Making a butter churn, the old-fashioned way, requires a crock, a butter paddle, and a lid for the crock. It also requires quite a bit of work. Making a butter churn is not difficult and only requires basic woodworking skills. You can also make butter using an electric hand mixer, a blender, or an empty jar with a lid. Occasionally, you can find old-fashioned hand-cranked butter churns at flea markets and farm auctions.
Traditional Churn Paddle
In a traditional churn, the heavy cream was agitated by a wooden paddle in a stoneware or wooden crock. A lid, with a center hole to accommodate the paddle handle, was fitted to the churn to keep the contents from splashing out. Locate a stoneware crock between 2 quarts and 5 gallons in size. You will need one 1 x 4 pine or maple lumber board. Measure the bottom of your crock and cut two pieces from the lumber board 1/2 inch smaller than the crock size. Purchase a 2- to 3-inch diameter wooden dowel 12 inches taller than the crock. Take the two cut-off pieces of the board and form them into an “X” shape. Nail the crossed pieces, centered, to one end of the wooden dowel.
Make the Lid
Measure the top of your stoneware crock. From a small or scrap piece of plywood, cut a wooden circle 1/8 of an inch smaller than the top of the crock. Use a hole saw to drill a 1-inch hole in the center of the round plywood lid.
Using the Churn
Fill the churn no more than half full of room-temperature heavy cream. Place the paddle in the churn and press the lid over the top of the crock. Use repeated quick up and down motions with the paddle to agitate the cream in the crock. After 10 minutes or so of repeated agitation, the cream will begin to “butter.” Continue to churn until the butter forms a stiff ball in the buttermilk. Drain the butter from the churn and add 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt for every pound of butter. Use a wooden spoon to work the salt into the butter and remove excess moisture. Form into a ball or press into a butter mold to shape. Refrigerate immediately.
Simpler Ways to Make Butter
Use a single paddle of your hand mixer in a bowl 1/2 full of room temperature heavy cream. Or fill your blender 1/3 full of cream and turn the blender on high. Both methods should yield butter in 10 minutes or less. For a way to involve family and friends, fill a quart or half-gallon jar half full of heavy cream. Put the lid on the jar and shake the jar, making the cream thump between the top and bottom of the jar. Butter will begin to form within 10 to 15 minutes.
References and ResourcesHow to Make Butter Without a Separator, Without a Churn, and Without Difficulty by the Editors of Mother Earth News
The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery, edited by Linda Garland Page and Eliot Wigginton, Foxfire Press, 1984