Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cultured Butter, Why You Should Eat It, and How To Make It

This is my youngest at 18 months. He
grabbed a spoon, pulled up a chair,
 and dove into the butter I had
softening on the counter. Little ones
know what's good for them!
I first tasted butter as a sophomore in high school.  Like most public schools, mine sold lunches every day. Not as typical, they also offered some “breakfast” items before school in the morning. These items consisted of chocolate chip cookies, cartons of milk and juice, and … buttered hard rolls. Not exactly ideal morning fare, but a friend offered me a piece of her hard roll one morning and that was the beginning of the end. I started bringing spare change about once a week to buy one of those hard rolls. I can still taste it! It was soooooo good!
I grew up eating margarine. Not that my mom ever bought into the whole no fat/ low fat mantra, it’s just that margarine was cheaper, and she didn’t really know anything was wrong with it. She did her best by us ,and I have her (and my dad) to thank for my ability to think objectively and make choices about food regardless of what popular culture tells us. We didn’t eat much sugar and ate as many real or whole foods as a single income would allow a family with 10 kids. We just couldn’t afford butter is all, and I never knew what I was missing.

We’ve been “in the know” on butter for such a period time now that I was sort of shocked a few weeks ago, at Sam’s Club when I overheard a man ask his wife if she wanted him to grab the margarine. Sometimes when we know something, it seems sorta strange that everyone else might not know it, too, doesn’t it? That was a good wake up call for me. Even though conventional wisdom is coming around and demonizing trans fats (of which margarine is definitely one) they have not also accepted butter as the healthful alternative and so most are left with a conundrum. What to do? Butter?? Margarine?? Which is least bad?
Well, in case you don’t know already, butter is unbelievably good for you. When cows are healthy and grazing on rapidly growing green grass, the butter is at its best."Dr. Price thought [this kind of butter] could heal rickets and that it brought blood serum and calcium ratios toward normal". (Cure Tooth Decay p.38) It is rich in vitamins A, D, E, K2 which, by the way is design perfection since we need the fat in butter to absorb these vitamins.

Most people are aware that vitamin A plays a key role in vision, most are not aware of it's role in reproductive health, bone and tooth growth, and cell division. Most people are also under the false impression that we can get plenty of vitamin A by eating carrots. Not so. The water soluable carotenes found in vegetable foods are not the same as vital, fat soluable vitamin A. These carotenes must be converted by the body into retinol, but it is a difficult process for the healthiest of bodies and requires stunning ammounts of the carotenes.

Vitamin D assists in the metabolism of trace minerals in the body, especially calcium and phosphorus. Adequate levels of vitamnins A and D help the body to ward off infectious diseases like the flu! There is a common misconception is that we can get all the vitamin D we need from the sun. Well, yes, our bodies do have the ability to convert sunlight into vitamin D, but only if we have high levels of fat in our diets and have access to both UVA and UVB rays. How many of us are blocking those with regular sunscreen application? (don't even get me started on sunscreen!)

Vitamin E strong antioxidant and aids in ridding the body of free radicals. According to Adele Davis it also assists with skin elasticity

K2, or as Dr. Price called it Activator X, is what makes grass fed butter yellow, and it isn't easy to come by. Perhaps the best source is butter from cows feeding on spring grass. Next would be the livers of these same animals. The Swiss of the Loetschetal Valley used to have a religious service of thanks to God for the first butter and cheese of the year because of it's life giving properties. It is essential for tooth health and remineralization. It also plays a key role in protecting heart and brain. Activator X works synergystically with Vitamin D, A and calcium. It is uncommon to find poor bone or dental structure, and cavities in the ancient exhumed skeletons of the Loetschetal Valley.

When I first started making my own butter from the rich cream skimmed from our jersey milk, I found it nearly impossible to wash all of the buttermilk out of it, and it would get a sour taste fairly quickly, even when kept in the refrigerator. I found it frustrating and eventually I sort of gave up on the butter making and just bought sweet cream butter from the store.(which is really not that great since it's made with pasturized milk from cows in confinement) Then my 2 year old developed a lactose intolerance and I couldn’t use butter in cooking anymore. I decided it was time to take another look at butter making. Since raw milk contaise Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose, most people with lactose intolerance can drink raw milk and eat raw milk butters and cheeses with no problem. I had been hearing wonderful things about Kerrygold cultured butter and mentioned it to my husband. We love cultured things! Yogurt, milk kefir, water kefir, Kombucha, and sauerkraut are all regulars in our kitchen. We both wanted to know WHY it was so delish and started doing some research. What exactly makes cultured butter cultured??  I’ll let you in on a little secret. Ready? It’s made from soured cream! That’s it!

Now, I had seen the recipe for cultured butter in my Nourishing Traditions Cookbook a hundred times and passed it up because it sounded gross. I mean who wants sour butter? Ewwwwww! But after all the research and forum reading, I decided what the heck? I might as well give it a shot with a bit of the cream. If you never try, you’ll never know, right? Oh my word! It is so good!! The butter is still very sweet, and what’s more, even if you don’t get ALL the buttermilk out, it stays good for quite a while just sitting out on the counter. Of course, I don’t advise you to leave it out on the counter. That’s just what I do. On top of that, the buttermilk you’re left with  is just like what you would buy in the store, except it’s raw. You can use it however you would normally use buttermilk. Do you make buttermilk pancakes, for instance? I really like it for marinating venison roasts. It makes them more tender and less gamey. SCORE! Two for the price of one! J  And what I have discovered is that the longer you let your cream set to sour, the thicker the buttermilk is, but it really affects taste very little. Of course you don’t want to leave it until it’s clabbered, but if you don’t get to it right away, no worries. It’s not going bad on you.
Lest you worry about  bacteria in the sour cream, let me put your mind at ease. If you have a good local source of raw milk from healthy cows, rest easy.  The milk is loaded with beneficials that actually protect the milk. In fact studies have shown that raw milk from healthy cows, when inoculated with a pathogenic strain, actually killed off the pathogenic bacteria or virus, and the only side effect was that the milk soured more quickly. It was not, however, any less safe to consume! 

***I can not vouch for what would happen with pasturized milk. Those animals are not healthy and any good bacteria that might be present has been killed by the pasturization***
Traditional cultures prized dairy and rarely drank it sweet and fresh the way we do today, especially those cultures in temperate climates. They relied on souring to protect their milk products! Souring is the process of beneficial bacteria (lacto-bacilli) consuming the sugars and protein in the milk, making it safe to consume for longer periods of time. Amazing, isn’t it, how God provides the means of protection right in the milk? And in the process, the milk becomes more healthful, providing beneficial bacteria to populate your gut!

Not only does the culturing process make it easier and safer to digest milk by prediegesting the lactose and casein, it also intoduces enzymes that help the body absorb the minerals already present in the milk, while at the same time increasing B and C vitamin content! Isn't that magical?
OK, so now that all that’s out of the way, how do you make this fantastic stuff?

Equipment you’ll need:

·         Fresh raw cream

·         Something to beat or shake it in. Hand or stand mixer, blender, or just a jar with a cover for shaking.

·         Strainer of some sort with small holes. A typical colander probably won’t work here.

·         Wooden spoon (wet so it won’t stick to the butter) and a bowl.

·         Salt to taste (optional)

 If you are blessed to have the ability to buy quarts of cream from your local dairy, you can start there, or simply skim the cream off the top of your milk with a ladle or a turkey baster and  allow it to sit on the counter for about 8 hours, or overnight. Depending on how warm your house is you may need more time or less. Keep an eye on it. Whenever it smells sour you can go ahead and begin with the next step.

Now you can form your butter in any number of ways. If you have a traditional churn, that would work, or a stand mixer, or hand mixer, even a blender. I personally prefer to just shake a jar by hand. Make sure your container, whatever you choose, isn’t too full. That’s key. You’re cream has to have plenty of room to slop around in order for the butter to form. Then just start shaking, whipping or whirling away. When it’s done, you won’t have any trouble knowing it. There will be globs of yellow butter floating around in your white buttermilk.

At this point you will need to strain your buttermilk into a jar. Use a canning funnel for this. It makes the job a heck of a lot easier, trust me! Now you’ll be left with a strainer full of butter. It will look something like this:

I just got this strainer in the kitchen section of Walmart. It’s not fancy but it does the job.

Now  you can just run this butter under cold water from the kitchen faucet. Alternately you could put it back in your blender or stand mixer with cold water and turn it back on. Repeat this rinsing several times until the water runs pretty clear. I usually put mine in a bowl here and press out as much water and buttermilk as possible and rinse as needed.

Once it’s running clear or pretty near to it you can optionally salt it, or just press it into bowls, or just slap lumps of it onto plastic wrap to store in the fridge or freezer. That’s it! Pretty easy, right?
Give it a try! Then let me know how it turns out!
source: Cure Tooth Decay, Ramiel Nagel
source: Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig PhD

Monday, February 4, 2013

There and Back Again -- a Tale of Decision

I come from a family of 12. Yes, I am the second of 10 children. And I always swore I would not have an enormous family! But, by today's standards, and the comments I get at the grocery store, my family is already enormous with 4 kids. Sooo, we've decided to add another bundle of JOY. That's right, we'll be adding a new member to our family in October. It was a weighty and somewhat difficult decision for us to make, but we're excited about it. Want to know why? Read on.
When my youngest son was imminently expected, I was ginormous and miserable! There's a picture of what I looked like. I promise, that is NOT a basketball under my shirt; it is a 8 lb. 9 oz. baby boy.

 We had been transferred with the Railroader's job and were living in a tiny apartment, that felt hopelessly cramped with our too-big furniture and half our stuff was in a storage unit. And even though I had already done this twice, I felt completely overwhelmed! COMPLETELY! I was scared out of my mind about money for some reason, despite the moving package we get. I just knew we weren't going to have enough to move and our house in MS would never sell and we would be pinching nickles and pennies. I spent a lot of time crying, but I can't honestly say I was crying out to God most of the time; I was just in tears -- emotional and hormonal, and stressed about not getting enough homeschool done, and how I was going to contribute financially from home.

I felt like a "bad mother". Especially after Wyatt was born, and I had PPD for the first time, and came THIS CLOSE to giving up on breast feeding for the first time ever. I desperately wanted to be a good mother. A "super mom" who has it all together and never has an off day or loses it with her kids.  ( I have since realized that those don't exist this side of heaven. And really, would I be any less emotionally thin with no kids, or even one, without leaning on my God?)

On top of that, I was tired of feeling fat, tired of the cycle and the zillions of different sizes of clothing in my closet that I didn't even like hated -- all so that I could go from preggo clothes to non-preggo, back to my "skinny" jeans and then back again.

And in that state, that emotional, spirit empty, worried, frazzled state, I made a decision. A big decision: I would not have any more children.

The Railroader and I have stood by that decision for 3 1/2 years, but in those years, the Lord has been doing a work in our hearts. Individually, then together.

I began to think about and hear more and more stories of extremely difficult pregnancies, with terrible morning sickness, dehydration, placenta previa, extreme weight loss, and other miseries, while the most difficult thing about any of mine has probably been the heartburn. I have friends who want babies with all their hearts, but aren't able to conceive, or had extreme difficulty conceiving, while here I am, evidently "Ms. Fertile", and not willing to conceive again. I've shared before that I'm motivated by guilt ... well ...

Then there's the command to multiply and fill the earth in Genesis.  We've both been mulling this over quite a bit, since we learned that our race literally cannot sustain itself at the current rate of birth. If every person were to get married and have two children, who were guaranteed to get married and also have two children ... the population would just barely stagnate. But not all couples CAN have two children, or even one! Some people God chooses to remain single. The command to fill the earth is given to married couples. Now, we could really say we've done our part; We have 4! And we were inclined to do so, at first, but it just kept coming back to us as something we couldn't ignore. As if God were imploring us, specifically, to do more. And we began to wonder if it was really our decision to make. And so began to bathe it in prayer. Please don't misunderstand me. I still believe in responsibility and timing children appropriately, but I think sometimes we get caught up in US and WE and our PLANS or what is exactly the right time and we miss the bigger picture. We miss the calling that is parenthood, sometimes until it is too late. And we get caught up in the work children make for us, or how they interfere with our work, when really, they are our most important work!

We also hope and pray that another baby will be good for Wyatt. He is our only mama's boy. He is attached to me at the hip,and while I love it, even thrive on it, I think he might need a wake up call. He needs to learn to help take care of someone more helpless than himself. Besides, some of the other boys have been asking for quite some time for another baby. You know, the Lord often speaks to use through our children.

Lastly, we simply enjoy our kids. They're fun, and funny, and sweet, and precious memory makers. They cause us to get outside of ourselves, and teach us daily more about ourselves, and the love of the Father. In particular we are enjoying our 3 year old in a way I think we have never had the opportunity to enjoy the others, because there is no baby to distract us from him, but our enjoyment of him makes us desire another. So we decided to go for it. In fact, this is the first time the Railroader has been really, truly excited about a pregnancy. I think he actually may have gotten a case of baby fever (which is curious, since he doesn't do that well with them until they're old enough to interact with him) That gives me confidence that we made the right decision. And if this one is a girl, so much the better! :D