The principle of butter making is to agitate milk long enough to cause the cream to separate from the milk into little floating globules of fat, and then collect the globules into a lump. When on the trail, hanging the milk in a 10-lb. lard or syrup pail on a pony’s packsaddle or under the wagon would produce a little recognizable whitish butterfat by the end of the day.
There were a number of refinements of the process which made a better product.
I can remember very well how my grandmother made butter when we were pioneers. Grandmother was referred to as a “boss butter maker”, who always put her name on the parchment paper wrapper because she always got a premium price for any she took to the store. Bachelor homesteaders came for miles to barter for it when she was the only woman in the area.
Grandmother’s butter making was a ritual, that began long before the cow was milked. It really started when she sowed an immense garden of carrots, sugar beets, turnips and potatoes in the spring. As long as there was no green grass, the huge black soup kettle on the back of the stove and, semi-cooked the cut up vegetables to be added to “chop” (ground-up oats, or barley) to make a “hot mash” for the evening feed. Turnips had to be fed after the evening milking or they tainted the milk. Pampered cows, given warm food and warm water, made more and richer milk, she said. Lots of milk in winter when many cows “dried” up gave the greatest profits for fresh butter.
Cleanliness was the magic word for her superlative product. Every utensil used in the process had to be scalded and dried on the sun, if possible, or covered with a clean bleached flour sack. All pails and pans were washed with hot baking soda solution –never soap because that left a coating that one could neither dissolve nor scour off. We called it “milk stone”. Grandmother said it harbored germs, which she said were responsible for what she called a “frowy” taste. When we knew we would be leaving the homestead to move to town, she put down extra butter in stoneware crocks, covered with brine “strong enough to float an egg”. Kept closely covered in a cool cellar, the contents survived a whole year, without turning “frowy”. In fact, she remarked when finally we had to buy some, that the last of her butter tasted better than the “fresh” butter from the store.