From The Kitchen 

While the restaurant is still closed, the chefs are working on other projects. First, the wonderful selection of soups, bakes and “ready meals” from the Kitchen Shop. When you can’t eat out, and don’t want to cook, the best thing is to subcontract your dinner to some high quality chefs. The restaurant’s (alarmingly good) boil-in-the bag meals require no preparation and leave no mess: not even one pan to clean.

While Wild Goose remains closed, The Kitchen will temporarily be hosting a pop-up patisserie for sweet treats. A morning bun, a cake, a biscuit with your coffee. Something to look forward to: an innocent treat to raise a smile.

While local dairies can’t sell all their cream, The Kitchen will be making (and selling) butter and buttermilk. Making butter used to be an event as regular as hoovering and dusting. In the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “little house” books (Little House in the Big Woods) (1) we see the routine through a child’s eyes. 

“Ma used to say:

Wash on Monday,

Iron on Tuesday,

Mend on Wednesday,

Churn on Thursday,

Clean on Friday,

Bake on Saturday,

Rest on Sunday.

Laura liked the churning and the baking days best of all the week.”

Laura’s Ma may have churned on Thursdays, but we might take this as a minimal allowance. Della Lutes, recalling her childhood of a similar era says

“Mother churned three times a week” (2)

Laura, however, describes her Ma making butter in some detail.

“In winter the cream was not yellow as it was in summer, and butter churned from it was white and not so pretty. Ma liked everything on her table to be pretty, so in the wintertime she colored the butter … she washed and scraped a long orange-colored carrot. Then she grated it … She put this in a little pan of milk on the stove and when the milk was hot she poured milk and carrot into a cloth bag. Then she squeezed the bright yellow milk into the churn, where it colored all the cream. Now the butter would be yellow. Laura and Mary were allowed to eat the carrot after the milk had been squeezed out … She churned for a long time. … When Ma took off the churn-cover, there was the butter in a golden lump, drowning in the buttermilk.”

At the end of the process, after washing, salting and moulding the butter, “Ma gave them each a drink of good, fresh buttermilk.”

Buttermilk

Buttermilk is the liquid left over when cream has been churned into butter. It’s low in fat (which has gone into the butter), and high in protein. When the butter is made with “sweet” cream (think of the taste of a pot of double cream) the buttermilk is also sweet, a refreshing and nourishing drink.

During Prohibition in the USA, the Salvation Army opened “dry saloons” (also known as “buttermilk bars”) which served “… everything in the way of drinks except alcoholic ones … nothing but coffee and buttermilk and ginger ale, and the sisters, cousins, and aunts of these beverages.” (3)

Della Lutes’ father was fond of buttermilk, but even churning three times a week didn’t always produce enough, and other drinks had to be made: On summer days when there was no fresh buttermilk, my mother would make switchel. This was concocted by taking the coldest water that could be drawn [from the well] and adding a certain amount of vinegar, sugar (or molasses) and ginger to taste. This was put into a brown stone jug, corked and carried to my father and any helpers he might have in the hayfield.

Della is not complimentary about this, saying that “according to her memory” it tasted rather like throat-wash. When butter is made with “cultured” cream (think of the taste of crème fraîche) then the buttermilk is slightly acid and tangy. You can still drink it, but it becomes particularly useful in cooking. The acid reacts with baking soda to provide lift and rise to thick fluffy pancakes and soda bread, and the action of churning releases emulsifiers that give a rich and tender crumb to baked goods.
“Cultured” butters are historically found in rich dairying areas (such as northern Europe and Scandinavia) and are the result of naturally occurring bacteria growing under the right conditions of time and temperature (similar to the way naturally-occurring yeasts form sourdough cultures).

Murray’s General Store regularly stocks the French cultured butter Lescure and, occasionally, what many consider to be the Rolls Royce of modern artisan butter Ampersand, made to a formula derived from pre-industrial Scandinavia where cream was aged in wooden casks throughout the winter.
What you can buy in the supermarket as “buttermilk” has, in fact, never seen the inside of
a churn. Rather, it is made like yoghurt or kefir, with thickeners and lactobacillus cultures added to skimmed milk. And it’s sold in containers so small, you can be sure no-one expects you to quench your thirst with it.

Dark Glass
Of course for us, for now, it’s not alcohol that’s banned, but the very saloons. Here’s a Brexit-safe suggestion to cheer us forward to the time when we can socialise again. Black Velvet, traditionally made from equal parts of Champagne and Guinness, was invented in 1861 at the death of Prince Albert when a bartender in Brook’s Club thought that “even the champagne should be in mourning”. James Bond drank it by the pint (4), and Fergus Henderson claims a tankard of Black Velvet to be the perfect Birthday Breakfast Drink (alongside the Perfect Birthday Breakfast of devilled kidneys on toast).(5)

With English sparkling wines regularly outshining Champagne in competitions, there are many Kentish options readily to hand (Chapel Down, Biddenden, Gusbourne … choose from the selection at Press Wine Services). And happily Docker Brewery have just released a winter-drinking oatmeal Stout made with Hythe Hops (called Dark Matter) . So we can proceed in a properly local fashion. I don’t have a January birthday and a pint is rather a lot of anything to drink, but a Dark Glass in the evening feels about right, right now. Pour both the wine and stout into separate jugs (this mitigates the risk of bubble explosion in the glass – both wine and stout are notoriously effervescent) then gently pour equal quantities into a champagne flute so they mix: an elegant and invigorating welcome to 2021.

References 

  1. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, 1932 (Laura grew up in Wisconsin) 2. Della T Lutes, The Country Kitchen, 1938 (Della grew up in South Michigan) 3. New York Times, June 8, 1919 4. ”I’ll buy you lunch. It’s my turn and I feel like celebrating. No more paperwork this summer. I’ll take you to Scotts’ and we’ll have some of their dressed crab and a pint of black velvet” Ian Fleming, Diamonds are Forever, 1956 5. Fergus Henderson, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, 1999