Today, we have freezers and refrigerators for storing homemade butter long-term. How did the folks of long ago manage before the invention of electricity?
And ice house was one option. A root cellar was another. Ice=cool temps, but a root cellar? How would that work? And for us today, the question is ‘how would that work in a cool room?’
My friend, I’m super excited to share this method with you! I love how one thing opens doorways to another. And some claim this method keeps butter even better than the freezer does. But first, be sure to check out how to make butter, cause these experiments have taken place with home-churned butter from raw milk only.
Y’see, I wanted a butter crock for my cool room (cause I go crazy over trying safe, old-fashioned methods of preservation) and I discovered the butter crock (not affiliated), used by the French ever so long ago. These are lovely pieces of art with a water sealant. I’d love to have one some day, but I discovered this was not necessarily for root cellar preservation, but rather would enable me to have fresh, spreadable butter on hand. And there were things to be aware of: breadcrumbs in the butter would lead to mold and for the longest shelf life, water ought to have salt added to it.
Charming to look at, I left it behind and delved into old farmer’s journals, which were publications put out to enlighten farmers on the best methods for producing a high quality product.
And I found it. Here, among the old journals were directions for safely store fresh butter without refrigeration. The key? Submerging the butter in a strong salt brine and keeping the brine cool.
The oldest publications I could find recommended that butter be rolled into 1/2 lb bricks, wrapped in clean cloth that had been pre-soaked in a 15% salt brine. Upon wrapping, they were to be submerged in a barrel full of the above brine. The lid would then be put in place and the entire barrel hauled to market. Claims were made that this butter would taste fresh for 9mo-1 year.
Publications from the 1950’s followed the exact procedure with the exception that butter ought to be wrapped in wax paper and then submerged in a crock with a lid to avoid evaporation.
Today, we fill a crock or even a canning jar with butter. Either of these methods will keep well in a refrigerator.
- Allow butter to soften after washing or buying.
- Using the back of a spoon, pack into jars, going no larger than a pint (unless massive amounts of butter will be used).
- Fill out any air bubbles seen between the butter and glass wall.
- Make certain to leave at least 2 inches of head space.
- Smooth off butter and make a brine of salt and water.
- Weigh water being used and add 15% of weight in salt.
- Pour over butter and fill to the brim. Carefully place lid on jar (not metal-salt will corrode it) and tighten.
- Check often to make certain brine doesn’t evaporate and leave butter exposed to air.
- Move to the cool room and remove one jar at a time for use.
- To use, leave brine in container and move to fridge. Cut butter into pie-shaped wedges that can be dis-lodged from brine as needed.
- Keep butter (other than wedge being used) submerged in brine even in if refrigerating.
- Make a brine of 15% salt weight to water weight.
- Shaped butter into balls, rectangles or cylinders and then places in a large jar or crock that already has a bit of brine added (so the butter won’t rub off on the sides of glass).
- Fill jar in an orderly way, leaving butter 2-3 inches below the rim of container.
- Add brine and submerge butter with a weight.
- To use, remove one brick of butter with a clean utensil, making certain liquid keeps butter covered.
- Check to make certain brine doesn’t evaporate and leave butter exposed.
That’s it! Pretty amazing, hey? Salt. So much was preserved with it and here again, we see salt coming into the preserving picture. Love it!
And as I use so much salt, I also prefer to buy it in bulk…like 25 lbs at a time! Of course, as always, be certain to use sea or Himalayan salts. Avoid iodized or table salt, anything with anti-caking agents. Go for the good, pure stuff!