A Dairy-ing We Will Go

Now that April is upon us at Locust Grove, we’re getting ready for all of our spring events and programming! This Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, Locust Grove is hosting our 18th-Century Thunder–a Revolutionary War Encampment! Join us from 10-4:30 each day to commemorate the 1778 arrival of George Rogers Clark’s troops to the area by meeting soldiers, learning about hearth cooking, touring the house, and enjoying the (hopefully) beautiful spring weather!

To celebrate spring, I’ve embarked upon a special project of my own. As regular readers are aware,  I, your friendly neighborhood blogger, love everything about Locust Grove’s dairy. As an intern, my project involved researching and interpreting our reconstructed dairy building, and since I’ve returned as staff, my interest has continued to grow. I realized, however, that I have a great deal of dairy-related knowledge, but no actual practical experience. So, this Friday, I took advantage of the first truly balmy spring day and did as any self-respecting dairymaid would do–I churned butter!

Churning butter is a relatively simple task, but one that requires a lot of preparation and patience. Spring is the perfect time to think about churning–dairy production was most likely higher in the south in the 18th and 19th centuries because of the temperate weather. Here is my own recipe for butter, gleaned from many sources, both historic and modern:


  • 8-16oz of heavy cream
  • Salt to taste
  • 1-2 cups of ice water
  • Dash churn, crank churn or large mason jar
All you need for delicious butter!

All you need for delicious butter!

Simple enough, right? I thought so too, and I was mostly right! In the interest of cleanliness, one of the most important factors in dairying, I turned our catering kitchen into my dairy, but I propped the door open so I could enjoy the beautiful weather and convince myself I was actually in our real dairy building. The most important ingredient, the cream, was obtained from a local organic food store–I wanted to be as authentic as possible as our wooden cow, Nancy, doesn’t need to be milked twice daily. If I was truly dairying in the 18th century, I would have had to wait a few days between churnings, even though I would be collecting a large volume of milk. After milking, the milk would be placed in pancheons, or setting dishes, so it could cool. As the milk cooled, the cream would rise to the top, be skimmed off, and stored separately. Several days worth of cream would have been gathered in order to have enough for churning. Butter was not a necessity, but rather a commodity that would be used by the household or sold to add to the household economy. Butter could also last up to about ten days if stored properly, so churning butter was not an urgent matter. Not urgent, that is, unless you’re a 21st century dairy aficionada who can’t wait to start churning!

I decided to try two methods of churning–one with a more traditional recipe of cream and a dash churn, and a second with a jar, cream, a pebble, and yogurt. The first method is relatively straightforward, but I was intrigued by the idea that I could mimic the cultured flavor of butter made from cream that had sat out for a few days by adding yogurt. The pebble in the jar was intended to act as an additional agitator for the jar, which lacks the dash of a traditional churn.

First, the dash churn. I used our tabletop churn for demonstrations after a thorough cleaning, added a pint of cream and churned away.

Just look at all that creamy goodness!

Just look at all that creamy goodness!


Although I had researched churning songs and rhymes (yes, these do exist!), at the suggestion of our executive director, Carol, I also indulged in a listen or two of “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, which I have dubbed a modern churning song.

Churning is a serious business.

Churning is a serious business.

After about 20 minutes of serious churning, my butter was starting to come together, and looked like this:


By the 30 minute mark, I had achieved butter!




My next step was to strain out the buttermilk, which I did using cheesecloth, although I could have also used a strainer.


After straining the buttermilk, I rinsed the ball of butter in cold water until the water ran clear, added salt, and then reshaped it into a ball so I could admire it!



Next, I gathered my supplies for my second method of butter-making.


I used honey-vanilla yogurt because 1) I had it on hand and 2) I wanted to slightly flavor the butter.



I added about a tablespoon of yogurt to the pint of cream, dropped the pebble into the jar, secured the lid, and began to shake. And shake and shake. Churning using this method took about 40 minutes, and was slightly less fun, even though it was more portable. The loss of the dash as an agitator did seem to slow the process a little, and I’m not sure the pebble helped.

Come on! Butter!

Come on! Butter!

40 minutes of good churning brought me this.

40 minutes of good churning brought me this.

After straining the buttermilk, and rinsing the butter, I had another beautiful ball of butter, with a very subtle flavor. Perhaps if I’d added more yogurt, the cultured flavor might be more defined, but all in all, I’m very pleased with my experiment. Not to mention, it made a delicious lunch!

Two balls of butter, and a loaf of bread=the perfect dairymaid lunch.

Two balls of butter, and a loaf of bread=the perfect dairymaid lunch.

I stored my butter in plastic containers, but in the Croghan era, it would have been even more heavily salted, placed in airtight crocks, and whisked away to the springhouse for cold storage. For now, my butter is in the Locust Grove refrigerator for taste-testing by staff and volunteers!

If you’re the type of person who enjoys learning about historical cooking, people, places and things, why not consider volunteering at Locust Grove? Or if you are a undergraduate or graduate student who thinks spending a summer getting practical museum experience sounds like the most fun ever, consider our summer internships! We’re looking for a curatorial intern, and a programming intern this summer to help grow the knowledge of Locust Grove! We’d love to have you!

Finally, thank you to all of those who have already taken the blog survey! If you’d still like to weigh in, you can find the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/W5X9CS3. Thank you and I hope to see you all at Encampment this weekend! Huzzah!

I remain, dairily yours,


Come, butter, come,
Come, butter, come,
Peter’s standing at the gate,
Waiting for a buttered cake,
Come, butter, come.

–Traditional Nursery Rhyme

P.S. For more butter information, check out these great links:





Nancy Cow and the Secrets of the Locust Grove Dairy


Nancy the Cow, the Official Sponsor of the Locust Grove Dairy

Hello delightful people! As I mentioned recently, the dairy is up and running! And by up and running, I mean that it is now furnished as an 18th century dairy should be. Huzzah! Today, I thought we’d take a look at  how the dairy functioned as part of the farm operations during the Croghan residence at Locust Grove, as well as some of the “stuff” that’s now on display. 102_4866 The dairy is generally referred to as an outbuilding, but could also be called a dependency, or a building designed to be separate from the main house while also serving the needs of the family. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the production of dairy products like cheese and butter was relatively low in the South, so the fact that the Croghans had a dairy signifies the wealth of their farm.  The sale of cheese and butter served an economic purpose with the surplus product sold to supplement household funds, recoup funds spend to invest in cattle,  and purchase other commodities. Therefore, having a dairy meant that the family would not only be able to enjoy delicious cheeses and butter but also benefit from the extra income. While dairying was a time consuming process, the household dairy industry itself was also somewhat flexible and could fit the existing schedule of household tasks without overshadowing the other demands on a woman’s time.

The dairy  at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The dairy at Locust Grove is near the well, which is handy for cleaning.

The most important thing to keep in mind in dairy maintenance was cleanliness. Dairies would usually be found near wells and spring houses, because water was needed for cleaning purposes. Because of the nature of work in the dairy, it was necessary to create a sterile environment for cheese and butter.The dairy was thoroughly cleaned at the beginning of spring, when cheese-making would generally begin, and then be cleaned out again in the fall. Charles Millington, the author of The Housekeeper’s Domestic Library; or New Universal Family Instructor, writes about cleaning dairy utensils and equipment: “‘They should be well-washed every day in warm water, and afterwards rinced in cold, and must be entirely cool before they are used. If, however, any kind of metal vessels are improperly retained in the dairy, they must be scalded every day, and well-scrubbed and scoured.’”Milk pans could be covered with cheesecloth to prevent bugs and dirt from dropping into the milk. Mr. Millington may know a lot about cleaning a dairy, but dairying was primarily woman’s work. In fact, the word “dairy” descends from the Middle English word “deierie”, meaning a place of female work. Due to sanitary concerns, milk was usually stored separately from wherever milking occurred. At the time when the Croghans were settling in Kentucky, milk would have been taken from the barns after milking to the springhouse or dairy to cool. Milk buckets are wider on the bottom so it’s harder to overturn them.


Mrs. O’Leary’s cow may be a myth, but let’s take precaution to prevent spilled milk just the same!

John Croghan’s 1849 probate inventory lists 12 cows, all of which would generally be milked twice a day. That’s a lot of milk, so dairy production, particularly in the summer, was likely very high. Because of the size of the Croghan family, as well as the size of their slave population, the dairy at Locust Grove probably was an operation on the medium size, producing cheese and butter for approximately 50 people plus any guests. Just as milk these days  has to be pasteurized and homogenized and a bunch of other things before it makes its way to our cereal bowls, milk in the 18th and 19th centuries had to be processed before it was used. And that’s where this beautiful pancheon comes in. 102_4853   Pancheons, or setting dishes, were used to cool milk and set cream. The steps for processing milk looked something like this:

  1. Milk cows!
  2. Strain the fresh milk in order to remove chunks and detritus like hairs and insects.
  3. Pour into milk pans—leave for cream to rise, about 12-24 hours.
  4. Skim off the cream and store milk in salt-glaze or earthenware pots.
  5. Use milk for butter, drinking or cooking!

If you’ve ever read Little House on the Prairie, you probably recognize this contraption. 102_4862 That’s right, the good, old-fashioned butter churn. Butter would  be made from cream in a plunge churn like the ones found in the Locust Grove dairy. Churning took place in the early morning or evening. Butter would be rinsed with water and worked by hand or with butter paddles until all of the water, or buttermilk, was removed from the butter. finally, butter was salted for preservation and could last for two to three months when stored in the springhouse.

The Locust Grove springhouse

The Locust Grove springhouse

The rest of the milk would be used in cooking or in making the best food of all time: cheese! Cheese comes in all sorts of scrumptious varieties, but can basically be broken into the categories of soft, hard, aged, and fresh semi-soft. Soft cheeses are made and eaten in shorter amounts of time than hard cheeses, but the initial process remains the same:

  1. Rennet (from the lining of a calf’s stomach) added to milk. Let stand for twelve hours.
  2. Cut into squares with knife or cheese knife. Whey leaks out through the cut lines. Cubes put through cheese press or whey strainer get rid of extra water–the whey.
  3. The curds are then put into cheese cloth and hung over a bucket from a tree, clothesline or cheese ladder to set.
  4. To make hard cheese, put the curds into a cheese hoop and press, turn and age for several months.

We have a whey strainer, but no cheese hoops or cheese press yet! (Dear Santa, the dairy has been very good this year…) 102_4851 All the various crocks and casks around the dairy would have been used to store butter and milk over time in either the dairy or the springhouse. 102_4858 I like to think that Lucy Croghan and the dairy staff at Locust Grove would be very pleased at how the dairy has turned out! In the future, we’ll talk more about cheesemaking, but for now, let’s just admire all the work that our Croghan predecessors put into their farm!

Cheesily yours,


(How do you get a mouse to smile? Say cheese!)

P.S. For more information on colonial dairy practices, look no further than these great sources!

Michael Olmert, Kitchens, Smokehouses, and Privies: Outbuildings and the Architecture of Daily Life in the Eighteenth Century Mid-Atlantic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Michael Olmert, “Cool, Calm, and Clean.” CW Journal, Winter 2005-2006.

Sandra Louise Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Rachel Kennedy and William Macintire, “Agricultural and Domestic Outbuildings in Central and Western Kentucky, 1800-1865.” The Kentucky Heritage Council, 1999.

Monticello, “Dairying at Monticello.”

A blog post detailing a cheese making workshop at Old Sturbridge Village led by foodways interpreter Ryan Beckman provides a complete outline of 19th century cheese making practices and can be found here.