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Churning butter in a seventeenth century churn.
For best results with this size butter churn you need a pint of fresh double cream (not UHT). It should be about room temperature – too hot and the fat will not separate, too cold and the fat will not stick together. The time needed to churn the butter can vary depending on conditions, but on average will take 20mins to half an hour. A pint of cream should make half a pound of butter and half a pint of buttermilk. In the accompanying pictures you can see a reproduction Churn, made to the exact specifications of a seventeenth century churn held at the Birmingham museum. The churn is made from sycamore with a beech plunger. The original plunger wood is unknown, the churn was indeed made from sycamore.
Work the plunger up and down, in a steady rhythm and not so vigorously that the cream splatters out of the hole in the lid. Try rotating the plunger slightly as you push down. The cream will go through the following stages: liquid, frothy, soft whipped cream, firm whipped cream. The cream will be very stiff, then suddenly, its smooth shape will collapse, and you will begin to get a sloshing sound. The butter is now fine grained bits of butter in buttermilk. Keep working and the yellowish butter will separate completely, becoming compressed at the bottom of the churn. The remaining liquid is buttermilk. Drain the buttermilk (despite its name, this is low in fat, and can be drunk or used in baking, though it does not have the same soured taste as cultured butter milk).
The butter now needs to be washed to clean out the remaining buttermilk and prevent the butter going rancid. To do this, pour half a glass of cold water onto the butter and work it in. Drain and repeat until the water runs clear. This is easier done in a bowl rather than in the churn itself.
If required, salt can now be added to taste. Start with a few pinches. If you find it too salty, repeat the butter washing which will take out some of the excess salt. Salt is used to improve the flavour and the shelf-life, as it acts as a preservative. Also this extra working of the butter improves its consistency.
The butter is now ready. Put butter in a dish, a butter mould, or roll in waxy paper.