Tinder Box
Auckland, New Zealand

Butter rmaking education resource  
Butter Making Activity

Cream to Butter.
teaching resource social studies

 Butter making activity        Booking inquiry     Curriculum  links       FAQ's    Testimonials    History of  butter making     Churns

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The butter making  activity is an interactive education resource available through costumed visits to schools (Outreach) - within 150 kms of Auckland, New Zealand in the support of the Social Studies and Technology curriculums.  The Tinder Box  School butter making activity is also available as a demonstration for the public in Historical Houses and Museums.  The history of butter making  available  through the anecdotal records of the  pioneers show  butter was an important source of income,  diaries and letters inform us about the dairy and  tell us how butter was stored and transported and the churns and equipment used in butter making.  

Copyright Tinderbox © August  2010

History  of pioneer  butter making.

From the anecdotal evidence available to us through letters and  diaries, whether it be a from  Sarah Higgins a 12 year old girl who looked after her family in 1842, or  a man of property such as Constantine Dillon who invested in   several land-orders of the New Zealand Company and had a farm  in the Waimea, Nelson in 1850,  or Jane  Oates  writing in 1881,  butter making  had a place in the lives of the early pioneers.

"I only had  2 shillings a week and I wanted to learn to milk so that I could milk our own cow when we could get one. I made butter and cheese, learned cooking baking and housework. I had been there for only three months when Mrs Otterson gave me 4 shillings a week. After a few months she gave me 6 shillings then  I bought myself some nice things."
Sarah Higgins was 12 when she emigrated to Nelson with her family. Sarah arrived on The "Bolton" in 1842, her sister had died before they reached New Zealand.  Sarah was responsible for the  family's housekeeping and also went into domestic service.
From: " The Lives of Pioneer Women in New Zealand."

"The  Dairy is well managed. Brydon and his wife are very active and good servants, and as Cautly lives here he is able to see whether they do justice or not, and he says they do ample justice to the cows, indeed I have seen so myself the last ten days. The cattle, of which there will soon be 100 head, are disgustingly fat, indeed the cows too much so for milking. I shall bring back with me a keg of 56 lbs of butter. There is no fresh butter made here. It is  all  made salt and put  into kegs at once."

From  a letter  by Constantine Dillon to his Wife Fanny, Saturday 6 December  1850

"We are going to thresh tomorrow, it is wheat. He has sold 25 bushels at  4 shillings a bushel, butter has been selling at  4 pence a lb this summer and now it is  6 pence a lb so you can see that does not make much."

From a letter by Jane Oates living in the Wairarapa, to her  sister in  April  1881.
From: "The lives of Pioneer Women in New Zealand."

Sarah Higgins writing in 1842, Constantine  Dillon in  1850  and  Jane Oates in 1881, all had  different expectations of their butter making activity.

Sarah Higgins wanted to buy a cow so she could milk it and make butter for her family.

Constantine Dillon had 100 head of cattle - his butter was not fresh, 'it was all  made salt and put into kegs at once." probably being butter made for export.

Jane  Oates bemoaned the small amount  of income generated by butter making.

Butter making promised different things to different people, but one can  imagine the pleasure  Blanche Lush must have had in  August 1851 as recounted by  the Reverend Vicesimus Lush in his diary.

August 1st to 7th.  Showery every day : remained at home pursuing the even tenor of our ways.  Blanche churned on Monday --- butter came in 10 minutes and the cream produced 71/2 lbs.  We have plenty of new laid eggs, good butter sweet milk and pure bread --- soon we shall have plenty of fine young fowls and an abundance I trust of vegetables, so we shall live luxuriously on the first planted potatoes.

The butter making undertaken by Sarah Higgins, Jane Oates and Blanche  Lush  was small scale. An example of small scale butter making can be had through the  School butter making activity.

Butter made for Export

Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopaedia of useful knowledge published in  1883 had this to say of butter: “With all civilised nations butter is used not only as a luxury but as a necessity.”  Brett’s went onto to say: “England  imports butter to the value of ten to twelve millions pounds sterling annually. With the market there and in the neighbouring colonies which are not so well suited to butter making, there will be no difficulty in disposing of all the surplus this  Colony can  produce, but it must be of good quality to command a good market price.”

The advice to make butter for export had already been taken as the figures below demonstrate.

            Imports (hundredweight)    Exports (hundredweight)    Export Value
1879    1999.5                                359                                         £1732  
1881    412                                    2775                                        £8789

Source: Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge.

 Salted kegs of butter - Storage and transportation of Butter.

Butter , to be used fresh, requires salting to suit the palate, about half-an-ounce of salt to one pound of butter; but for keeping any length of time it should be salted at  the rate of one pound of fine salt to twelve or fourteen pounds of butter, with which it should be evenly incorporated, then left a few hours for the salt to dissolve, and afterwards thoroughly worked again. The keg should be well soaked with hot brine to remove sap or gum likely to affect the flavour of the butter.

Some people put a circular piece of fine bleached muslin or calico in the bottom of the keg, but it is far better to line the keg all round, it prevents direct contact with the wood, and loss; as in the ordinary way there is more butter injured by, or sticking to, the keg than the value of the calico. Kegs holding from 60 to 80 pounds of butter are generally used.

Source: Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge.

Butter making activity for schools

Curriculum  links     Bookings and Inquiries     Testimonials      

Tinder Box provides the resources and equipment required to fulfill a hands on presentation in your location. 
Students will  participate in the butter making process, using a glass butter churn,  butter hands and butter stamp.
If you wish your students to taste the butter that is made, crackers, bread or biscuits will need to be made available. Tinder Box are not  able to supply these items.
Butter making was a common household task in the 19th  Century. Using cream from the house cow the pioneer housewife  made a product that could be a saleable commodity, or used on the meal table. The money made from the sale of butter  and eggs was a valuable addition to the housekeeping.
Fulfilling curriculum objectives; students should gain a practical understanding of the butter making process.
 A  clear explanation of the stages of butter making will enable  students to appreciate how this activity relates to the  particular strand they are studying.
Questions are encouraged at the end of the activity  The activity takes approximately 40 minutes.
This activity is also available as a demonstration for Historical Houses and Museums.


Butter making churns
 "The purest  butter and the quality that will keep  longest, is made from perfectly sweet cream."
Source: Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge 1883

There are many ways of making butter in  a dairy. A  butter churn is not essential, but  it is easier to make butter with a churn. Butter can be made with  a jug and paddle. But as Brett's  Colonists guide said: " use only the best cream if you want to make good butter."

 Early churns were made of wood; it is essential to use wood that will not taint the butter. In New Zealand Kahikatea was the preferred wood for making churns and butter making utensils. Early churns, like modern churns have  the paddles on the inside of the churn and these are rotated by a handle on the side of the churn. Cream was introduced at the top of the churn, butter and butter milk  were removed through the same aperture. Some of these churns were round, others box shaped as in the example below.
make butter in schools
A box churn  used for making butter.

Some churns were of the plunger type, these too  were constructed of  wood.
Plunger churns, sometimes called  "Irish churns"do not have paddles but work by the vertical raising and lowering  of  a dasher (a perforated disc attached to a pole) inside the  coopered churn.  Plunger churns came in large and small sizes, the larger chruns being used for commerical production,  the small - for  household butter making.

butter churn plunger type
Plunger churn for butter making
 The plunger is also  known as a dasher

 For large scale butter  production a  swing churn was used. The use of the swing  churn was described thus:

 "The american swing churn"-  a rectangular box with rounded ends, swung by iron rods on an ordinary double  x  frame; the interior is clear of dashers - the oscillating motions causes the cream to be thrown against the circular ends of the box; it has no rotary motion, but is gently moved backwards and forwards.
Source: Brett’s Colonists Guide and Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge 1883

Swing churn for butter making
Swing Churn .
Large Swing churns could  make up to 40 lbs
 of butter at a time at a time.

Later churns used for  small scale production were made of glass as in the  example below which Pru uses for  the Tinder Box School butter making  activity (see background  image on this  page).  

Tinder Box  butter mold and churn
Glass churn for small scale butter making

Copyright RPL  11/2/2007

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  Butter making
Curriculum  Links Social Studies and Technology

SOCIAL STUDIES - BUTTER MAKING              Level        Achievement objective
Culture and Heritage                                        1  & 3        Identifying features of cultural groups,
                                                                                        similarities and differences.

Time Continuity and Change                             1,2 & 3        How time & change affect people.
                                                                                        How past events changed aspects
                                                                                         of community life.

Place and Environment                                    1,2 & 3        Why places are important.
                                                                                        How peoples activities influence the
                                                                                        use of particular places.

Resources & Economic Activities                    1,2,& 3        How different resources are used.
                                                                                         How people participate in the
                                                                                         production process.

TECHNOLOGY BUTTER MAKING                   Level                Achievement objective
Technological Knowledge and Understanding    1,2 & 3                Uses of  technology  use of e.g.
                                                                                                the butter churn.

Technology and Society                                    3                      Technological advances.

Technological Capability                                    1 & 3                Identifying the process used to change
                                                                                                cream to butter.


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Booking   Inquiry and Information Requests

Thank you for  your interest in the  Butter Making activity, another  popular Tinder Box activity.
You may wish to  submit your inquiry through the form below, or contact us on the following phone numbers:
  Phone +64 09  412 8235, Mob 021 117 2068,

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 Unit study, Year group(s), Student numbers, Achievement Objective 

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Victorian Toys, Butter Making, Food for thought, Pioneer Transport, Crafts

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