Class Project/Demonstration Proposal
Major English Writings I
October - A Long Time Ago
Butter: A Bigger Deal You Might Think
The Beginning: “After the zombie apocalypse, when the Walmart burns down, falls over, and sinks into the swamp, what food would you miss the most?” I asked.
This is typical of the kind of question posed at my house during Sunday family dinner. I looked at my 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. Any nomad with an animal hide, a bouncy donkey, and time on their hands can jiggle enough raw milk (goat, sheep, cow) to produce a lumpy emulsification of fat. Animal skin bags strapped to the back of a bouncy beast of burden, barrels on a bumpy cart, churns with a dasher, or a jar with a marble can produce yummy fat called butter.
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. Vikings became the scourge of the medieval world by eating butter.
The Ultimate Goal: To be able to produce the raw materials at our hobby farm to make our own butter because Conner and I will die without it. I’ve contemplating 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 making a schedule.
The Class Project: A brief, hands-on 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. Bog butter is butter buried in bogs by forgetful butter makers in Ireland. It can last up to three hundred years.
Things I’ve Found Fascinating So Far:
The amount of physical energy and know-how required to be able to feed 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, who recently returned from a yearlong deployment on the Afghan/Pakistan boarder.) Goats and donkeys, that’s how the world still lives.
I also find fascinating how many thousands of years worth of human beings managed to drink non-government-regulated-not-FDA-approved milk and still survived long enough to make babies.
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.