Making Butter

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

Since mid-March, the Oshawa Museum shifted our visitor engagement online. I had a lot of fun filming a few short videos at the Museum, with the hopes that even if you can’t physically visit the Museum, you can still experience some of our favourite tour features.  Thanks to a suggestion from my best friend, we also created a short video tutorial on how you can make your own butter at home! You can watch that video HERE.

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For many centuries, butter has been a staple in Canadian homes. For a Victorian family of the 19th century, butter making would have been a routine chore. Butter was used in the same way we use it today: as an ingredient in recipes or as a spread for bread, scones and tea biscuits, but it would also be used for barter at the local grocers.

In the video demo, and when we make butter with visitors, we use:

  • whipping cream
  • clean mason jar with tight fitting lid
  • marbles, to help with agitation (optional)
  • Salt (optional)

To make butter like we did in the video, place your cream into your container, filling it about halfway, not all the way.  This is where you can add your optional marbles, which help with agitation, and salt for flavour. Tighten the lid and start shaking.  After some time, the result of all the shaking is your butter and buttermilk.

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Victorians likely would have used churns when making their butter, and we have a few churn examples in our collection. Likely the example that comes to mind first is the churn and dash. By pumping the dasher up and down, the cream inside the churn would be agitated and eventually separation would occur – the fat and protein of the dairy, and the remaining liquid, the buttermilk.

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This churn is another example, where the crank on the outside is turned, and there are paddles on the inside which cause the agitation.

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Perhaps an artefact that is asked about on most tours is the rocker churn.  Our example was made in Fenelon Falls, and at first glance, you likely wouldn’t guess it’s a butter churn.  When the lid is removed, you can see wooden bars on the inside and yes, you guessed it, those bars act like the dash and agitate the cream.  There is even a spout near the bottom where the buttermilk could pour out.

The 1851 agricultural census gives us a snapshot of what crops Thomas Henry had on his farms and what animals were being cared for.  That year, Thomas had 11 cows: 4 bulls, oxen or steers; 3 cows/heifers; and 4 milch cows, which is a cow in milk or kept for her milk. It is likely that among the chores that Thomas’s children would have helped with, his sons would have cared for the animals, and his daughters may have turned that milk into butter.

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Be sure to check out the Museum From Home page for other at home activities to try!

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