Sometimes I think I know how things will turn out – and then I am surprised when they don’t turn out that way at all. I remember the first time I decided to try making my own butter. An older friend had told me a wonderful story from her own child-rearing past and I was utterly inspired. In the story, my friend made butter from their family cow’s cream by sealing it up in a jar with a marble to act as a simple agitator. She would slide the jar into her young son’s backpack and send him out to run up and down their hillside, jostling the backpack as much as he could. After a while, presto! – homemade butter. I listened with eager ears, eyeing my 3 year old son with great ambition. We could make butter together – what a wonderful way to learn! And plus, butter!
Things didn’t work out quite as I had planned. My little butter churn got bored quickly and decided the backpack was too heavy, took it off and fell over, lying still on the summer lawn. I shook the rest of the jar myself, and we both enjoyed the buttery reward. Afterwards, I used the leftover buttermilk for baking, and that was the end of the fun experiment.
When I picked up Diane St. Clair’s cookbook, The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook, the first recipe I turned to was at the beginning – Making Buttermilk (And Butter) from Heavy Cream – but this time we used our food processor, and the only work my little butter churn had to do was press the button. This was way too easy.
Once the gateways of easy access had opened, it was a buttermilk free-for-all in this kitchen. We made Farmer’s Breakfast Buttermilk Waffles, which were so light, fluffy and crispy that we are now forever spoiled for any other waffle. Another breakfast produced the sweet and tangy Buttermilk and Sour Cherry Coffee Cake, sweet and crumbly, studded with little puckering red cherry bursts. Oatmeal Muffins with Apple and Cinnamon made their way to school for snacks and into my purse to deliciously stave off desperate moments of hunger around town. Fluffy Biscuits fell apart into steaming buttery layers, and Pumpkin-Spice Buttermilk Cake rose high and proud over our dishes at dessert. While all of these recipes were fantastically good, they were expected to be so – the magic of buttermilk’s alchemy in baking has been known to us for some time.
And the same could be said for the collection of dressings we tried – Classic Buttermilk Ranch Dressing and Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dip or Dressing being our favorites. Their pages in the cookbook are already stained and dog-eared from repeated reference. Delicious, refreshing, and expected to be just as good as they sounded.
It was the dishes we made from the book that were not traditionally associated with buttermilk that really delighted us. The Buttermilk and Proscuitto Shirred Eggs were meltingly warm over the bread we greedily dipped into them, golden yolks dripping. The tangy Buttermilk Roasted Chicken was dreamy, with all of the crackling skin and tender flesh – the overnight marinade was so very worth the wait. Buttermilk Meat Loaf was another surprise, the extra moisture delivered a meatloaf that served up satisfaction, hot at the table or cold in sandwiches the next day.
I suppose it’s no surprise at all that our favorite recipe in the book should be the one that re-unites the butter and the buttermilk so simply and yet so well – Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes. I love it when everything turns out so perfectly.