Agriculture in Palestine: making butter

Butter was considered the most valuable dairy product in Palestine. When it is salted and mixed with spices this butter keeps for several months and can also be used during the summer, when the animals give little milk. Gustaf Dalman noted that the process was slightly different at various places throughout Palestine. I will describe the process as followed in El-bire near Jerusalem. The animals are milked during the day. In the evening the milk is poured into a large ceramic jar together with some butter milk. By morning, the milk has soured. It is then poured into the butter churn, a hose made from the complete hide of a goat. In other places sheep hides are used. The churn is then closed. Usually the churn is suspended from a stand made out of three sticks. Sometimes, it is also attached to a tree branch or from a pole in the house. It is woman’s work to swing the churn continually back and forth, usually for around two hours. Once the butter has hardened, it is taken out of the churn with both hands. It is heated and mixed with salt and spices to conserve it. The butter in Palestine was never as hard as butter in northern latitudes — more like lumpy pudding. It is mainly used for cooking.

Butter milk remains in the churn. Sometimes it is used immediately. By heating it, the butter milk can be processed further. The water is poured off and fed to the dogs. The remainder is dried and formed into small balls. These can be used to bake cake, mixed in drinks or used in cooking. Dalman recounts that in Aleppo these butter milk balls are mixed with olive oil so that they can be kept for a whole year.

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2 Responses to Agriculture in Palestine: making butter

  1. Thank you so much for your insight into this. I am doing research on an article I am writing on the origins of butter. Can I link to your site in my article? Thank you again.

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