Dorothy Campbell, born in 1922, learned butter making from her mother, Amber Beatrice Stockford Shaw, in the 1930's. Her mother's butter was either sold for 25 cents per pound or bartered at the local store in Littleton for supplies such as sugar, molasses, flour and vinegar. While attending Ricker Classical Institute, Houlton, she worked for a neighbor during summer vacations for $1 per day making butter and other duties. After graduation she continued working for her neighbor to earn money to study nursing. After completing her nurses training in 1946 she married and made butter on their own farm from 1946-1958 which she sold a Way's Market, Houlton, for $1 per pound. The tradition of home farm produced butter for the local market persisted longer in Aroostook County than it did in much of the rest of the country. Over the twenty-five years Dorothy made butter for home use and for sale, she used all of the sort of tools in this display.
Butter Making on an Aroostook Family Farm - 21 items.
Created by saam
Butter production on an Aroostook County family farm was a complex process. From caring for the cows to milking, churning, printing and marketing the butter, the skills of all family members were required. This demonstration of milking the cow is from about 1905.
After the cows had been milked, the milk is strained to ensure the removal of all foreign matter using a strainer with a cloth filter. While many different types of pails and strainers were used over the years, this pail and strainer is from the 1950's.
After straining, the cream would be separated from the milk. The creamer can shown here (c. 1920) has a glass gauge on the side so one can clearly see the milk inside. After about 24 hours the cream, which is lighter than the milk, would rise to the top. The valve at the bottom of the can allowed the farmer to draw off the milk and see the level of the cream through the glass gauge. When the cream was seen to reach the bottom of the can, the valve was closed. The skim milk was set aside for drinking, making cottage cheese, feeding to animals or other uses.
Using a centrifugal cream separator was a quicker method of separating the cream from the milk. The milk was poured into the separator bowl on top. The crank on the side was turned at about 60 turns a minute. The milk would pour from one spout and the cream from the other into crocks or pails placed below. While this was a quicker way to separate cream from milk it was necessary to disassemble the centrifugal separator after each use and keep it meticulously clean. The centrifugal cream separator shown here (c. 1910) was hand cranked, electric motor powered separators came into use when rural electrification became common in the 1930's and '40's.
After the cream was separated from the milk, the cream was poured into a cream can and allowed to "mature." While most butter today is made from fresh or "sweet" cream, up through the 1940's, butter on the farm was made from sour cream. Butter made from sour cream is said to have a fuller flavor and more nutritional value.
After the cream had properly matured (24 - 36 hours) it was placed in a churn. There are many different types of churns but the purpose of all of them is to agitate the cream to make it unstable so that it will separate into butter and buttermilk.
To operate this swish churn (c. 1860), one pushed the handle back and forth. This churn was used for making small quantities of butter for home use.
Another type of churn for making small amounts of butter for home use is this wood cylinder butter churn (c. 1890). Younger members of the family were typically set to churning the butter.
This glass butter churn (c. 1920) is another example of the variety of small capacity churns for making butter for the farm family.
The hand and/or foot powered barrel butter churn (c. 1910) was a major advance over traditional churns. This model was designed to be turned end over end by the foot pedal and/or by pushing the handle back and forth. Several quarts of sour cream were poured into the churn, sealed and then the barrel was turned. Barrel churns had no internal agitators, just the action of the barrel was enough to separate the cream from the butter. An experienced worker could determine the progress by the quality of the sloshing sounds in the barrel.
Barrel churns typically were used on larger home farm operations where the butter production was intended for more than just home consumption. Butter was churned a couple times a week in season and stored in suitable containers in the spring house.
The Maytag washer with butter churn adaptor was introduced for the large production of butter on the farm in the 1940's just as the production of butter was shifting from the farm to the dairy.
When the churning process was complete the butter was washed to remove the buttermilk. After it was washed it was placed on a butter tray like the one shown here. This style of butter tray was used for hundreds of years before more efficient mechanized methods were developed.
A butter paddle was another traditional tool used to work the butter in the butter tray until all the remaining water and buttermilk was forced out of the butter. If all the buttermilk was not removed the butter would spoil quickly.
A butter worker could work larger quantities of butter than one could with a butter tray. As one turned the crank the fluted roller mallet would revolve and the tray would move under the roller from end to end and then back again to first work out the buttermilk and water and then work in the salt that was added as a preservative and for taste. The tray is tilted so that as the liquids were worked out they would flow away and not be worked back into the butter.
Henry Watson of Littleton made butter workers like this one for the region's farm families in the 1940's.
Butter made from cream produced in summer was usually a nice yellow color but in other seasons it might be nearly lard white. While the flavor would be the same, people prefered the yellow butter. A few drops of "Dandelion Brand Butter Color" made the butter more appealing.
If the butter that was made was just for home use, it might simply be rolled in a ball, warped in paper and stored in a cool place. But if it was for sale or barter the butter would be "printed," that is, placed in a butter printer or mold to give it shape. To use this one pound brick butter printer (c. 1920) the handle of the plunger was placed through the hole in the box, filled with butter and then pressed out using the plunger.
After the butter had been made and pressed into a butter printer, it was removed from the printer and wrapped in vegetable parchment butter paper. Vegetable parchment became the standard for wrapping butter because it was insoluble and kept out foreign flavors without imparting any flavor of its own.
All family farm butter producers in the Littleton - Houlton area purchased their butter paper with this design from the Houlton Grange store where they bartered their butter for groceries.
After the butter had been churned, worked, printed and wrapped it would be stored in a cool place such as the spring house or in a creamery ice cabinet.
Butter made on the farm was often taken to town and sold to established customers, sold at market, or bartered at local stores in Houlton such as the Houlton Grange store (pictured here, 1928), Knox Brothers, Riley Brothers, Hallitt McKeen, McPherson's Market and Dickison's Market for credit.