Churning Milk

Reader Contribution by Arkansas Girl

More than anything, I loved spending nights or weeks with my maternal grandparents, and contrary to popular belief … I did help my grandmother with the chores, but when it came to churning milk, this one I could pass on. Actually, it’s not all that bad, but for someone like me who was born short on patience, this just was not my favorite chore, but I did it, because I didn’t want grandmother to think I was only staying at her house to eat her tea cakes, which is partially true. And come to think of it, tea cakes as well as her delicious biscuits and corn bread and fried pie crust all had milk, either the sweet, cream milk before churning or the regular milk after she took the butter off (buttermilk). Any route she took to make bread, milk, in some form, was added.


So, I guess I better explain a little bit about processing milk. Each morning, Grandmother went to the barn and milked her one and only cow. She’d bring the milk in a bucket (covered with a clean cloth) into the kitchen when it was still warm. Sometimes, I’d get a drink of it right then. That’s as fresh and as organic as milk can be. Then, again, she’d put the milk into a churn.


When milk settles, there’s a thin form of it on top (whey). If a cook wants a light version of milk, this is what she uses. The milk at the bottom is placed in the churn. (Editor’s note: The above photo shows one type of butter churn; for other types of churns, search the Internet.)

Now, in order to get butter, this fresh, raw, milk has to be processed. There’s this ladle that extends up out of the top of the churn. The bottom has about a 5-inch, square platform attached to the ladle. In order to get the butter (the fat in the milk) to the top, I had to continuously raise and lower the ladle for what seemed like an eternity before the butter finally rose to the top of the milk. There is a churn cover through which the long, round pole of the ladle goes to prevent the milk from splashing all over the place. I was so impatient, but my grandmother just sort of ignored my desire to hurry. She knew just about how long it takes for all the butter to be beaten out of the milk.

Eventually the job was done. Then she’d come with her bowl and spoon and carefully and slowly remove the butter from off the milk and dump it into the bowl. The long, arduous process called churning seemed to take forever, but the “forever” is necessary in order to get butter from milk.

Usually, we didn’t eat that serving right away. Grandmother would put the butter into the refrigerator and let it solidify. There’s nothing better than homemade, country butter to slather across a steaming, hot, straight-from-the-oven biscuit.

After that, the rest of the milk had to sit in the churn until it “fermented.” This process turned it into buttermilk. Then, it was poured into a jug and set into the refrigerator to drink later. The churn was cleaned and set aside until the next milking day.

Store-bought milk (which we only drank in school) goes through the pasteurization process (supposedly to kill the germs). But, for the most part, we country folks drank our version of fresh, raw, organic, straight-from-the-cow milk.

By the way, cornbread with butter milk is a delicious snack. If you haven’t had any yet, why not treat yourself to a tasty, country snack?

  • Published on Apr 7, 2014
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