AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
It's our Independence Day program and it's about time we get to the food. So here's something tasty that brings the ruggedness of Colonial days right up into present day America with do-it-yourself enthusiasm. Butter made the old-fashioned way.
As NPR's Allison Aubrey learned, the butter churn is back.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: So the invitation I got to a butter churning party arrived in an email. Bring the kids, the note said, Saturday at five and BYOC - bring your own cream. By the time I arrived, our host was ready to churn.
JERRY CASAGRANDE: All right, time to make butter. Woo.
AUBREY: That's Jerry Casagrande, a 40-something suburban dad from Alexandria, Virginia, who says he is aware that butter churning has become a bit of a hipster trend, popular with do-it-yourself minded urbanites and homesteaders. But his interest was piqued, he tells his friend Kevin Williams, during a class trip to a Colonial farm with his daughter.
CASAGRANDE: Where we dressed all in Colonial clothing and pretended to live in Colonial days. And one of the big things we did was churn butter.
CASAGRANDE: You are the captain of hip.
CASAGRANDE: It's true.
AUBREY: So what makes this old-fashioned past time so satisfying? Well, Jer says he'll show us.
CASAGRANDE: So, now, I'm pouring in some heavy whipping cream. It's got to be at least 30 percent cream.
AUBREY: As about 10 of us gathered around the churn, which basically looks like a gallon sized glass jar with a crank on top, there's a sense that the show is about to begin. And as two kids beat on a toy drum, the mood is part ceremony, part circus.
CASAGRANDE: And we're off and churning. It's pretty good.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)
AUBREY: Now to make it work, Jerry says you need about 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous churning.
CASAGRANDE: 'Cause it gets tiring. That's why it's good to have a butter-churning party like this. Here, Kev, you want to churn?
AUBREY: His friend Kevin puts his drink down to give it a whirl.
KEVIN WILLIAMS: You can see it congealing at the top. That's pretty cool.
AUBREY: So why has the simple craft become trendy again? Well, British food writer Bee Wilson has some ideas. She's written a history of kitchen tools.
BEE WILSON: So I think it's kind of a response to the computer age.
AUBREY: Wilson says butter churning is part of a larger do-it-yourself food movement that includes everything from homemade bitters to make your own salami or ricotta cheese.
WILSON: We're just spending so much of our lives living in a sort of virtual capacity staring at things, that's it very therapeutic to do things again.
AUBREY: These are hands-on projects that help us get our hands off our tiny electronic devices.
But back at the butter churning party, things aren't going so well.
CASAGRANDE: It's been a butter disaster.
AUBREY: The buttermilk isn't separating. And Jerry's wife, Kara, steps in to start cranking again.
KARA CASAGRANDE: See if you can bring it to a better battered butter.
AUBREY: So why was it so difficult? Well, afterwards I reached out to Glenda Lehman Ervin, who sells butter churns to small dairies and serious butter makers.
GLENDA LEHMAN ERVIN: Oh my, it could have been a lack of constant churning at a steady pace.
AUBREY: Yeah, come to think of it, that's probably it. We did kind of hand if off to the kids. Now, since I had Glenda on the phone, I asked her about the uptick in butter churn sales to urban foodies. Are there really a growing number of people taking up this hobby?
ERVIN: There are. There are lots of people.
AUBREY: And she says sales tend to spike after bad news events, such as Hurricane Sandy or the Boston Marathon bombings.
ERVIN: They're looking for something that's real, that's authentic.
AUBREY: That helps them circle back to the safety and comfort of home. But at the butter churning party, well, things turned out less than perfect.
(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMMING)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It tastes like whipped cream.
AUBREY: But that doesn't stop everyone from spreading it on some really good bread. Kevin Williams is the first to taste.
WILLIAMS: Very smooth and it's sweet. It's pleasant.
AUBREY: And Kevin says...
WILLIAMS: I mean, if we had to actually make everything we eat, we would need less and it would be better tasting.
AUBREY: And that might be good for lots of us.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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