Tuesday, October 4, 2011

BUTTER: It's My Class Project

Linda L. Zern
Class Project Proposal /
Major English Writings I
October 2011
Children Sampling 300 Year Old Bog Butter in Ireland--For Fun?

Butter:  A Bigger Deal Than One Might Think

The Beginning:  “After the zombie apocalypse, when the Wal-Mart burns down, falls over, and sinks into the swamp, what food would you miss most?” This question is typical of the kind often posed at my house during Sunday family dinner. I looked at my five-year-old grandson, Conner, and he looked at me, and together we said, “Butter!” Since that moment I have been on a vision quest in search of a way to make butter using home grown sources in spite of zombies, cataclysm, and grid collapse.

The Search for Facts: Butter is easy; I have learned. Any nomad with an animal hide and time on their hands can jiggle enough raw milk (goat, sheep, cow) to produce a lumpy emulsification of fat. Animal skin bags on the back of a bouncy horse, barrels on a bumpy cart, churns with a dasher, and a jar with a marble can suffice.

The History: Without refrigeration, butter lasts longer than a glass of milk. Without refrigeration, cheese lasts longer than a glass of milk. Butter and cheese are tasty and a method of food preservation, more common in colder climates anciently than in southern climates. 

The Ultimate Goal: To be able to produce the raw materials on site (our six acres in Saint Cloud) to make our own butter because Conner and I will die without it.  I’ve settled on Nubian milk goats as a source for the raw milk (although cow’s milk has larger fat molecules and separates more easily than goat’s milk, cows are gi-normous and can tip over automobiles when annoyed. Goats are smaller, smarter, and rarely snap people’s spines.) I already grow the herbs (garlic, etc.) for flavoring. Note: Milking goats for butter and cheese is a twice a day, time consuming process that requires planning and forethought—a lot. I’m not there yet. 

The Class Project: A brief, hands-on (class involvement required) demonstration of butter churning (with baby food jars, a marble, and heavy cream,) clashing, and the sampling of homemade butters traditionally enjoyed in the days before the Kraft Corporation, while discussing the strange tale of butter as a tool of social and religious oppression.

The Crazy Truth About Butter in History: I have discovered that butter was one of the points of contention for Martin Luther in his break with the Catholic Church. Butter was produced and used extensively in the northern, colder climates (England, Scandinavia, Germany.) Oil was commonly used in the southern countries (Italy, the Mediterranean, Spain.) Rome and the Vatican (in warm sunny Italy) prohibited the use of butter during Lent. No worries. Businessmen and the church offered to sell oil to the north. No worries. The church offered a pay-for-play-scheme to allow the northern countries to use butter during lent if they paid a butter tax—nice fundraiser for the butter tower of Rouen.             

Weird Problems I’ve Encountered, And Of Which I Was Completely Ignorant: I wanted to bring in an example of “raw” or unprocessed milk to show the class how unprocessed milk naturally separates. Shock. It is illegal to sell raw milk in Florida. It is not illegal to drink it—just sell it. Anyone selling raw milk must mark it “for animal consumption only.” The government regulations have therefore driven raw milk sources underground and jacked the price of raw milk up to $15.00/gallon in Florida.  Whole Foods just pulled raw milk from its shelves. Like Lisa Ling, I’ll be forced to go undercover and underground to investigate the sordid underbelly of the black market of the organic/raw food movement. I’m actively seeking a raw milk pusher.

The Chemistry: Any number of factors can keep milk from becoming butter: too cold, too hot, too little fat, poor diet of the producing animal, too slow of churning, a curse, the witches next door.

Things I’ve Found Fascinating So Far: The amount of physical energy and know-how required in feeding a family in days gone by. How recently our modern conveniences were invented and how completely dependent the developed world is on them, and how much knowledge is always being lost and how quickly. Goat’s milk butter is harder to make than cow’s milk butter but better for you. Goats are browsers not grazers and will eat my weeds. How much of the world still lives like it’s the 13th century (I learned this from my son, a combat soldier in the 101st Airborne, who recently returned from a yearlong deployment on the Afghan/Pakistan boarder.) Goats and donkeys, that’s how the world still lives. And I find fascinating how many thousands of years worth of human beings managed to drink unregulated, un-FDA approved milk and still survived long enough to make babies.

PS   Can I dress up as a butter churning peasant woman in the middle ages, for my demonstration, in lieu of bringing a live goat to class? It would have been my neighbor’s goat; I don’t have goats yet. I do have an outfit. DON’T MAKE ME BRING IN 300 YEAR OLD BOG BUTTER!  (I’M KIDDING) IT’S ALL GONE. WE ATE IT.          

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