Monday, April 16, 2012

Calendula Butter

"Churn Butter Churn
Churn Butter Churn
Johnny's waiting at the gate, waiting for his butter cake
Churn Butter Churn
Churn Butter Churn"

I made Calendula Butter this weekend.  Last year a very good friend gave me "Jekka's Herb Cookbook" as a gift.  It is a LOVELY recipe book, combining information on cultivated herbs and their harvesting and uses with a wide array of recipes using them.  Interspersed amongst it all, are reminicences of Jekka's mother's and grandmother's cooking lives in England.  Thoroughly lovely reading, and great kitchen inspiration.

In the Calendula or Pot Marigold section, one of the recipes is for calendula butter.  If memory serves (I did not bring the book into town to quote from, and last looked through it a while ago, when contemplating this plan), Jekka suggests making this using softened butter and mixing in fresh calendula petals.  She waxes poetic about it preserving summer sunny gloriousness.  She also, and I disagree with this bit, says that is it the only way to preserve calendula.  I dry my calendula petals and use it in poultices, facial steams, wound washes, and (grand intentions of) salves all winter long.

So, because it is April, and therefore most of the ground is covered with snow and this year's calendula are baby seedlings in eggshells on my counter, and I had a jar of dried calendula on my herb shelf; I did it this-a way:

I bought a pint of Organic Valley's* heavy cream. 
My darling housemates used a third of it in their coffee.
I took the rest and poured it into a mason jar.
I put in a bunch of dried calendula petals and let it sit for an hour or two, stirring when I thought of it.
I strained the petals out, and the cream into a new mason jar.
I added some small riverstones from the box of them we have sitting on the window sill.
I screwed on the lid of the jar.
Then I shook the jar while I ( rather desultorily) straightened up the house with one hand for a while.
Eventually I had butter and buttermilk.
I poured the butter milk out (saving it for biscuits), put the butter on a plate, ran it under cold water and mooshed it with a spatula until the water ran clear.
Ta da!
Then I left the greasy-from-heavy-cream-and-butter plate, strainer, 3 mason jars, spatula, and river stones in the sink for the darlin' man to wash.  This is why we love him.

This is also why I long for a dairy animal.  And then a real churn to manage the quanities of cream.  When I was in middle school I went to a living history camp at King's Landing in New Brunswick Canada for two summers. We went and lived the life of young folks in an 1800's canadian colony.  It was amazing.  My second year I was assigned to the Ingraham family, a prosperous farming family with a big white farmhouse.  They had an artesian well in their panty/side/mud room.  Which functioned as indoor running water.  Basically they had a down sloping hand hewn trough; the upper end was fed by the artesian well (via some sort of time perios-appropriate gravity pump mechanism), and the water washed across/down the trough and through a drain.  It was in this household that the camp group learned to make butter.  We poured cream into a cooper-made wooden churn, and took turns at the dasher.  There is a definite rythm to churning butter, and a technique of wrist turning to maximize the agitation (caused by the cross on the bottom of the dasher turning back and forth in the cream).  We all made a circle around the churn in the middle, and took turns churning, the rest of the circle clapping, and all of us singing the old song
"Churn Butter Churn
Churn Butter Churn
Johnny's waiting at the gate, waiting for his butter cake
Churn Butter Churn
Churn Butter Churn"

We watched it go from frustratingly still cream, to pebble sized butter bits floating around, and then all at once into a big clod of butter stuck to the dasher.  We took it out and put it in the trough sink, where fresh well water continuously ran over it.  Such a better deal than pouring buckets and pitchers over it!  We all took a hand at using the wooden handcarved butter paddle, but after a few minutes there were really only two of us invested in finishing the process, everyone else started chatting or went out into the yard.  The two of us took turns mooshing this big clod of butter with the paddle, for a surprisingly long time, until finally finally! the water ran clear.  And then we salted it and pressed it into moulds.  The woman who was teaching us told us all about the difference between salted and unsalted butters, the storage times one coud expect with each, period techniques for over wintering butter, and how families would have signiture images on their butter moulds.  I only remember some of the information, but while it wasn't the first time I made butter (think Brownie Girl Scouts in a jar with marbles), it created a memory and image that will forever stay with me when I make butter. 

Just a year or two ago, my alma mater theatre department produced Carol Churchill's "Vinegar Tom" - an amazing play by an amazing feminist playwright (highly reccomended) that takes place in a puritan village that gets over run by the craze and suspicions and insanity of witch hanging and burning -
The production was great, and moving and powerful; but there is a scene near the beginning when the very envious housewife who kicks off the witch hunt is trying (and failing) to get her butter to come.  She is alone on stage, and miming churning, pissed at her philandering husband, and chants
"Come Butter Come
Come Butter Com
Johnny's waiting at the gate, waiting for his butter cake
Come Butter Come"
I still feel the actress would have brought something more authentic to the role if she knew the school-girl chore-passing history of that song, had experienced the aching wrists and arms that is (even successful) churning; that the scene would have played as both more authentic and as more sexually and socially transgressive - as it is meant to - if the experience and the history and the ache and the disillusionment were brought into that chant.

As for my butter this weekend, I'll tell you how it tastes when I make biscuits or bread tonight!

I was a little disappointed by the fact that the orangey-golden brilliant goodness of the calendula only slightly infused the cream.  The color DID end up more golden, but not to the extent that I wanted.  I was secretly hoping for something as amazing as I always imagine Ma's carrot infused butter from "Little House in the Big Woods" to be.  No such luck this time. 
There's a calendula custard recipe in Jekka's book that I also want to try with dried calendula.  I think I'll try simmering the petals in the milk first, and then straining.
This summer, I'll make them both fresh too, and tell you what I think.

***** This post was inspired by Grow It Cook It Can It's March Butter Challenge********
Check out all the other awesome butter making!!!

*Thanks ApronStryngz for the reference for dairy scorecard reference! 
And thanks Cornucopia Institute for good investigative research!


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