If you hold a buttercup just under someone’s chin, the petals reflect a yellow glow on their skin. If you’re a kid in France, this test, endlessly performed in parks and schoolyards, has only one conclusion: The person loves butter.
I was always suspicious of the test, which felt like a trap. I didn’t love butter. Not like my French cousins, who spread thick slabs of it on their tartines at breakfast. Maybe I wasn’t French enough. Even now, I cook with olive oil.
My first batch of homemade butter, though, made me love butter. And while I vaguely knew it was easy, I had no idea it would take less time than instant oatmeal.
I’m notoriously a “from scratch” person. My hallmark comment when debriefing any sample is “I’ll bet we could make this at home.” I can’t help it. Seeded flatbread with tapenade, pepper-crusted goat cheese, salted caramel sauce to pour over ice cream . . . . It’s great; I love it; I want to make it at home.
This is another way I’m different from my French cousins. Their mothers didn’t puree their baby food from scratch the way mine did. They found our Christmas cookie-making quaint. Very American. My aunts and grandmother brought home macarons and brioche sucrée from their favorite patisserie, instead. It wasn’t about making things from scratch, but finding the best producer. There might be a falling out with the patissière if she was rude beyond toleration, but if she made the best millefeuille, they would be back. Just as they might get off one Métro stop early so they could seek out the crémerie (dairy shop) with the best mottes of Normandy butter (huge slabs from which the crémier cuts slices with a wire, slaps them on wax paper and sells them by weight). I don’t think they’d ever consider making butter.
I would, though.
My inaugural butter-making started with the admission that I wasn’t going to get around to making that batch of rhubarb ice cream. The quart of heavy cream that had waited at the ready all week eyed me reproachfully. I couldn’t let it go to waste. I would make butter. And I did—in the ninety seconds it took to hold down the pulse button on my food processor. When I lifted the lid, a soft, ivory-cream mass had gathered around the blade. It was ridiculously, magically simple.
The last time I’d made butter was in third grade, when my class visited a historical homestead house. I loved the upright, cylindrical wooden butter churn we used, and the way you could measure progress by the change in resistance. I loved the worn wooden butter molds we scooped the butter into.
Making butter in my food processor had none of the same rustic charm. But when I tasted it, I was back at the farm. The butter tasted so sweetly and freshly of cream, I could almost picture a cow in the next room. It was like nothing I could get at the store. I didn’t exactly know what to do with it; but I had to admit that I loved it. I stood there admiring the way it reflected the light. (The business of the buttercup glow makes sense, after all.)
The next step, I suppose, is to get some radishes. If you haven’t tried radishes with fresh butter and salt, this is the summer to do it. It’s what I used to have in the summertime listening to the sheep bells in the French Alps near Briançon.