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Gathering the Cream and Fancy Green Beans

July 26, 2011

Before I tell you about the cream, I want to let you know that the 1900 farm picked our first tomato today.  It was eaten right out of the garden, and it was delicious, we look forward to lots more coming soon.

With two cows giving birth to two calves this year, the 1900 farm has milk coming out of our ears!  Well, not literally, but we have been milking 2-3 gallons of milk per day.  The raw milk tastes really good when baked into desserts, but even better when it’s made into butter and spread on warm rolls.  Before we can make the butter, we first have to separate the cream.

The first step to getting the cream is milking the cow.  On a good day, 2 or 3 of us will help with the milking.  Both our cows, Mary Ann and Lily, accept being double milked, meaning one person milking on each side.  We sit on three legged milk stools for the 20-40 minutes it takes to milk the cow dry.  Each of us has different methods and some are faster than others.  If you would like to try, or it has always been your dream to milk a cow, visit the 1900 farm around 3:30 pm and we will let you give it a go!

By squeezing the right way, milk comes out; it takes some practice.

An extra set of hands makes the milk come faster.

After milking the cow, we filter the milk into the separator.  The one we use is a reproduction of a turn of the century cold water cream separator.  Cream is separated from raw milk simply by cooling the milk.

The cold water cream separator.

It could be lowered into cold water or sat in a cold spot and then the cream could be taken off the top using a cream skimmer like the one pictured below.   My 13 year old volunteer asked the other day: who thought to do that?  To let the milk sit and then take what was on the top for use?  I didn’t have a great answer for her.  In looking for the answer I have come to the conclusion that it has been lost in the obscurities of history.  My guess is that after animals were domesticated, someone must have just had a thought; what if we tried this?  I am amazed at what people can come up with by asking what if?

Skim the cream off the top using a cream skimmer.

After pouring the milk into the separator, I pour in a bucket of cool water straight from the well pump, which cools the milk down, then I put the lid on and let it sit.  And sit.  And sit.  It usually sits for at least a couple of hours while the buoyant fat (cream) rises to the top.  Anyone who has even had raw milk knows that this happens even if you don’t mix in the cold water (and especially if you put it in the refrigerator).

The milk is released through a spigot at the bottom.

After letting the milk sit, I use the spigot at the bottom to let the skimmed and watered down milk out.  There is a small window on the cream separator to use as a gauge.  This skimmed and watered-down milk generally goes into a swill for the shoats (young pigs) on our farm.  They love it.

The gauge shows the separated cream.

When the gauge tells me that all the milk has drained, and I have only cream left, I put it in a separate container to be used, or churned into butter. One of our favorite things to do with the cream, especially at this time of year when we are pulling fresh beans out of the garden, is to make Green Beans a la Poulette.  These are a fancy green bean that take a little bit of care, but definitely worth the effort.

Broad Beans a la Poulette

2 pints broad beans
1/2 pint stock or broth
small bunch of savory herbs, including parsley
small lump of sugar
1 egg yolk
1/4 pint cream
pepper and salt to taste

Boil the beans until nearly done.  Drain them and put them into a stew pan with the stock, freshly-minced herbs, and sugar.  Stew the beans until perfectly tender and the liquor has drained away a little.  Then beat up the yolk with the cream, add this to the beans, let the whole get thoroughly hot and when on the point of simmering, serve.  Onion may be added.

Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861

For a modern take on the recipe, try this version, our modern variation with explanation, especially good for winter time (yield = enough for 10 people):

Start with a roux of 1 chopped onion sauteed in 2 T of butter.  When done, complete the sauce by adding 1/2 tsp of chicken bullion, 1 T of parsley, pepper to taste, and juice from one can of green beans (or cooled boiled beans).  While the sauce is still cool from the addition of the bean water add 1 cup of cream (heavy whipping) and 2 egg yolks.  Be carefully not to curdle the cream or scramble the egg with heat. Then add 4 cans of beans that have been drained (or fresh drained boiled beans).  You’ll want to simmer this dish, not boil it, because if it boils the egg will usually separate.  In that case it is still tasty, just not pretty, sample it to your family and try again!.

We usually make this every couple of weeks so the next time we do I will try and get a picture up.  One of our interns says he doesn’t really like green beans, except like this. Getting people to rethink foods they don’t like by cooking something a different way is one of the fun parts of my job.

So even if you buy your cream from the store and don’t milk it from the cow, try a new recipe and think about the process that food went through to get to your plate.  Enjoy!

Editor’s note: If you want to learn more about dairy on a 1900 farm stay tuned to the blog or look for an adult education at the 1900 farm, coming this fall.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Vikki permalink
    September 16, 2015 10:51 am

    I’ve heard that the cream was basically the only component of milk that was used for human consumption, and that what was left after the cream was removed was just given to the pigs. Is that true?

    • September 16, 2015 10:58 am

      True! “Skim milk” that had been skimmed of cream would be mixed with grain and fed to the pigs!

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