Butter-making class at Library has high churnout

Nov 7, 2022

The sounds of shaking cream and smushing berries filled the Wareham Free Library on Saturday, Nov. 5 as locals made ink and butter just how it was done in colonial times — minus the Tupperware containers, of course. 

The Berry Ink and Butter Making Workshop was led by Saria Sweeney, Community Programming Coordinator of the Old Colony History Museum in Taunton. 

“People like learning and making in one moment,” Sweeney said. “Any time you can really experience it by trying to make something yourself, I think you learn even more.”

Wearing a t-shirt reading “All History is Local History,” Sweeney gave an overview of the histories of ink and butter. 

In colonial Massachusetts, “common ink” was made from oak galls mixed with iron filings. Ink made from berries was less common, because it did not last as long, but was still a popular choice for colonists. They added salt and vinegar to the ink to prevent mold and to keep its color vibrant.

“Most people couldn’t go to stores,” Sweeney said, “so they made things with found materials outside their doors. I am particularly interested in food history in general. I started researching butter and it was fascinating!”

Women and children were expected to do the job of churning butter.

“That’s why we left this to the children,” Tanja Delgado said as she thoroughly shook her cream into butter. “Lot of respect for the women hundreds of years ago.” 

“My arm’s gonna be tired,” said Deb Boudreau, who plans to spread her homemade butter on toast. She and her husband Jerry were curious to see how butter was made. 

After churning, they placed their butter into water to rinse off the buttermilk, helping it last longer.

The Old Colony History Museum started its hands-on programs during the pandemic. While the museum was closed, those at home could use household items to put themselves into history. Now that the pandemic is over, Sweeney wants to make the programs a shared experience. She has been to preschools and senior centers, teaching people of all ages how to make ink and churn butter.

“My favorite thing is when I learn something new and I get to go out into the world and share it,” she said. 

While Delgado and the Boudreaus churned, Nancy Keyes, her husband Bill and Joan Holmes crushed mixed berries and strained them into ink. Using the ink, they wrote letters with quill pens. Holmes wrote a note to her grandchildren. 

“I think this is a craft you can do with your grandkids,” she said. 

“We wanted to learn some of the local history and how things were done in bygone days,” Bill said. “We all might be making our own butter soon.”

“With the price of things now,” Delgado said, “it may be actually worth it to get heavy cream and make your own butter. This is a great thing to try with the grandchildren. See how long they last before I’m making it all.”