What Is a Butter Crock?
Butter crocks are a clever piece of pottery that has been in use since the Middle Ages. They have two parts:
- A lid with a bell-shaped container attached to it which you fill with butter.
- A bottom crock that you fill with cold water.
When you put the butter in the water, it seals it to keep it fresh. Of course before refrigeration, butter crocks were essential to keep the butter from spoiling.
How Does a Butter Crock Work?
When you place the butter bell inside the water-filled crock, it completely seals the butter so that oxygen and bacteria can't get in. The result?
- The butter stays fresh up to a month.
- The butter is soft and spreadable all the time.
- Your butter is always ready for the table in an attractive serving container.
How Do You Take Care of the Crock?
Caring for the butter crock is easy. Since it is made of porcelain, it is dishwasher safe and should last a lifetime. In fact, in the past, a crock would be a family heirloom! To keep the butter at its best:
- Change the water every 3 days.
- Refill with cold water.
- Add a little salt to the water to enhance preservation of the butter.
- Once a month, clean the crock by taking all of the butter out, washing with soap and water (or in a dishwasher). Refill with fresh butter and water.
- When you refill the crock, make sure it is dry and the butter has been softened by being at room temperature for about an hour.
- Make sure to pack the butter firmly in the crock. Get all the air bubbles out.
- You can't use the butter crock effectively for keeping whipped butter or margarine over a long period, but you could use it to serve those butter or even cream cheese dip.
- If you butter falls out of the bell, be sure the bell is dry, you pack the butter in tightly with no air bubbles, and add a piece of ice to the water when you first put it in.
Where Can You Buy Butter Crocks?
Can you buy butter crocks today? Yes! Potters still handcraft butter crocks and you might find one at a craft fair. Moreover, the popularity of those handcrafted items, as well as the revival in gourmet cooking, has made several manufacturers produce them as well:
- La Creuset and L. Tremain: Both manufacturers produce stoneware butter crocks that have elegant designs in many colors.
- Norpo and Butter Bell: Two producers of less expensive, classically styled butter keepers. Norpo has one made in marble.
- Handmade Butter Keepers: You can also still find some craft potters selling butter crocks in their shops or at craft fairs. Look for them with the other stoneware.
Butter Keeper in Other Languages
French: "pot à beurre Breton"
English: Butter bell, butter keeper, butter bowl, butter saver, butter dish with water, Butter keeper crock or French butter dish
History of Butter Keepers
Originally, butter was kept in wooden containers. The famous French potters in the city of Vallauris are given credit for designing and marketing the first ceramic butter crocks. Because they were easier to wash and keep clean than the wooden keepers, porcelain butter keepers quickly became popular.
With refrigeration, butter could be stored safely without special pottery, and so many modern people aren't familiar with butter keepers. However, during the 1970s and '80s, craft potters in the U.S. rediscovered this useful crock and began producing them for their stores and craft fairs. That is how I first saw one at the home of my friend Katie, who showed me how it worked. As soon as I saw it, I wanted one too!
Nowadays, butter crocks are a wonderful way to keep butter soft and spreadable. Everyone knows how unpleasant it is to either have the chunk of cold butter either just sit on your bread in one piece or else make holes in your toast as you try to spread it. Butter keepers are attractive and useful kitchen equipment that keep your butter ready for the table so you don't have to heat it up before using, or remember to take it out of the refrigerator to sit out a while before the meal.
Butter Crock as a Collectible
Vintage crocks are now valued collector's items. Americans particularly value these utilitarian crocks because they represent a way of life when families had no refrigeration and needed to keep the butter they made themselves fresh. Owning an antique crock is a reminder of the hardships the pioneers encountered.
Which type of butter crockery is most valued? Of course, older pieces are more highly sought after, as well as ones that are more ornamental. Since butter crocks were items used every day, they often have nicks, cracks, or sometimes are missing a lid or have mismatched pieces. Butter crocks with interesting designs or the names of the manufacturer are valued more highly. However, perhaps the most important thing in collecting is to find a piece that you like!
How to Make Your Own Butter
Why buy a butter crock? Not only is it useful, but it is also a connection to the people of the past and a different way of life. When I got married, my French mother-in-law told me that they always kept their butter in a "pot à beurre Breton" at her family's country home in Perigueux, France. For my girls, using a butter crock reminds them of their "meme," but also is a connection with the American pioneer past of my side of the family. We talked about this when we visited our local history museum and watched butter being churned.
They wanted to make their own butter, so we did! I devised a method for them to make their own butter by putting heavy whipping cream in a jar with a few marbles. They shook the jar until the marbles stopped moving because the cream had turned into butter and liquid. My kids loved being able to pack the butter in the crock and we talked about how Laura in Little House on the Prairie had done these sorts of tasks!
If you want to make your own butter, you can do it even more easily by putting heavy whipping cream in a bowl and using your mixer at high speed. When the butter separates, you will want to use a spoon to squeeze out all the liquid. I often also pat the butter with paper towels. Then mix in a pinch of salt for flavor. However you make it, homemade butter always tastes best!