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How to Make Butter in a Jar (Plus History & Fun Activities)

Virginia has been experimenting in the kitchen for almost 50 years. She loves to share her recipes, cooking tips, and reviews.

Making butter is easy . . . and fun!

Making butter is easy . . . and fun!

Quick and Easy DIY Fresh Butter

Want to impress guests? Or educate your kids about the old days? Try making your own butter in a jar. You can even flavor it with my honey butter recipe which uses orange zest, and then mold it into fun holiday shapes in silicone ice trays.

This method is quick and easy to do! All you need is:

  • Jar (mason jars work great but any clean jar with a tight-fitting lid that holds at least 2 cups will do)
  • 3-5 marbles, washed with soap and water
  • Heavy cream
  • Pinch of salt

Add a bit of arm work and your masterpiece will be ready to try in no time. Better yet, gather your guests and make this part of the party activities!

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

10 min

15 min

2 Tb. butter

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream or whipping cream
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  1. Pour 1/4 cup of heavy cream into a jar. For kids, I often use a plastic jar so that they don't have to worry if they drop it. Make sure the jar has a tight-fitting lid that doesn't leak. For kids, I use plastic jars with screw-on lids.
  2. Add the marbles. Most recipes I've seen don't use the marbles but these act like mixers and make the butter form faster. Also, they imitate the mixing paddles in old-fashioned butter churns.
  3. Shake the jar. You may want to take turns shaking since your arm might get tired!
  4. Generally, my kids like to check the progress of the butter every 30 seconds or so. Depending on how hard you shake, the butter may take between 3 and 10 minutes.
  5. When you see the balls of butter separating, pour off the buttermilk (for pancakes!) and take the butter out of the jar with a spatula. If you want you can add a little salt.

How to Scale the Recipe Up

My recipe is just for a small individual serving. If you want to make more for a crowd, here is what you will need. To allow the cream room to foam up before it turns into butter, make sure the cream is only 1/2 as much as the jar holds

Amount of CreamAmount of ButterSize of Jar

1/2 cup (4 oz.)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick of butter)

8 oz. or larger

1 cup (8 oz.)

1/2 cup (1 stick of butter)

16 oz. or larger

2 cups (16 oz.)

1 cup (2 sticks of butter or half pound)

Use two batches in 16 oz. jars

4 cups (32 oz)

2 cups (4 sticks of butter or 1 pound)

Four batches in 16 oz jars.

Flavored Butter

You can add all sorts of different flavorings to butter such as lemon, orange, honey, maple, and garlic. Add a small teaspoonful at a time and taste. You can also make flavored butters by mixing in strawberry or blueberry jam. See my Flavored Honey Butter article for more ideas.

Use silicone molds to make your treat ready for a party!

Use silicone molds to make your treat ready for a party!

How to Make Molded Butter

Use your homemade butter to make fancy molded butter for your next party. Silicone ice trays come in all sorts of fun shapes: hearts, pumpkins, flowers, butterflies, and even Legos. Here is how to mold butter in them:

  1. Pat your butter into the mold with a knife.
  2. Push down to get out air holes, then use a knife to smooth off the top.
  3. Put the mold in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or if you need the molded butter faster, put it in the freezer until firm, about 5 minutes.
  4. Turn the mold over onto a place and push the top of the mold. If it is chilled, it pops right out.
  5. Serve right away, or put in a container in the refrigerator until the party!

Use a Butter Crock to Keep Butter Fresh

To keep your butter soft and fresh, you can store it immersed in water in a butter crock, which is an old-fashioned way that the pioneers used to keep butter tasting good for a long time. Most of all, enjoy doing something that people have done for many centuries!

 Bell-shaped lid holds butter, while bottom holds water.  Putting lid down into water keeps butter fresh and soft at room temperature.

Bell-shaped lid holds butter, while bottom holds water. Putting lid down into water keeps butter fresh and soft at room temperature.

Teaching Activities

I'm not sure when I first started making butter in a jar with kids, but I know that I have to do it every year for my own children. What I love about this activity is that you are able to use it to explain:

  • Science: How things change when we add friction, and where our dairy products come from!
  • History: How people in the past had to make their own daily items. How important a dairy cow would be for a family living on a farm.
  • Sociology: What it was like for children to have to do chores so the family could have food. What kind of chores children had to do on a farm.
  • Reading: I love to tie this into the Little House on the Prairie books or other books about pioneers in America like the American Adventure series.

History of Butter Making

Butter making is an old culinary technique. Here are some interesting facts:

  • Making butter is at least 4,000 years old. They have found evidence of butter-making in the time of the Egyptians and in the Bible, where it records Abraham's wife Sarah as making butter for Visiting Angels. In fact, the way we make butter today is similar to the way it was made in King Tut's time. However, the Egyptians did not use milk from cows. Instead, they used camel milk or the milk of water buffaloes.
  • Butter has always been made by churning. Actually, the word comes from "boutyron" which probably means "cowcheese" in Greek. In the Middle East, the earliest record of making butter shows that they made a churn for it from the skin of an animal that was tied up to hold the cream inside. The bag was swung until the fat separated from the whey (milk left over when butter separates out). Twenty-one pounds of milk are needed for one pound.
  • Storage has evolved. In Ireland, archaeologists find buried barrels in bogs. Apparently, people would hide it there or maybe use the bogs to age and flavor the butter. Because the bogs are cool and anaerobic, it doesn't decay although over time it does tend to turn into something resembling cheese. An early way of preserving it was to wrap it in leaves. Pots or crocks which use water to preserve are found at least as early as the 1640s. In the 1800s, dealers in Philadelphia sold it covered in special cloths which the buyers would then wash and iron before returning to the dealer. Later cheesecloth was used as a cheaper alternative wrap. In the late 1880s, wax paper started to be used instead.
  • Where sweet butter came from. The U.S. Navy can be credited with developing a way to package it in cans that can be stored for a long time at any temperature, they called this "sweet butter." In 1914, working with many manufacturers, they perfected the technique, and eventually this type of sweet cream butter was produced commercially.