Why Your Butter is Washed & Where the ‘Carats’ in Your Gold Come From


You’d never guess that butter has to be washed. It does. Why? 

Delicious homemade butter ready to spread on fantastic (birthday!) cake

Delicious homemade butter ready to spread on fantastic (birthday!) cake

Well, most of us know butter is a dairy product, i.e. derived from milk. Some even know that the fat in fresh milk, otherwise known as “cream,” naturally separates from the rest of the liquid. There are still plenty in the general population who could tell you that if cream is agitated or whipped for several minutes, the fat again separates – this time into the golden yellow substance we call butter. The liquid that then remains is buttermilk – not “a buttery milk” like the childhood-me thought, but a high protein, low fat, slightly sour tasting, somewhat watery, yet totally delicious liquid.

Buttermilk, however, is slightly sour because of lactic acid. Said acid is a tough character to cast – without it, you can’t have yogurt, sour cream, or sourdough. But it is the same substance that eventually causes your milk to spoil and your muscles to be sore for days following a tough workout. So, when cream has been whipped until little blobs of yellow are floating in a watery sea of buttermilk, the stage is set for some nasty possibilities. Enter butter washing.

Delish.

Delish.  Butter being separated from buttermilk and being prepared for washing.

First all the contents from the cream-whipping process are poured through cheesecloth. The butter globs land in the cloth and the rest passes through. However, small amounts of butter-spoiling buttermilk remain. So, the butter goes into a bowl filled with water and is massaged, releasing all the buttermilk still trapped inside the golden yellow fat. The water is changed three or four times until it runs clear. Gone is the trouble-making buttermilk, but now the butter is all wet. To the butter pats we go!

Next the butter blob is maneuvered back and forth between two wooden paddles with grooved surfaces – otherwise known as butter pats. The butter rests on one paddle and is firmly smacked by the other, forcing water out of the mass which is then transferred to the other paddle. Repeat several times until the butter no longer releases water when “patted” (let’s be honest – they should be called ‘butter smackers’… patting isn’t going to cut it). Shazam! Your butter is served! For freshest butter, freeze all but the quantity you’ll use within two or three days and thaw the remainder as needed. For truly delicious butter, mix in chopped French tarragon and salt. Disclaimer: the latter may cause death by deliciousness.

margret and rons test best jobs vid 006

Scrub-a-dub-dub!

So, where did I hone my butter skills? The same place where I dried oregano & bananas, canned tomatoes, made haloumi (cheese), rolled out dozens of tortillas, and processed unbelievable amounts of carob pods aAbout the size of a medium kitchen knife blade, they are the source of the popular chocolate substitute. The very hard seeds are removed.  The pod pieces can then be ground and added for flavor to baked goods or used in place of chocolate. Interesting fact: the hard carob pod seeds are so consistent in size and weight that in ancient times they were used to measure gemstone properties. One carob seed is equal to one ‘carat’ or 0.2 grams., fennel, and quinces bquinces look much like golden apples, but are larger, fuzzy on the outside, and aren’t eaten raw. We slow-cooked them for hours and then blended them into a sauce, baked them sprinkled with butter and honey, boiled them into a jelly, and even made quince candy. Let the record reflect that the latter requires an hour of almost constant stirring, and the product is formally known as “quince paste.” Fun fact: while quinces start out a white-ish yellow, the same tannins that make them inedible when raw also cause them to turn a beautiful bright red after long exposure to heat.: Margaret & Ron’s – possibly the most awesome (hobby) farm in Western Australia!

Margaret and Ron are both incredible – driven, motivated, intelligent, funny, curious, interested, analytical, do-it-yourself-ers… I find them so inspiring and am loving sharing conversations, meals, excursions, work, and life with them!  Margaret has grace and poise and unbelievable biceps and shares practicality with Ron, who is a refined and wildly capable gentleman. I found them thanks to the amazing Gabrielle, whose praises I cannot sing more highly. Margaret and Ron’s daughters (who are about my age) were piano students of Gabrielle’s years ago in a town on the other side of the continent. Gabrielle recently reconnected with my favorite WA farmers, visiting them when she flew out west for business a few months ago. She introduced me to them via email, and now here I am four wonderful weeks later!

Smoking out the hives in preparation for removing the frames.

Smoking out the hives in preparation for removing the frames.

I’ve been hedge trimming, shredding, weed whacking (known here as whipper snipping), landscaping, melaluca pruning, apricot pruning, mowing, sanding, painting, pulling out old passionfruit vines, extracting honey from the beehives, prepping the gutters for the coming winter rains, and ridding the summer garden of expired plants, including the impossible-to-eliminate horseradish. Good thing it tastes so great on steak!

Speaking of steak, it’s just one of the endless mouthwatering meals conceptualized by the brilliant Margaret. A frequent touch of class: meals served on warm plates – especially breakfast. I tease Margaret often about the latter, as well as ribbing her about the terrific abundance of food – three refrigerators and a chest freezer! I’m quite feral compared to this family – standing while eating, napkin-free dining, eating with only a fork, satisfied with a cold breakfast plate… let’s just say I’m brushing up on my sophistication.  I’m also fond of the evening beverage hour, as both Margaret and Ron are refined connoisseurs. My new favorite drink is a “Whiskey Mac” – whiskey and ginger wine: it’s sublime!

My first ocean beach fishing, and my first Indian Ocean experience!

My first ocean beach fishing, and my first Indian Ocean experience!

Oh, and there are great things happening off the farm, too. In the neighborhood: the milk run to the nearby dairy farm not only provides milk (and therefore cream and butter), but also provides me with fantastic entertainment. Mike, the South African farmer, is a dead-ringer for Santa. Rosy-red cheeks, jolly-grin, booming voice, salt and pepper hair (mostly salt), and a twinkle in his eye. He’s hilarious. And to my stomach’s recent delight, recently he invited us in to taste his ice cream experiments!

Somewhat further afield: hiking and swimming in Wellington National Park, evening walks up to the old quarry above Roelands, Gnomesville with Anna, catching the view from the Bunbury tower, seeing where a few local dolphins stop by for a fish treat each day, catching my first fish (herring!) from a beach on the Indian Ocean, and calling in at Margaret’s brother’s produce farm – a Joel Salatin follower and near doppelganger!

One of dozens of gorgeous views down south.

One of dozens of gorgeous views down south.

We’ve even made two trips out of town – the first down south to Denmark (the town in Australia, not the country in Europe), and the second up to Perth. Both were family adventures. Margaret’s sister lives in a little slice of paradise on the south west coast. We swam in picture-perfect waters at Green’s Pool, had fun evenings with the family, played the fast version of scrabble, took in myriad fantastic scenery, ate the biggest figs I’ve seen since Italy, and tasted honey, mead, and ice cream at the local meadery- yum! On the way there, I got to climb over a hundred feet up small iron bars on this old lookout tree to a breathtaking view.  On the way home we stopped at a grove of Australia’s biggest tree – the Tingle (no kidding), and Margaret treated us to organic, healthy, scrumptious meals at this fantastic little cafe in Balingup!

One of many idyllic spot in Perth's enormous King's Park.

One of many idyllic spot in Perth’s enormous King’s Park.

Our Perth trip was both work and play. Margaret and Ron’s eldest daughter and her husband just bought a house. Before the painters came on Monday, lots of wall washing and paint scraping were in order. We ended the day with Thai food, drinks, and a strange European Train board game. I woke in the morning from a scraping dream which quickly faded as we set off to tour the city’s infamous King’s Park – a gorgeous rolling green landscape. It should be full of fall colors, but there are so few deciduous trees here that green is the rule year round!

When I’m not hanging out with Margaret and Ron (and her lovely, 89-year-old mother Elspeth who lives in a mother-in-law unit on the property), I’ve even managed to make a few local friends! I really like Bunbury and hope I can find work that allows me to stay here. Thanks to Meetup.com, I’ve been to a BBQ, drinks at a pub, out kayaking, to a games night, out to Karaoke, and been stung by a jellyfish while attempting to swim with dolphins. I got acquainted with the local rowing club while enjoying a stunning sunset one evening. I’d like to make that a regular thing!

One of my many jellyfish stings.  Almost two weeks post, I still have marks!  I'm not as pleased about it as I look, but why cry when you can laugh? :)

One of my many jellyfish stings. Almost two weeks post, I still have marks! I’m not as pleased about it as I look, but why cry when you can laugh? 🙂

Extrovert I am not, however. So mostly it’s just me in the farmyard making up songs to sing to the chickens like, “Come and Get Your Grub” (to the tune of Redbone’s 1974 “Come and Get Your Love,” of course). I’ve just started to get serious about job hunting, so perhaps one of my next few posts will find me announcing my Bunbury-based employment. Or announcing my next wanderlust-inspired destination. Wish me luck?! ♣

The Australian version of a honey bear, a peculiar fish-catching device, and a kookabura sitting in an old gum tree – captured first hand! – can all be seen in this facebook album.

References   [ + ]

a. About the size of a medium kitchen knife blade, they are the source of the popular chocolate substitute. The very hard seeds are removed.  The pod pieces can then be ground and added for flavor to baked goods or used in place of chocolate. Interesting fact: the hard carob pod seeds are so consistent in size and weight that in ancient times they were used to measure gemstone properties. One carob seed is equal to one ‘carat’ or 0.2 grams.
b. quinces look much like golden apples, but are larger, fuzzy on the outside, and aren’t eaten raw. We slow-cooked them for hours and then blended them into a sauce, baked them sprinkled with butter and honey, boiled them into a jelly, and even made quince candy. Let the record reflect that the latter requires an hour of almost constant stirring, and the product is formally known as “quince paste.” Fun fact: while quinces start out a white-ish yellow, the same tannins that make them inedible when raw also cause them to turn a beautiful bright red after long exposure to heat.


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