Friday, July 13, 2007

The Line

I think I’ve crossed a weird line here. As I type this, my mixer is going full blast in my kitchen, whipping cream into butter. No, I can’t say why.

When you mention that you ground your own turkey tenderloins to make meatballs for your kids, you get a look. When you explain that the “pre-ground” turkey included an ingredient called “seasonings” and that you felt you could add your own salt, if that was what you wanted, they actually nod understandingly. They agree that there’s so much salt in food already that it’s not necessary to buy food with added salt. Yes, you’re Normal after all.

You tell people you make your own bread, and they may ask when you find the time, but in general, they don’t say much. Making bread from scratch (especially for those who have a bread maker—not that I do) is actually fairly common these days. And I live in a part of the country where people don’t think it’s even slightly odd that you make your own bread.

Telling people you like homemade yogurt better than what you can buy in the store elicits a sort of shrug, as if to say “If that’s the way you want to do it.” A few people ask just how it is that you make yogurt, and then shrug again after you’ve explained the process. You’re peculiar, no doubt, but not beyond the pale.

When you say you make English muffins from scratch, you get a slightly more puzzled look. People just don’t know enough about how English muffins are made to understand that it’s not that different from bread baking. They may look at you askance, and dismiss you as some kind of oddity, but they don’t label you outright.

When people find out you make your own mayonnaise, and mayonnaise-based things (such as blue cheese dressing), you get a more peculiar look. Some people even ask “Why do you bother?” and go on to point out that store-bought mayonnaise is readily available (they neglect to recognize that store bought mayonnaise is really disgusting).

But tell people you make your own butter, and that’s the end.

So OK, I’m a freak.

[Note: the butter is now done.]

I read an article in the New York Times about making one’s own butter. It’s really easy—you just overwhip cream. Probably what the Times reporter made was better than mine, because the recipe they gave called for organic heavy cream, and I just used regular heavy cream from the grocery store. It’s been my experience that some organic things—chickens and beef, primarily—really do taste better. Still, mine seems like it’s pretty good (I haven’t yet eaten it on anything—just tasted a tiny bit off the spatula; I can’t bring myself to just eat butter).

This isn’t the first time I’ve been involved in butter-making, but in the past it’s been at Thanksgiving. Every year my family gets together for Thanksgiving, and the kids make butter. They put heavy cream into a plastic jug of some kind and shake it until it becomes butter. The butter is then served on the rolls with dinner. I think someone devised this idea years ago as a way of occupying the kids until the meal was ready. It actually works pretty well (by which I mean both as a butter-making technique, and as a diversionary tactic to keep the kids from driving all of the adults stark raving insane before dinner is served).

Today I happened to notice a quart of whipping cream in my refrigerator. And something possessed me and I decided to make butter.

The article suggested using a stand mixer. I have one, so I used it. They also said to be sure to create a sort of splatter guard out of plastic wrap to prevent…well, splattering. So I did that too. I poured two cups of cream into my mixer, hit the on switch and away we went.

At first, of course, what I wound up with was whipped cream. Then I wound up with cream that had been overwhipped, but still looked like nothing more than kind of flat whipped cream. And the plastic wrap shield seemed largely unnecessary. I stood there with my forehead resting on the motor housing, watching what happened. About five minutes later, all the fats came out of solution, the stuff that wasn’t fat was thrown up against the plastic wrap, and what I had was a very watery bowl of something that looked like faintly yellow cottage cheese. Bingo.

As instructed, I poured it into a colander over a bowl. I reserved the buttermilk (I’m betting that stuff makes the best pancakes you ever had), and rinsed the butter under running water, pressing it into a mass. I continued rinsing (feeling like a character in a Laura Ingalls Wilder novel) for a couple of minutes, then turned it into a bowl for salting. The “recipe” said that sea salt could be added if salted butter was desired. Since I have some really nice French sea salt I bought my husband as a stocking stuffer one year, and I like my butter salted, I decided to use that. I smushed the butter around to mix in the salt, stretched out a piece of plastic wrap on the counter, wrapped up the butter and tucked it into the refrigerator.

In case you’re wondering, two cups of heavy cream (one pint) makes, by my guesstimate, about a quarter of a pound of butter. I have no idea if it’s cheaper to make butter than to buy it. I suspect probably not, especially if you’re planning to make it with any kind of super-fresh organic type of milk. There is a place in my neighborhood that advertises that they sell raw milk. I’m not sure I’m brave enough for that (I have this fear of weird cow diseases that are found in unpasteurized milk), but I might see if they have any really high-quality organic heavy cream and see what kind of results that yields. I might even do a taste test of the butter made with the organic versus the grocery store cream.

Let me hasten to say that it’s not necessarily a done deal that I will be making my own butter from scratch from here on out. Unlike store-bought mayonnaise, store bought butter is just fine for most things. Perhaps for eating plain on bread I might occasionally whip up a batch (no pun intended), or if I was making something like Hollandaise sauce, in which the butter really was a superstar, then I might consider it. For day to day baking and eating, however, I’m not sure homemade butter is going to offer the same payoff as homemade mayonnaise. I don’t want to promise anything, but at this point in time, I don’t foresee butter-making as one of my regular chores around the house.

But now what’s next for freakish me? What, you say, will you make next? Will your next posting be about the chickens you’ve bought, or the wheat you’re growing in window boxes? Well, no. in the first place, I have no place to keep chickens (and in the second place, the farm supply store near me only sells chicks the Spring anyway, so there). I suspect my next foray into the realm of “Making Stuff Everyone Else Just Buys at the Store” will involve ricotta cheese. I understand that homemade ricotta is a cinch to make, and tastes about ten times better than anything you can get at the store, so perhaps that’s my next effort. I’ve also always wanted to try making my own pork sausage. Either way, I’ll keep you posted.


Anonymous said...

Just for the record. watching a documentary that included the creation of pork sausage lead to a life long issue with sausage... I can't imagine that actually making it will be any better. I can point you to the movie if you're interested.

Emma Shannon said...

I can see how watching a documentary about the making of it from scratch (as in, "Take a live pig...") could lead to issues, but I'd just be making it from pork shoulder and the like. As whack as I may be, I'm not ready to start slaughtering my own meat quite yet. :)