Turning milk into butter is a skill that we believe dates to 2000 BCE, and is also mentioned in the Bible. The butter churn itself may date to 700 CE based on archeological evidence. No matter what type of churn you are using, the basic process of making butter is the same. “Churning” means to agitate or move about vigorously. When making butter, the agitation causes the rupture of the membranes surrounding the milk fat, which allows the fat droplets to join together and form clumps. The clumps of fat form a network with air bubbles which trap the liquid and creates a foam. As the bubbles pop, the foam leaks, which is where we get buttermilk. Then the buttermilk is drained off, and the fat clusters are kneaded to form butter.
if you remember the story of ”Jack and the Beanstalk” you know that it begins with Jack’s mother instructing him to sell their milk cow. Most households in England prior to the Industrial Revolution would have had at least one cow, even if they lived in urban areas. The cows provided milk that could be turned into butter or cheese. Both of these products provided nutrition for the family, and any surplus of these products could be sold at markets for some extra cash for the family.
At a manor like Agecroft Hall, they would have employed milkmaids to milk the cows and produce butter, cream and cheese.
The type of butter churn in the Agecroft handling collection is a plunge churn. It's made of wood, and the butter making agitation is created by making an up and down motion with the staff in the top. This work generally was done by women or children, and the time it took to complete the task could vary greatly. If the cream is too cold the butter won’t form. Because sometimes butter would form and sometimes it wouldn't, the tradition of the ”cream witch” developed. To get rid of this cream witch, the person making the butter was advised to put a red-hot horseshoe or poker into the cream, which caused it to boil. The boiling was thought to be caused by the thrashing of the cream witch as she was killed. In fact, the poker or horseshoe was warming the cream to a temperature where butter could form. Under the proper conditions, it would take about an hour to produce butter using this type of churn.
If you have heavy cream at home, you can make butter using a mason jar. Simply put the cream and a marble in the jar, seal it and shake. Making butter using your own manpower might make you appreciate that we can easily buy it com the store today.