I considered titling this piece, “Ma Ingalls Would Have Fed My Homemade Butter to the Pigs,” in honor of the first installment of this loosely-defined series, but decided that was unnecessarily self-deprecating, as well as inaccurate on two counts. 1) The butter I made in my kitchen today is too edible for someone as thrifty as Caroline Ingalls to designate as pig slop, and 2) as far as I know, the Ingalls family never actually kept pigs in or around any of those little houses on the prairie.
Last year, as quarantine days were just beginning, I wrote a piece on my first attempts at bread baking.
Ma Ingalls Would Have Wiped the Floor With My Homemade Bread
Quarantine baking will not automatically turn you into the perfect prairie housewife.
As flour supplies permitted and as time allowed, I improved my bread game over the next few months. I’m still no aproned Betty Crocker or Pepperidge Farm fish, but I can turn out a decent loaf to accompany a pot of soup. Sandwich bread is a whole other ball game, and its spirit still rudely taunts me whenever I reach for a package on the grocery store shelf.
I’ve gotten pretty good at telling it to shut up and go make a sandwich, though.
(I’m allowed to make that joke because I am a woman and it is — literally — sandwich material. No other exceptions apply. Thanks for checking.)
A lot has changed in the year since I wrote that piece. I have a baby now, who somehow seems to think he should have all of my attention all of the time (is this rude of him?). I now stay home all day with the baby instead of working from home all day (so, in other words, life is one long picnic with no responsibilities ever??). And I now pay for the student version of Spotify Premium despite the fact that our dual-income-no-kids lifestyle has transitioned into solo-income-plus-kid (is this needlessly extravagant???).
So much change. So many escalating questions.
One thing hasn’t changed, though, and that is the fact that we are still dealing with a coronavirus pandemic. Even if some people feel it is no longer necessary to act that way.
*side-eyes all the weddings, conferences, massive parties, and spring break trips that keep nonchalantly popping up on social media*
Where was I?
Oh, yes, making food at home during a pandemic. Like bread. And… butter?
Aren’t those things supposed to go together like salt and pepper, peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk? Why, in 2020’s collective obsession with yeast dough, did I never hear of people hauling out an old-fashioned wooden churn and merrily splashing cream into delicious spreadable goodness?
Well, probably because most people don’t have an old-fashioned wooden churn just lying around in Grandma’s attic.
I am no exception, but I do have an electric mixer. And it occurred to me recently that since I have oodles of time on my hands now as a stay-at-home-mom, I should try my hand at making butter in my electric mixer. It can’t be that hard, right?
Well, here’s the thing.
In the back of my mind, I assumed it would, in fact, be a lot harder than it looks. Whatsoever my hand findeth to do, as it says in Ecclesiastes, I do it incorrectly on the first try with all my might (as it does not, precisely, say in Ecclesiastes). My first attempt at butter would, I was sure, be a “practice run” over which I would shed a tear or two, feed to my husband who would pronounce it wonderful regardless of how he actually felt, and then write a funny article about my failures.
But… it was actually really easy and I now have no material with which to write a funny, self-deprecating personal essay about how cooking is hard.
I used these instructions from AllRecipes, which can be condensed down into the following: put some heavy whipping cream in a bowl and mix on high speed for a really long time until it separates, salt it if you want to, squeeze all the moisture/buttermilk out, and spread the ensuing beautiful Pat of Butter on bread of your choosing.
That is exactly what I did. And here is exactly what I got.
Behold, my squeezed-dry Pat of Butter, reposing beautifully in a garage sale salad bowl, looking for all the world like a scoop of French vanilla ice cream or an old, cold, moldy brain.
I prefer to think it resembles ice cream.
And it tastes amazing. Not like ice cream. But like really good, dare I even say expensive, butter.
I did not have any cheesecloth through which to strain it, so I used several layers of paper towels, which worked beautifully for the recipe and are not so beautiful for the environment, unfortunately.
I now have homemade butter in my fridge (which, other sources tell me, may repose there for a week if I keep it covered), and buttermilk with which I intend to make biscuits. On which I will spread the butter. This is all very meta if you think about it long enough.
I guess the moral of this story is that some things are hard and tricky and require infinite patience, the exact right temperature, and just a pinch of pixie dust… like bread. And some things are actually not that difficult, and if you can follow basic instructions you will get the result you want, and you can feel good about yourself; an emotion that goes down smooth… as butter.
That’s all, folks.
In case you missed the link near the top and would like to read the first installment in this domestic saga, I invite you to enjoy: