smooth. Salt may be added and then it was shaped into molds.

The museum has several wooden butter molds with a star or flower design carved on top. When the butter had chilled, it was turned over and emptied from the mold leaving the design on top of the butter.

I remember my brother and I taking turns pulling the dasher up and down until the butter formed. Our Grandmother Simpson would then wash it and put in in molds, but not before she let us sample that fresh butter on a piece of homemade bread.

The Buffalo Island Museum is open from 12:30-4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Admission is free. Please visit the museum's Facebook page for more information, pictures and to enter our monthly BIM Mystery Artifact contest.

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