Churning Butter on the Family Farm

Author Photo
By Capper's Staff | Feb 13, 2012

Michael Rogner/Fotolia
Farm-fresh milk meant plenty of butter for this Tennessee family.

Reprinted with permission. Women’s Household, January 1987, House of
White Birches, 306 East Parr Road, Berne, IN 46711.

Do you remember when folks who lived in the country had at least one family cow and the milk from it provided enough butter-fat to be churned into butter? We always had a couple of good milk cows on our family farm, so the chore of churning butter was always there and was especially relegated to us kids. Some cows’ milk made white butter, while others’ made yellow butter. I think it may have been the milk from the Guernsey cows that made yellow butter. After the cream was skimmed from the milk, Mother would place it on the hearth near the fire, until it “turned” or soured. This took a couple of days at least. As I recall, most of the churns were two-and-a-half- to three-gallon size, although some may have been larger.

By the time it became my job, we were using the stone crock-type churn, with a picture of an Indian on the side near the top. Dashers were homemade from a broomstick, with wooden pieces nailed to the end. When it was my turn to churn, I always played a game of counting. I tried hard to count to 1000 without stopping if I could. That seemed to make the butter come faster. Sometimes I would just chant the words, “Come, butter, come.” I was always very sure that this made the butter come faster. (As a rule it took only about a half hour or so, but to a child a half hour seemed like such a long time.) At times, when the butter was slow in coming, Mom would add just a bit of warm water to the milk. She never liked to do this, however, as she said the butter was not as good.

After the churning was finished, Mom took the butter flakes from the milk and formed them into neat little pats or cakes. Some folks had a spring house where they kept their milk and butter. We had a cistern. Later we got a kerosene refrigerator, which kept the products much better. Do you remember these refrigerators? Ours was a Cold Spot from Sears, Roebuck and Company. The wick and burner were hard to keep going, but it worked pretty well, and we enjoyed the luxury of having such an appliance.

After the Tennessee Valley Authority completed its project, we got electric power wired into our house. Mom got an electric churn, and things were never the same again. That was in late 1949 or early 1950. We kept the old churn as a standby, and from time to time I had the chore of churning by hand. I still live on the farm, but we haven’t milked a cow in years. These days we buy our milk and butter from the supermarket, but to me, nothing will ever replace the wonderful taste of home-churned butter and hot corn bread.

Lawrence M. Mallicoat
Whitesburg, Tennessee

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.


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