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Treasure In My Basement

A little wooden churn that I inherited has a story to tell. It has seen many gallons of cream and produced many pounds of butter over the years at the hand of the cranker. It has been instrumental in providing butter for a family of five and then passed on to the next generation of a family of nine. This wooden churning machine is over 100 years old and is now retired.

The churn belonged to the Danielson family who lived on the homestead on the Prairies south of Tisdale, Saskatchewan. The farm has now been in the Danielson name for 101 years and the butter churn endured and kept on doing its job through good times and bad.

The cows were milked by hand and the milk brought into the house in galvanized pails. The milk was then separated from the cream in a cream separator. Another chore to do, never mind all the washing of the separator, and I believe it had at least 25 disks. It all had to be cleaned for the separating the next morning as it would go sour if not cleaned.

The milk and cream were stored in glass containers and placed in a pail with a rope on the handle, and lowered into the well to keep cool in the milder weather. No fridges, no electricity then. When there was enough cream, what was needed for everyday use was churned, and the excess was stored in a cream can and shipped to the Tisdale Creamery. We always churned our own butter. Maybe it was good exercise for our arms and a test in learning patience! Mother used the small cheques she got for selling cream and saved it up for little extras at Christmas.

The wooden churn was filled with cream about half-full. If it was too full the cream would come frothing out the top of the lid. Then the churning began and we often took turns. We had to take care not to pull the handle out and disengage it from the wooden paddles inside the churn. Finally, after cranking the handle for at least a half-hour or more, the cream became thicker and the sound of the paddles changed and the crank became heavier to turn. Butter at last!

Mother removed the butter from the churn and placed it in a large wooden bowl. The excess buttermilk was worked out of the butter with wooden paddles, and the butter was salted and printed in a wooden printer in one-lb. blocks, wrapped in waxed paper and stored in the cellar.

Now, when I rock my grandchildren to sleep I think of the chide of the churn, and when they finally nod off I smile to myself and think, “Butter at last!”

– Jeanette Danielson writes from Winnipeg

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