Thursday, March 1, 2012

I Just Wanted to Milk a Cow

I don't forewarn my husband and son anymore when I'm thinking through a plan for a new project. It's better that way. I don't have to listen to any protestations regarding the project, and they don't have to worry about how much they might or might not enjoy what I have in mind.

My latest plan was the butter plan. Well, actually it was the milk-a-cow plan but for some reason that plan was doomed from the beginning - a beginning that began almost two years ago.

When I was working on FRUIT OF ALL EVIL (2nd farmers' market book, which includes a dairy farm) I realized that my teenage son had never milked a cow. This bothered me more than it probably should have. I milked a cow when I was young - doesn't everyone get to have that field trip? (If you know me you might be saying: but, Paige, you grew up in Iowa. EVERYone milks cows in Iowa. But they don't, and my milking experience was when I was really young and lived in Ohio and visited an Amish farm, which was a great experience even if I was a cynical child and thought all the "actors" would lose the costumes as soon as we left.)

So, I set out to find a way that my son could milk a cow. And not only that, but take the cream from the milk and turn it into butter. A couple Christmases ago we were in southern Utah and I thought we'd stop by a dairy farm in Delta on the way home. But it started snowing so badly that I decided we should skip the farm. And then time just kept passing and there were no opportune dairy farm visits to be had. And I forgot about it. Until I read a book a couple weeks ago.

THE DIRTY LIFE by Kristin Kimball is the true story of a NYC woman who falls in love with a farmer. A friend (thanks, Marianne!) recommended it, and once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. I could never, ever, ever go to the extremes this couple has gone to, but there's no denying that I love growing food for my family. I love not using pesticides, and I love the idea of knowing where our food came from, what was happening to it while it was growing (well, reasonably, I suppose. I don't hang out in the garden 24/7) - everything, from seed to plate. Without a doubt, organic is becoming more and more important to me, and I only trust labels and signs so far.

I don't know if it was these feelings that drew me to the idea of writing a farmers' market series or if writing the series has infused me with more and deeper such feelings.

Either way, after reading THE DIRTY LIFE I not only began to plan this year's garden, but more than ever I wanted my son to get to milk a cow. I found a dairy farm about forty-five minutes from Salt Lake City and decided we'd go last Saturday.

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. We were sick. Son has been really sick (two ER visits, though he's doing okay now), so we didn't go. But since we were sitting around on Sunday and we all had enough energy not to be asleep, I ran up to the grocery store and bought a pint of heavy whipping cream. I brought it home, pulled out the Ragu jar I use for the hummingbird food, poured the cream in the jar and told husband and son we'd take turns shaking it until it turned to butter.

Understand, I frequently get these "project" ideas. Most of the time I'm met with cautious acquiescence, but sometimes I get eye-rolls and groans. I was pleasantly surprised when all four of their eyes opened wide and they both said, "Okay, cool." These non-mid-western folk are fascinated by farm stuff, I tell you.

At about the seven minute mark, we had whipped cream. I was having a blast. We were watching Elvis' BLUE HAWAII on some Retro channel and just as he and a bunch of two-piece-bathing-suit-clad woman started dancing on the beach (at about the eleven minute mark), I opened the jar again. Inside was a chunk of butter and some buttermilk.

They loved it! I loved them loving it.

I poured out the buttermilk and then rinsed the butter with cold water, running a fork through it and squeezing the rest of the buttermilk out of it. I added a little sea salt (optional) and we ended up with a good-sized and creamy meteorite-shaped chunk of butter. I stirred some honey into half of it and then made some biscuits - using the leftover buttermilk, of course. Even though we haven't had much of an appetite, we all enjoyed our snack. It was even better on days two and three, but that could have been because of our improving appetites.

When you milk a cow, there are more steps to the butter-making process than just throwing the milk into an old Ragu jar and shaking. You have to strain the milk and then let the cream rise to the top. It's that cream that you skim off and then throw into the Ragu jar for a good shake.

So, we still haven't gotten our hands on any teats, but son is now a little more aware of how the world around him works, and the best news is that even at seventeen he was kind of interested in the lesson. It was fun for us all.

Next time, I'll tell you why I'm putting lard back into our diets.

Happy Reading!


  1. What a fun thing to do! Everyone, even if they've never milked a cow, should make butter at least once. It's not hard, and it gives you a new appreciation and understanding of fresh food. In some states, including Utah and Missouri, we are really lucky: we can buy raw milk from farmers, which my family does every week. There is just nothing like that actually cream-colored cream, almost thick enough to spread on scones, and there is nothing like making butter from it!

    Glad you're all feeling better now.

  2. Thanks, Laine! And, raw milk is delicious - not like ANY milk I've purchased from the grocery store. It's almost a completely different thing.

    I couldn't believe how much Tyler (husband too) enjoyed the project. It really gave him a new appreciation, and I've made it my goal to infiltrate his life with more of these things, at least until he leaves for college. Poor kid. ;-)


  3. Smart approach to projects. I try not to forewarn my family. They always have reasons not to. :)

    I love your dedication to having your son milk a cow and your ability to improvise as circumstances required. This is really cool. Growing up in the suburbs of CT, I had no idea how butter was made and I've never milked a cow. But you've inspired me. Maybe I'll take mom on a roadtrip to a farm. :)

  4. Well, I'm not sure whether it's dedication or obsession. Either way we still haven't gotten to a cow. Someday, hopefully.

    I'd love to hear about you and your mom's adventure.

    Thanks, Kourtney!


  5. Both my parents grew up on farms/ranches, but I've never milked a cow. However, making butter was a standard 2nd grade activity when I was that age, so I've definitely done that!
    Glad you had such a fun time with this. Your post amused me. :)

  6. I suspect butter making was part of the Amish farm trip, but milking the cow was so bizarre and foreign that that's the part I most remember.

    Hope all is well, Lisa. Thank you!


  7. We make butter every year around Thanksgiving and then press it into an ice cube tray with pumpkin shaped cubes. We LOVE making butter. can milk cows at Wheeler Farm in Murray, UT. I think there might be a small charge and I'm not sure if they let you keep the milk or not...but it would definitely meet the cow milking goal! Good luck!

  8. Thank you, Lady of Perpetual Chaos (love your title) -

    I will put Wheeler Farm on my "goal" list. I can't believe our cow milking has been thwarted twice now. I don't mind paying, but I'd love it if they strained the milk and then let us keep it. Might be liability issues and such.

    Thanks again!


  9. Wow, I never realized what's city girl I am till I read this post! Not only haven't I milked a cw, I have never made butter or tasted raw milk! I feel like I have missed out. I truly wonder about the link between my illness and the amount of processing nd pesticides in our food supply. . .

    Thanks for a funny and thought-provoking post.

  10. Thanks, Maureen - hope you're feeling better.

    There are too many city conveniences I enjoy for me to make the big decision to move to the country and milk a cow every single day, twice a day, but I wonder about all the processing/pesticide stuff too. I hope organic products only increase in availability.

    Hope all is well with you and your mom.