Easy Alchemy

I love making things from scratch. I like knowing how something is made and, even more so, knowing that I can make it myself. Not just a batch of cookies or a pot of soup, I like to make many of my pantry staples.  It is more time consuming than simply purchasing it from the store, but I consider it my own version of slow food. In our busy world there is so much focus on producing things quickly and saving time. When I take the time to make something from start to finish, I give myself time to slow down. I work quietly with my thoughts, listen to the radio to catch up on day’s news, or chat with my husband.

Transforming raw ingredients into a meal is also a chance to be closely connected to my food, even if I don’t grow it or raise it myself. I become involved in the process and take part in the transformation of milk into cheese, flour and water into bread, or cream into butter. The last of these transformations is one of the simplest made from scratch kitchen projects I can think of. It takes very little time but it awakens my sense of wonder and accomplishment when I turn liquid into gold.

I make butter from organic heavy cream that comes from a local farm. Although butter is frequently frowned upon because it is a fat, it is a whole food which contains many essential nutrients as well as anti-oxidants. Homemade butter can be used for anything you buy butter for, but it is especially enjoyable spread on some good bread.

The simplest way to make butter requires only cream and a jar with a lid. Start with about a cup of very good quality heavy cream. Pour it into the jar and let it sit at least until it is at room temperature, or for up to several hours. This allows the cream to ripen just a bit and makes for easy churning. When the cream is ready, screw the jar lid on tightly and start shaking. It should take less than 5 minutes of vigorous shaking before the cream starts to thicken. At first it will be the consistency of whipped cream. Keep shaking. Then it will get thicker and begin to look more yellow. Keep shaking until the buttermilk (a thin, milky liquid) separates from the butter which will be thick at yellow.

Pour out the buttermilk (you can save it to use in pancakes or muffins). Press the butter together to form a solid mass and get out any more buttermilk. Add about half a cup of cool water to the butter and stir and press it into the butter. The water will look milky. Dump out the water and add more, mixing in again. Repeat this step until the added water is completely clear when mixed in. This ensures that there is no more buttermilk in the butter so it will keep for longer.

At this point, you will have about a quarter cup of butter. You can mix in salt or add fresh herbs or citrus zest for a fancy flavored butter. After mixing, press the butter into a container and cover it tightly. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week or two, but is best served at room temperature when it is soft and spreadable.

It takes one extra step to make cultured butter which yields and even more creamy and flavorful spread. To one cup of heavy cream, whisk in one quarter cup of cultured buttermilk. Cover the jar and leave on the counter for 12 hours or up to 2 days. When the cream has become very thick and slightly separated you have crème fraiche. To make the crème fraiche into butter, simply start shaking and repeat the steps above.

If you are making a larger quantity of butter, forgo the shaking and use the food processor. For smaller amounts I find it takes more time to wash the food processor than it does to shake the jar.

I think there are few things more satisfying than tasting the fruits of your own labor. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. Homemade butter is a quick and easy way to enjoy the flavor of something made from scratch.

Anna Hewitt

Whether sewing, planting seeds, or in the kitchen, Anna loves to create. She spends lots of time in the kitchen making as much as possible from scratch. When not baking, canning, or fermenting, she sews bags, aprons, and other items inspired by the kitchen and the garden (www.seedlingdesign.net). She often feels torn between finding some land to put down roots and taking the opportunity to travel and see more of the world. For now she eagerly explores her new surroundings in the mid-west and schemes about how to see more. Anna writes and shares recipes on her blog (roadtothefarm.blogspot.com).

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