The Cream is the Crop
PLENTIFUL CREAM IN THE HOMESTEAD KITCHEN
One of the great blessings of having a family cow is the abundance of cream produced every single day. Before we had our own cows, cream was only purchased on rare occasions (mostly holidays) and relished sparingly. Because of modern dairy practices and homogenization, all of the cream that I had experienced prior to homestead life was pristinely white and of a uniform texture.
But shortly after we began milking our own Sweet Lissy, we found out what Jersey/Dexter cream is like. It was a thin layer at first (she was coming to the end of her first lactation when I started milking), but we were ecstatic. We spooned it off carefully and collected it in a jar for pouring over oatmeal or into our coffee. As Lissy and I both became more comfortable with the milking routine, she gave more freely; soon it was enough to begin churning our first loads of butter. Compared to what we had previously experienced, this cream was thick and oh-so-flavorful.
Living in an agricultural area, we often see antique cream separators at farm sales. They hold a charm and attraction for me--they did long before I ever considered getting a cow--and we initially considered purchasing one to separate the daily cream from the milk. Realistically, though, it is a simple and straightforward process to skim cream using a small ladle like this one from Lehman's. (If we are skimming out of a jar with a small mouth, it is easier to use a smaller ladle with a more upright handle like the gravy ladle that Lehman's sells.) We always let the cream rise overnight to be skimmed the following morning. The thickest cream gathers on the top surface and around the edges. Sometimes a spoon or spatula is needed to break the surface of thick, almost spreadable cream.
These days, both Lissy and Buttercup are producing for us, and cream is more plentiful than ever. We have gone from skimming every last drop off the surface to ladling as much as we can conveniently get and then leaving the rest to mix into the milk (yum!). We usually get 1-3 inches of cream on a half-gallon jar, and between the two cows, there is usually just under two quarts of cream each day. With this plentiful supply has come the knowledge of how use the cream that the cows provide.
ON OATMEAL, ON POTATOES, ON ANYTHING
In it's freshly skimmed state, cream is perfect--and perfectly ready to use. We love it scooped on oatmeal, ladled over potatoes, or added to anything that needs a touch of richness. We spend a lot of time cooking all the food that is grown on this piece of land, and whenever that process can be simplified, we are thankful for it. A meal of roasted vegetables with cream drizzled over is simple, elegant, and satisfying.
Keeping the homestead in a supply of butter is a priority. When we had just one cow, we would stock up butter in the freezer for the dry months. Now that we have two cows there is always a supply of cream that can be churned as needed. That said, there are times when the cream is abundant (at the beginning of each cow's lactation) and times when it becomes less plentiful (when they are holding back for a calf or coming to the end of their lactation). Because of this, we usually still package and freeze each batch of butter if it is more than we need at the time. This keeps the freezer stocked with a supply that can be drawn from when we need it. For churning, we use the classic Dazey butter churn sold by Lehman's.
AS AN INGREDIENT
A touch of cream is just the thing to round out a soup, balance flavors in salad dressing, make a smoothie rich and filling, or add a nutrient boost to a breakfast dish. When it is whipped, it makes an amazing topping for the fresh berries that are pouring in this time of year, turns a regular cup of coffee into a party, or can be folded into a mousse. There are a multitude of ways that cream can be included in cooking to create a delicious and satisfying product. Additionally, cream is a vital part of the cheesemaking that happens in our homestead kitchen once or twice each week. Normally I use whole, unskimmed jars (shaken together before pouring), but if all of the milk has already been skimmed, I add back the equivalent of about two cups cream per gallon of milk for cheesemaking.
It's hard to believe that I went through two years of milkmaid life without discovering Devonshire cream. I had read briefly in one of my resources about something called "clotted cream," but hadn't given it much consideration. When faced with an overabundance of cream one day, I decided to look back into it and our lives were changed. It's worthy of a post of its own, so all I'll say here is that Devonshire cream has become one of our favorite homestead foods.
One of the most difficult nutrient groups to provide on a homestead is a substantial supply of healthy fat. Adding a grass-fed, lactating mammal to the homestead changes that equation entirely. (For more great information about the difference a lactating mammal can make, check out Shawn and Beth Dougherty's book The Independent Farmstead, available from Chelsea Green Publishing.) Nutrient-dense fats provided by cream are easy to incorporate into our diet and deeply satisfying. When you consider the value of the nutrition these healthy fats provide, it is easy to see why cream is one of our favorite crops.
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