This is what my great grandmother, Nena, would croon to me, as she handed over a small wati (bowl) of home-made butter with a sprinkling of sugar, which had been hitherto offered to the gods, as naivedyam. I was no Gopala, but since they had named me after His Wife, I had to live up to my name, and role. Looking back, I am still amused that I grew up loving butter, curd, buttermilk, and then paneer, cheese, cream – milk in every form, shape and name, as would have befitted My Husband…and I remember that I would devour not only our own butter, but also our neighbours’. Now of course not like naughty Krishna! I would sit at their kitchen table patiently, and wait till Kaku would produce a wati of white, creamy butter, and lick off every bit…and I would love the words that follow – “see what a nice girl she is, eating all that loni, nahitar tu (otherwise you)” admonishing my friend R (the same guy whose bike I would ride off ;))
I remember the process by which this butter came about was pretty tedious. You had boil milk, and dutifully set aside the cream twice in a day (or more, depending on how creamy and rich the milk was). On the second or third day, a spoonful of curd would be added to this cream, and the cream would be collected for over a week. Then on the day, mom would find some time, this cream would be churned in a Sumeet mixer, which my mom still swears by. The old fashioned way was using a ravi (a wooden churner), but mom’s kitchen was pretty modernized when I was growing up.
After sufficient churning, depending on the season, mom would add ice cold water (in summer) or warm water (in winter) to the blender jar, and whip some more. Like magic, the white butter rise to the top. And while the butter was the Munnabhai here, the buttermilk definitely was Circuit. This buttermilk was a tad different from the one made from curd. Because this buttermilk used to have saay (cream is a close enough substitute for the word saay, but not exactly the same. Saay is the thick crusty cream that floats on the top after milk has heated and cooled, and not the whipping or thick cream, which western world knows). Plus this taak (buttermilk) would be tangy enough, thanks to the curd that had been added on the second day of setting aside the cream. And guess who would eagerly lap up the liquid, along with the flotsam and jetsam of the crusty saay bits? Yup, you guessed right!
Now we don’t know when the tradition of offering butter and sugar to the gods started, but my mom continued the tradition. And being the only kid in the house that time, this silver bowl of pristine white butter would be passed on to me. Luckily my brother never liked butter, so I remained the kid who would still be offered the silver bowl way after I grew up (talk of being born with silver butter bowl in the mouth, ha ha ha)..
Butter was a non-negotiable companion to a thalepeeth or bhakri, and in our house even dosa and idly. Picture steaming idly and dosa, liberally slathered with homemade butter (ghee would come a close second), which would melt in a puddle, leaving behind a greasy plate (only if you didn’t lick it clean, which of course I always did). Mom used to apply it to bread too, and though it tasted very well, Amul butter had made a place in our homes by then, and definitely there was nothing more I would have with my Wibs/Modern bread than Amul butter. I think it had to with Amul being salted and yellow, while the home-made was plain and white (racial discrimination, I say, pure and simple).
As we grew up, somewhere down the line, butter making at home became more elusive, and dwindled to once-in-a-blue-moon. The milk was never rich enough, and often there wouldn’t be enough saay. Then the mixer broke down, and making it using a ravi would be rather tiresome. Or the set cream would go unattended, developing a nice looking green fungus-y top layer, and had to be thrown away. Store bought white butter became a norm, as also a convenience. Circuit was sorely missed, much more than Munnabhai…
I stumbled upon butter-making at home, thanks to the internet. They made it sound so easy, and there was no long drawn process of setting aside saay et al. Buy a pack of heavy whipping cream, and using a blender or even mason jar, just whip up butter. So, I said to myself, try karne mein kya jaata hai? I bought Anchor whipping cream and set about making it in a jar. Now all they said was to shake the jar hard for a while, and butter would separate from the cream. That of course was not to be. I ended up with a coated, messy mason jar of heavy greasy cream, and absolutely no butter.
Then I searched some more, and bought some more cream. The Scientist gave me a look, which said, are you really sure you want to do that again? After yesterday’s mess ? To which I replied with another look (and narrowing of eyes), of course I do!! This time I was prepared. You see I was using chilled cream, straight from the fridge, which of course would not do. So I left the cream out for a day, filled up the mason jar, and shook, and shook, and shook some more. I didn’t need an upper body day at the gym (for a week!). Someone should have told me how much shaking it would require. But this time I was rewarded, yellow butter made it’s way to the top, and I went about showing my prize to the skeptical Scientist.
After that day, butter making has become a regular feature in our Taipei household. What has made it easy is that I discovered a hand-mixer, which the Scientist had bought aeons ago, and which was gathering dust, in some corner of the kitchen shelf, unused. It has now a place of pride among my other trusted equipment. Convenience comes in so many forms, specialized equipment, ready-made cream. But it doesn’t hold a match to the patiently crafted deliciousness of traditional wisdom.
Here are some questions for you (trying to make it an interactive blog ;)):
Have you watched the movie “Butter”?
Do you make butter at home? Want to give it a try?