Homestead | making butter the old way | Norway

For the old Norwegians, making butter was simply a way of preserving the fresh summer milk - turning it into a type of food that could be stored.
This beautiful painting - "Woman churning butter" - was painted by the Norwegian artist Gustav Wenzel in 1920. The location is the farm Hunn i Lia, Lom, Oppland. The painting will be found in the new National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, opening its doors in the middle of the capital Oslo in 2020. | Nasjonalgalleriet - public domain.
This beautiful painting - "Woman churning butter" - was painted by the Norwegian artist Gustav Wenzel in 1920. The location is the farm Hunn i Lia, Lom, Oppland, Norway. | Nasjonalgalleriet - public domain.

Pronunciation

Butter = Smør

Food preservation

The short and intense summer was all about food production – and food preservation. What we see as delicious foods today – cheese, butter, flatbread, smoked fish and so much more – are in fact all nothing but ways to preserve food.

Preparing the milk

The Norwegians primarily made butter from milk coming from the domesticated cow – preferably soured milk. After milking, the milkmaid sifted the fresh milk through a simple wooden sieve to remove any unwanted content. She covered the sieve with a filter made from hair coming from the cow’s tail. She then stored the milk in a wooden container in a cool place. After a while, the cream – being the fattest and the least dense part of the milk – separated and floated to the top. The sourer the cream, the easier it was to scoop up from the wooden container. Only the cream was used in the butter-making process. To make 1 kilo of butter, you had to start out with around 30 litres of whole or full-fat milk.

A wooden container used for storing milk. The cream is less dense than the rest of the milk, and would float to the top of the container. From before 1927 and originates from Hemsedal, Buskerud, Norway. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harrriss Norsk Folkemuseum - digitaltmuaum.no - cc by-sa.

A wooden container used for storing milk. The cream is less dense than the rest of the milk, and would float to the top of the container. From before 1927 and originates from Hemsedal, Buskerud, Norway. | Photo: Haakon Michael Harrriss Norsk Folkemuseum – digitaltmuaum.no – cc by-sa.The milkmaid left the milk and cream to naturally sour for a week or more.

The churning

When there was enough cream, the milkmaid poured it into a thoroughly cleaned butter churn and started pulling and pushing the plunger up and down in rhythmic movements. The process could take an hour or more and was hard work. When doing it correctly, there should be a rumbling sound. It had to be done just right: not too fast, and not too slow. Otherwise, the cream would not turn into butter. With the constant movements, yellowish lumps started to emerge. At the end of the process, the churn would contain two elements: butter and buttermilk. The butter was scooped up and put into a wooden bowl. The Norwegians used the buttermilk as a drink – often mixed with water – or as an ingredient in porridge, soups, bread and so on.

Old butter churn dated 1850. The wooden stick used to make the butter is called a plunger. From Finnmark, Norway. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfelt Norsk Folkemuseum - digitaltmuseum.no NFSA.0140AB - cc by-sa.

Old butter churn dated 1850. The wooden stick used to make the butter is called a plunger. From Finnmark, Norway. | Photo: Anne-Lise Reinsfelt Norsk Folkemuseum – digitaltmuseum.no NFSA.0140AB – cc by-sa.

Removing all traces of buttermilk

The next step in the process was to knead and wash the butter thoroughly in a wooden bowl – using clean water – making sure that there were no traces of buttermilk left. This was very important, as the buttermilk would make the finished product go bad.

Adding salt

Now, the milkmaid added salt. The salt acted as a preservative. The more salt, the longer the butter stayed edible. 50-60 gram per 1 kilo butter is necessary for butter meant for storage. Otherwise as little as half that amount.

Storage

The last part of the operation was to put the finished product into wooden storage containers. Again, the milkmaid washed them thoroughly – and rubbed plenty of salt into the inside surfaces. She had to pack the butter firmly into each container with her hand, making sure that there were no bubbles of air inside. This was to avoid any room for the wrong sort of bacteria.

Means of payment

In earlier times, people used butter as a means of payment – or for barter. Old Norwegian records often list a certain amount of butter as the appropriate payment for taxes to the crown.

The below video comes from the vaults of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation – the NRK. Sadly, the audio is in Norwegian only, with no subtitles, but the visuals and our text above will help guide you through an interesting story. Used by permission – all rights reserved.

 

Did you see this one?
The Norwegian horse and its history – part 1

Main sources: «Gammel norsk bondekost» – Ingrid Andersen 1965. | «Husmorboken» – J.W.Cappelens Forlag 1938.

Our most recent posts
The Kingdom of Norway
In 1836, milkmaid Kari Moen from the community of Sauherad in Telemark, Norway, was attacked by a bear. She almost lost her life that day.
The majestic Norwegian mountains can be treacherous - and they steal human lives every year. Study the Norwegian mountain code - and be prepared for your next journey.
Per O. Rød wrote the history of the Stornæve farm and its inhabitants back in 1968. Decades earlier, several children of Stornæve had emigrated to the US.
Carl Fredrik Sundt-Hansen created this fascinating oil painting in 1904. It is like a window leading into the house of history. If only we could climb through.
On an island in the Arctic Ocean, deep inside a permafrost mountain, we find a treasure trove of food-plant seeds: the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
Magne Løvstuen and his family adopted this moose calf after saving it from drowning in Lake Mjøsa.
In Scandinavia, agriculture first appeared in the Stone age – around 2400 BC. The early farmers cleared their land by using simple tools and fire.
Norway’s full independence came in AD 1905, and was the culmination of a process that had lasted for several decades.
In this video-collection of historical photos, we reminisce about the dairy cow on the old Norwegian farm. We recommend that you watch with the sound on. Enjoy!
In this post, we take a look at the layout of the Norwegian farm and its surroundings - and how the land and its resources were utilised.
With a growing population and public sector, Norway pushed through significant reforms in several areas: public structure and organisation, welfare, health care, tax, policing, public services, and more.
As a first such an event in modern times: the Norwegian counties Sør-Trøndelag and Nord-Trøndelag have now merged.
The old Norwegian farm needed hundreds of litres of water every single day: for food-making, cleaning, and human and animal consumption.
After the Black Death, it took the Norwegian communities centuries to recover. And soon, the country would also lose its independence.
For more than a thousand years, Norwegian farmers sent their livestock to feed in the forests and the mountains. Today, this way of life has almost disappeared.
When I was a boy, it was the workhorse that pulled the heaviest weight in agricultural life. And this had been the reality for as long as anyone could remember.
The rose painted chests of Norway - a treasure that will live for centuries to come.
To make sure he could tide the animals over the long and cold winter, the historical Norwegian farmer utilised all available resources.
The most significant sections of Norwegian productive soil can be found in the counties of Trøndelag, Hedmark, Oppland and Rogaland.
Queen Maud of Norway was born in London in 1869, as Princess Maud of Wales. Her grandmother was none other than the formidable Queen Victoria.
The wild ocean world of Værøy in Lofoten, Norway, was the birthplace of Mimmi Benjaminsen – born in 1894. Here are some of her childhood memories.

Follow us on social media