Whittle: Churning up some thoughts

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Before there was "tennis elbow" ailments for today's famous and wealthy pro tennis players, there was pain-penetrating "butter-churning elbow" back on the farm.

A recent "meandering day" ended up with wife Pat and I sitting in on neighbor Paul Lamb's "Whoever Shows Up Bluegrass Band" free and open to the public jam sessions at 2 p.m. each Wednesday at the Sam Davis Home Museum in Smyrna.

Why do I often go to the Sam Davis Home? First, bluegrass music is soothing to my sometimes' restless soul.

Second, I love history, which brings me back to the subject: "Churning Butter elbow." The Sam Davis Home Museum, for example, has pamphlets how butter is churned. That brought back some painful farm boy memories.

After 45 minutes or more of "churning butter," a persons' elbow begins to get cranky with pain.

It was an ailment of my youth when Momma Whittle insisted that since I was not big enough to tend to the pigs and cattle out at the barn, I could sit and/or stand still long enough to raise the homemade wooden "dasher" up and down, up and down, over and over thousands of times, to turn our cow's fresh-squeezed milk/separated into cream that ultimately formed into butter.

Momma's country kitchen featured two types of butter churns: One, the small mobile type that you cranked by hand with the dasher sticking down into a gallon jug of milk.

My favorite was the floor model, bigger churn because it produced bigger amounts of butter, which meant I got through "churning" faster.

The end result was more than just tasty fresh home-made butter straight from the pasture, but it was cash income for Momma when she'd sell butter to W.M. Moore's country grocery store.

"Aw, doesn't that mold turn out pretty pounds of golden-colored butter," I recall Momma bragging as we moseyed slowly toward town in a wagon pulled by our stubborn Missouri mule named Bert.

A recent pilgrimage through the historic artifacts gathered at the Sam Davis Home yielded a pamphlet about "How To Churn Butter" like they did back in the 1800s on the Davis Family Plantation leading up to and through the War Between The States.

I love history.

"Churning your own butter guarantees you're using the freshest ingredients and getting the very best butter," the pamphlet promoting butter and churning detailed.

And that's true. A fresh-churned pound of butter is rich to the taste buds.

But you have to know what you're doing. It's not like "poof!" and you instantly have butter.

Have you ever tried "milking a cow" on a cold tundra-like winter morning, when not only the pasture ponds were frozen over, so were the milk cow's teats.

If you didn't have arthritic hands when you started, you would later, unless you soothed and soaked the cow's udders with warm water. Cold mornings were not pleasant for Bessie, the milk cow, either. So the next time, you see a milk cow standing out in a cold pasture, wave to show her some respect.

We wondered why farm neighbor John Holmes' cows produced more milk that our own well-tended milk cows. One early morning at pre-dawn, I happened to be near Holmes' family pasture.

It was like magic that John's cows would follow him as he strummed his guitar. When John would stop and make music seated on a rock or tree stump, his cows moooo-ved on up real close to him.

"It's my music, they love my music, that's why our cows give more milk too," John strummed confidently. "I think it helps the cows relax their milk-giving teats."

Never mind that John's guitar was an old, beat up and used Sears-Roebuck model, it must have made sweet music to his milk cows.

But I never did take a liking to buttermilk, the bitter-tasting by-product of butter churning. But that fresh buttermilk helped Momma make her famous cat-head-sized tasty biscuits.

It wasn't until I was on a newspaper assignment in Romania with Nashville TV news star anchor Demetria Kalodimos and former U.S. Congressman Bart Gordon and his chief-of-staff Kent Syler, that I realized you can also make butter from goat's milk.

The Romanians' "goat cheese" turned out to be tasty enough too. It was there in his foreign former communist-bloc country that I noticed what we now call old-timey butter churns still sitting around in the kitchens.

When Romanians would hear that a famous TV anchor and U.S. congressman were coming to their often poor mountain village, the locals would prepare us "a feast" of their best home-produced products mostly consisting of goat cheese.

"We sent word ahead, asking the village folks not to prepare a special meal for us, but they insisted on doing it as a courtesy to visiting Americans," Syler churned back to our trip in 1993.

Now, you should have more respect for that simple pad of butter on your dining room table.

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