Making butter – a food experiment



A butter-making model


You’d butter believe it!

Where does butter come from? Milk, of course. People discovered butter thousands of years ago. Methods for making butter all involve some kind of whipping or churning to separate the fat from the liquids in milk. We can make butter easily for ourselves at home. Seeing is believing!

This model, found in a museum in Goderich, Ontario, shows how butter-making has evolved. From using  camels 2000 years ago, then horses 500 years later… to hanging bags of milk from trees… these were all ways people devised to more easily shake the milk, so they could  get at the creamy butter it held in its grip. The model has a crank, so you can see the shaking in action…   although it looks like this camel shook its bag of milk so hard it fell right onto the ground!

People might be surprised to know how easy it is to make butter themselves. In less than 15 minutes you can watch butter appear in a jar, as if by magic. What’s left over is buttermilk. Use the defatted milk to make some scones that you can enjoy with your homemade butter. Kids love this food experiment…  it just takes a little muscle power.

Cottage butter - cows

Most of our butter today is made from cow’s milk – Moo!

Home-made butter
Makes ½ cup
  • 1 pint-sized (16 oz) clean mason jar
  • 1 or 2 clean marbles or pebbles
  • 1 cup heavy cream (38% fat content)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
  • 1 strainer
  • 1 small bowl
  • cold water
Cottage butter ingredients

This is all you need to see where butter  comes from.

  1. Pour the cream into a mason jar, filling it no more than half way. Throw in a clean marble or pebble, to speed up the churning time.
  2. You can also add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt to the cream, if you like your butter salted.
  3. Screw on the lid.
  4. Shake the jar for about 10 minutes. After the first 2 minutes have a look. You’ll see whipped cream. Keep shaking until you hear that a lump has formed inside. Shake an additional 30-60 seconds after that, until you see butter and a watery liquid in the jar.
  5. Strain the contents of the jar into a bowl to separate the lumps from the liquid. The liquid is buttermilk. The lumps in the strainer are butter.
  6. Refrigerate the liquid and use it later to make pancakes or scones to eat with your homemade butter. Some people even like to drink it.
  7. Place the buttery lumps into a small bowl. Pour cold water over them and use your clean hands to squish them into a ball. Throw away the water and rinse two more times.
  8. Shape your butter into a round ball or a rectangle. Wrap it in plastic if you want to keep it for later. Refrigerate.
  9. You can enjoy your butter as is. Or you can add salt, honey, garlic, or herbs to create flavored butters.
Cottage butter - cows

We made this butter in less than 15 minutes. Sing songs while you shake and pass the jar around to the family every time the music stops.

Can you taste a difference between your homemade butter and the kind you buy?

Make some scones the British way and enjoy these delicious warm biscuits with your fresh homemade butter. What a treat!

Scone with cottage butter

Scone with cottage butter

Easy scones British-style
Serves 6

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk or buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  1. Heat oven to 400F (200C).
  2. Combine dry ingredients and whisk well to incorporate air.
  3. Roughly cut in the butter, then rub it into the dry ingredients between your fingers until the effect looks granular (this is how the British do it, I am told).
  4. Mix the egg with the milk, then add it to a well in the dry ingredients.
  5. Stir just until blended, then knead it a few times in the bowl.
  6. Pour the dough onto a well-floured table top and knead it a few more times, incorporating the flour until the dough is the right consistency. It should hold its shape and should not be sticky.
  7. Shape the dough into a circle about a half-inch thick and cut it into six wedges.
  8. Bake the biscuits for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Serve your scones with your homemade butter and some jam or honey, if you like.
Scone with cottage butter

Delicious home-made treat!

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