Butter made before our eyes

Raymond and I were lucky enough to see homemade butter being made at the Hunt dairy farm near Tweed – and no, it didn't look like this!

Raymond and I were lucky enough to see homemade butter being made at the Hunt dairy farm near Tweed – and no, the process didn’t look like this!

Before we get too far removed from the things Raymond and I did when we were at the Manse in Queensborough for what (for us) was an extended period – five whole days! – over Christmas, I wanted to tell you about a really nice part of a pre-Christmas morning we spent in the kitchen of Gary and Dorothy Hunt’s farmhouse.

We were at the Hunt farm south of Tweed to pick up a turkey for Christmas dinner. We’d got our Thanksgiving turkey from Dorothy – I had been determined to get a Hastings County-raised bird for our first Thanksgiving since becoming the owners of the Manse – and it turned out to be the tastiest turkey we had ever eaten. So naturally when it was decided that Raymond and I would host Christmas Dinner for my family at the Manse, I called up Dorothy again.

Gary and Dorothy and their son Tim run a big dairy operation. Once upon a time – in the era when I was growing up in the Manse in the 1960s and ’70s – it was one of many dairy operations in the region, but there are hardly any anymore. Gary told us that when they started milking in 1975 there were 35 dairy farms in their township; now theirs is the only one.

When we arrived to a warm welcome from Gary and Dorothy on the morning appointed for our turkey pickup, they were in the midst of making butter. Their dairy operation had produced more cream than called for in their quota with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario (formerly called the Ontario Milk Marketing Board), and apparently if you send more than your quota you have to pay! So instead the Hunts were doing the sensible thing and turning this fine cream from their farm into butter.

Now, I’d always imagined butter-making to be a long and arduous process, and the image in my head was like the one at the top of this post – hand-churning the cream for lord knows how long. But Dorothy and Gary – who were kind enough to invite us to come watch the process – showed us how modern technology has made it much easier. Basically they put the cream into a food processor equipped with an emulsifier fitting, turned it on, and in just a few minutes what emerged (aside from buttermilk) was butter! Which Dorothy then took and handled with a wooden spoon to bring it to just the right consistency, meawhile adding a bit of salt. (I should have taken photos of the process, but as someone who’s camera-shy myself I always feel awkward about asking others. Much as I love to have the photos, I find taking them a little intrusive.)

Anyway, when they were done they presented us with the gift of a pound of their own excellent fresh-from-the farm butter, and how nice is that? It was a great part of our Christmas dinner. (As, I must add, was another excellent turkey!)

And if the just-made butter weren’t enough, the Hunts also sent us home with a pint of their delicious homemade ice cream. Everybody of course loves ice cream, but Raymond really loves ice cream, so you can imagine how pleased he was about that.

What a pleasant interlude it was, spending half an hour in the Hunts’ warm and cozy kitchen, learning a little about them and about dairy farming in Hastings County over the years, and especially watching as an age-old kitchen art – slightly updated with modern technology – was demonstrated right before our eyes. And then getting a sample of the product to take home, a Christmas gift from some really nice people.

It was a moment that only reinforced my growing feeling that buying the Manse and establishing a foothold in beautiful, largely undiscovered central Hastings County is easily one of the best things I have ever done.

6 thoughts on “Butter made before our eyes

  1. One of my only regrets about this wonderful era through which I am living is to have been present at the demise of dairying in Hastings. To add further to your reference to the decline of dairy farms; in 1966 there were just over 100 farmers sending milk to Eldorado factory in Madoc Twp. There now remain only two. Perhaps I should write “An Ode to the Old Dairy Farmer.”
    The Farmer will never be happy again,
    He carries his heart in his boots.
    For either the rain is destroying his grain,
    Or the drought is destroying his roots.

    • That is an incredible statistic, Grant: from 100 dairy farms to two. It’s really sad that people can’t make their living that way any more – at least, I assume it’s more “can’t” than “don’t want to.” It is the end of a way of life, isn’t it? Could it ever come back?

      And yes, you should write about it, whether in ode form or not; you would be an incredibly articulate speaker for what the dairying industry was like in its heyday – and what happened to it.

  2. I grew up just up the road from the Hunts, I now live north of Madoc. My wife, daughter and I do the same. we are proud that we grow or produse all our own food its a great way of living

    • Hi Shane! That is an amazing thing to be able to say: that you and your family grow or produce all your own food. I am pretty much in awe of that – something to aim for! I hope I’m not giving away any secrets to other readers when I say that I looked up your website and am very interested to see that you have a portable sawmill. My late father (yes, the United Church minister) bought a sawmill late(ish) in life and had a great time sawing lumber from his farm up in Haliburton. I hope business is good!

  3. Hi Katherine: More memories. I recalled (early 70’s) a lap dog phase when i was enamoured of a comely country wench in Lanark County who wisely took advantage of my lovestruck state by having me churn butter for 2 hours. Alas that was the only churning. My efforts produced no benefits though we are still friends and she is still (though somewhat older) a love child and lives on a sail boat off Vanc Isle. Digressions aside I have a Manse warming gift for you. Three old glass lampshades (Milk opaque) and (drum roll) an unopened box of DUZ from an E Townships auction in the 60’s. Please send me an e mail so I can fwd pics.

    • Oh my lord, Gordon, that is – well, I am speechless. So kind of you – and so funny that you should have a box of Duz! Email address coming by – well, email. Meanwhile, I have to tell you that your tale of unrequited love (lust?) for the Lanark County wench makes me think you should have a blog of your own, your memoirs – with photos!

      Thank you again. Lovely lovely lovely.

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