This time of year, try to get your hands on some local, fresh cream. If you aren't able to purchase directly from a dairy you trust, look for Organic Valley or another local certified organic milk source. In the Midwest, I know that Castle Rock and Kalona Supernatural are other great alternatives. I suggest organic milk because their dairymen are MUCH more likely to have cows on pasture than conventional dairies and the whole reason we're making butter in May and June is because of the pasture-fed cows producing the best quality milk of the whole season. On top of that, organic dairy herds tend to be smaller (don't look for Horizon Organic in that line-up; they are notorious for certifying CAFO dairies as organic). The smaller the herd, the more likely it is that these animals spend MOST or ALL of their time outdoors on fresh grass.
And that is exactly what we want. You see, a little known fact in our modern world is that fresh spring grass contains a vitamin not found at any other time of the year.
Each spring, we at St. Brigid's Meadows notice a more grassy flavor to our milk and the milkfat becomes much more yellow as the cows ingest a high amount of beta-carotine and vitamins E and D. In the mountains of Switzerland, the cream from freshly pastured cattle is highly prized and given only to the town’s best athletes and expectant mothers. The butter made from this once-a-year milk is even more special.
The butter made from grassfed cows in June contains “Activator X.” Besides being loaded with Vitamin E which is essential to cell health, spring grassfed butter is unique: “...A factor in young grass is apparently the same one as described by Dr. Weston A. Price, in the second edition of his book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which he called “Activator X” and was found only in butter from cows fed spring grass. “Activator X” seemed very susceptible to oxidation, being lost in the butter within a few months after its production. “Activator X” was shown to promote calcification and health of bones and teeth in human patients. It inhibited the growth of the [bacteria responsible for cavities] completely, one test showing 680,000 salivary bacterial count before the use of “Activator X” and none after.”*
*taken from an article from the Weston A. Price Foundation website.
Websites like Dr. Mercola's and other health food sites sell just the Activator X in tablet form. You can do that, to be sure. But wouldn't it be more fun to make your own butter? I mean, it's butter; what's not to love? And then to know that it's gonna help your teeth and bones while making you healthier from the inside out? Let's go for it! Be a homesteader today...with a food processor.
Room Temperature Fresh Cream (amount will vary)
Salt (to taste)
Food Processor (we found that blenders and stand mixers don't work nearly as well)
Pour cream into your food processor. Blend on a medium setting for several minutes or until butter forms (really, it’s that simple).
Turn off mixer and pour off buttermilk. You can save this for any baking purposes or drink it as is.
Lovely homemade buttermilk!
You can see above that we put a tight netting metal collander over a bowl. This works well to capture any rogue butter chunks that hop out when you are draining off the buttermilk. Or you can safely dump the whole batch into the collander without losing any butter. Once drained, return butter to processor and add some very cold water. Blend again. Pour off water into your sink. This is not worth keeping as it is only watered down buttermilk. Repeat at least two more times or until water runs clear. You are rinsing the butter to get the last of the buttermilk out and help the longevity of the finished product. Once water runs clear, pour it off the final time and place the butter on a wooden cutting board (or any flat surface that you can tilt up a little bit). Use a spatula to sweep every last bit out of your processor and processor lid. It's worth it!
On the cutting board, start squeezing and squishing the butter with the spatula or a wooden spoon to remove any excess water. Tilt the board at an angle to allow the water to run off. Also, add your rock or sea salt and massage it in. Add to taste. It will be different each time you make butter. A little bit goes a long way, so start with just a pinch.
Once the water is out and the salt is in, you have ready-to-spread butter. Marvel at how much yellower it is than store bought. Refrigerate when not in use. Lasts for about one week or you can freeze it for up to a year.
Freshly washed ramps await further processing
Ramps are a seasonal wild delicacy found in forests from the Carolinas to Canada in early spring. Popping up in clumps in the cold damp of April, they thrive like any plant in the leek/onion family this time of year. Preceding the warm months but offering some fresh veggie relief after a long winter, ramps are a wonderful harvest and only take a little digging and washing to enjoy. Below I de-mystify these roots that even two months ago, I had never heard of! And we've got them, by the way, if you want to step outside the onion box!
Ramps can be used just like green onions. Simply peel the outer layer off and cut the bottom of the bulb off with the roots. You will be left with a 3 to 5 inch piece ready to use.
Ramps, because of their complex onion and garlic flavor are a great addition to almost any dish. Thin slice and use raw in salads or as a garnish. Slice "on the bias" (turn the ramp 45 degrees and cut thin, oblong slices) and add to dishes for an asian flair. The greens can be used fresh on sandwiches or in salads as well as being sautéed or added to egg dishes.
Here are some great ways to use ramps as a focal point in a meal.
"First of the Season" Soup, with Wild Ramps
This is a great soup that celebrates all of the early greens that are coming out at early markets or at the Co-ops. It also uses some leftovers from the root cellar.
4 large potatoes (peeled)
1 lb Wild Ramps (stem sliced into medallions, greens julienned cross the leaf in 1-2" strips)
1/2 lb Fresh Sorrel (julienned like ramp greens)
1/2 lb Swiss Chard (Julienned) or Spinach (left whole)
1 cup high quality chicken or vegetable stock (use veggie if doing optional "fish soup")
1 cup cheap white wine
1 cup whole milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp chopped fresh (if available) tarragon
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 lb of your favorite local fish (frozen is fine, but thaw it for the soup) (optional)
Cut the potatoes into chunks and boil until tender. Drain and coarsely mash. Add all ingredients but milk, cream, sorrel and spinach (if you're using it) and cook for about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 2 more minutes. Serve with hearty bread.
Rustic Ramp Pesto
Leaves from 1 lb Wild Ramps (for a bolder flavor, retain the stems)
2/3 cup roasted nut (pine nuts are traditional, but I like using walnuts or pecans)
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup (up to a full cup) shredded or sliced parmesan, coarsely chopped
Chop or crush nuts until finely coarse (does that make sense? You want them very small but uneven). Pulse ramps, olive oil, sugar and salt in a food processor until mostly smooth (you want a bit of texture, looking a bit like green stone-ground mustard). Pour into a mixing bowl and fold in nuts and 1/2 cup parmesan. Add more parmesan if you need it a bit thicker.
Some great uses for this tasty treat is on crackers or dry bread, mixed into pasta or even on pizza! You can also mix it into scrambled eggs for a unique and flavor dish.