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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Living Off the Fat of the Land

We've been getting a home milk delivery now for over three months.  A week of two into pasteurizing ten liters a week with a boiling water bath convinced me to order a home pasteurizer.  Didn't know those existed?  Neither did I.

Pasteruizing used to mean hauling out my 21-quart pressure canning pot, filling it with water, hefting it on top of my commercial grade hot plate (evidently easy-back flat tops can't handle large pots full of boiling water), cranking in on, waiting several hours, carefully lowering a pot full of milk into the boiling water, balancing one of the pot handles on a wooden spoon (once that didn't work out so well and I lost a whole batch into the boiling water), watching the temperature, setting a timer for those pesky thirty minutes while maintaining the milk at 145 degrees, carefully lifting a very hot pot of milk out of hotter water, putting it into an ice bath in the sink, waiting for it to cool down, and finally straining it (milk skins are nasty) into bottles.

Now I just pour the milk into my two-gallon milk pail straight from the milk lady's 5-litre bottle, put it in the pasteurizer, fill the pasteurizer with hot water, turn it on, and go on my merry way.  About half an hour later it buzzes loud enough that my neighbors know it's milk day.  Then I uncork the outlet hose, hook up the inlet hose to my faucet, and let cold tap water run through until the milk has cooled down.  Then I sit it in the refrigerator until the next day before pouring the milk into bottles.

I used to skip the refrigeration and pour the milk straight into bottles.  Then I could re-use the pail for the next batch of milk and get it all done before lunch.  Then one day I ran out of cream.  Everyone has staple ingredients they keep in their kitchen, those things that get used so constantly you don't even write them down on the grocery list anymore.  I always have several pounds of butter in the freezer, a couple of containers of sour cream in the refrigerator door, and a box of cream.  Because, milk fat.  You just can't turn out a decent meal without it.

The day I ran out of cream was a friend's birthday.  I had searched through my cookbooks for recipes that 1. didn't need frosting (that means waiting for the cake to cool down) 2. could be made in two hours or less (birthday cakes aren't nearly as nice the day after your birthday), and 3. used ingredients already in the house.  I had enough time to make a cake, but not enough make a cake and run to the store for ingredients.

I settled for an apple-walnut tart and got to work.  Halfway through the crust and a quarter of the way through the filling, I reached for cream that went into both.  It wasn't there.  At this point I was already committed.  Maybe I could just substitute milk?  We did have whole milk after all.  Close enough?  I pulled out one of my recently-pasteurized bottles of milk and noticed the usual half inch of cream floating on the surface.  So I started skimming and pretty quickly collected more than the half cup I needed for my recipe.  I felt very clever and finished the tart before my friend's birthday was over.

The next week, instead of pouring the newly pasteurized milk into bottles, I let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.  In the morning I pulled off the top, ladle in hand, ready to skim.  Within a few minutes I had over two cups of cream.  Who knew there was so much cream in two gallons of milk?

I collected more cream from the next batch of milk and pretty soon I had two Mason jars sitting in the refrigerator, just waiting for me to do whatever I wanted with it.  And the best part was that it was free - I had already paid for the milk, which was already cheaper than any other milk I can buy in Dushanbe.  With the value of the cream added in, I was getting two dollars' worth of cream and milk for just sixty-seven cents, delivered.

Now that I had a weekly delivery of half a gallon of cream I had to figure out what to do with that cream.  First I made yogurt and added half a cup of cream to the quart I was making.  I really like the yogurt here, which is labeled by the milk fat percentage.  Unfortunately the higher the milk fat content, the more expensive the yogurt.  But now I had a constantly replenishing supply of cream.  No more low fat yogurt for me!

Then I made sour cream.  Why not, when you have cream just sitting around, waiting to be used before it goes bad?  Next was tomato cream soup.  I felt very homemaker-y when I used a jar of home-canned tomatoes with my home-pasteurized cream.  Then came crepes for Saturday morning breakfast - with whipped cream, of course.

The week before I went to my brother's wedding was busy so the cream just piled up in the refrigerator unused.  I knew that Brandon wouldn't be up to making yogurt and sour cream while trying to keep the children fed and his job done, so I had to do something with all of the cream sitting in my refrigerator.

So I made butter.  I cultured the butter (with my home-cultured buttermilk, of course) the night before and after the children were in bed I pulled out my Bosch.  I had read various methods for making butter online, and decided to stick with the simplest - pour cream into mixer, turn it on, and wait until butter magically appeared.  I had read that the fat content would affect the butter, and some people complained about light cream never turning into butter.  I had been greedy skimming my cream and occasionally got a little milk into the ladle along with the cream.  Would this be a problem?  There was only one way to find out.  If it didn't happen, that was a lot of slightly sour cream to pour down the drain.

So, nervous and excited about my newest adventure in food production, I poured in the cream, plugged in the mixer, and turned it on.  After thirty seconds, nothing had happened.  Would it work?  It didn't even look like whipped cream.  I turned the mixer back on for another thirty seconds.  Still nothing.  I turned it on and forced myself to clean up the kitchen from all of the other projects I had been working on.  I puttered around, putting things back in their places.  While I was in my storage room putting away canning jars, the sound of the mixer changed.  I rushed back in and turned it off.  And there, clinging to the whips in glistening golden lumps, was butter.  My very own homemade butter, made from the cream that I had skimmed from the milk I had pasteurized.  I did a little dance around the kitchen and told the air that I was awesome.  Never mind that butter is made by people all around the world every single day.  Never mind that butter has been made for millennia.  This was the first time I made butter.  From cream I skimmed myself.  I've been making bread for years and started making cheese a few months ago.  And now I've made butter.

I think I've probably reached the arc of homemaking extremism that is really possible while living in a foreign country in government leased housing.  We talked about getting a goat before being assigned a house with about six square feet of grass, but I think home dairying is going to have to wait for an African post.  But until then, I've got yogurt and buttermilk and sour cream and ice cream and butter.  Hello, milk fat.


PaulaJean said...

When I was a kid, butter-making was my job. Since we lacked a Bosch, we had a gallonj-jar with a paddle thing that had to be turned by hand. I would sit on the counter, turn the paddle and read a book while the cream worked its magic.

Nomads By Nature said...

Totally cool! My mom has an old hand crack paddle butter maker and we pull it out for special occasions - lots of fun. Just like the hand crank ice cream maker we kids would all have to take turns on to get the job done. Besides, there is just something more awesome about the taste of home made things that you worked hard on - best treats ever! Your family will be super spoiled from now on!

Just US said...

I need to live closer to you! Dairy products are totally non-existent here.