Churns

This scrap of paper, with its drawings of early family churns, was found among the papers of Maud Green. She pictured the churn that was used by her grandmother (Barbara Grove Green) on the left. In the center she drew a Blanchard churn (see below) with the story of 5 year old Ralph pulling out the plug. The barrel churn on the right was another means used to convert cream to butter.

Here’s a bit more information on the various types of churn.

Plunge or dasher churn (left, above)

The plunge churn is a container, usually made out of wood, where the butter-making action is created by moving in a vertical motion a staff that is inserted into the top. This type of churn is also known as an ‘up and down’ churn.  The staff used in the churn is known as the dash, dasher-staff, churn dash, or plunger.

The staff might be perforated, or it could have a wooden circle, or crossed boards attached, but even with those to help beat the cream, this method took a long time. The chant “come butter come, come butter come” was thought of as a charm to turn the cream to butter. It was sometimes made into a song that went with the rhythm of the work.

Many cultures had their own churning songs. Some had other charms and superstitions too. Both in Europe and North America metal objects – like needles, knives or horseshoes – were used to drive away evil influences which might prevent cream from turning to butter.

paddle churn

Paddle churn

Paddle churn

Another prominent type of churn was the paddle churn, which was a container that contained a paddle, which was operated by a handle. The paddle churned the butter inside the container when the handle was turned. A wooden box, earthenware crock, or glass jar had a paddle inside attached to a rod, which was turned by a handle on the top or side. These were widely sold as small, convenient household churns in 19th century America.

Barrel shaped oak container

Barrel churn

Barrel churn (right, at top)

The barrel churn was also used extensively. This type of churn was a barrel turned onto its side with a crank attached. The handle would operate a crank turning paddles inside the barrel, as in the paddle churn, or the whole barrel might be turned by the handle, either horizontally or vertically, depending on its construction. 

In the early days of the 20th century, the barrel churn was recognized as the most convenient and efficient kind of churn in use.

The Blanchard Churn (center, at top)

A variant of the barrel churn is the box churn, of which the Blanchard Churn is an example. The handle operated a crank turning paddles inside the box. One of the earliest U.S. manufacturers was the Blanchard Churn Company based in Nashua, New Hampshire. The company name on their product was so well known that Maud had no problem reproducing it in her sketch.

I can still remember one additional way I watched my great-aunt Maud churn. She would put the cream in a large glass jar with a lid and sit sloshing it back and forth between her hands until the butter formed. It was a slow process and made a small amount of butter, but she did it to amuse us, I suppose, not because she needed to.

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