Just Beat It

The Mellshimer Sisters Make Butter

Imagine the sound of thick, rich cream splashing and slopping against the insides of this glass jar, as one of its owners, Ella or Ada Mellshimer of Ulladulla, wound the handle to move the paddle inside. Nearly every kitchen in Australia had a butter churn in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and this model, made by Blow Churn Co. of England, was a popular choice.

In the region where sisters Ella Ruby (1886-1979) and Ada Maud (1888-1970) Mellshimer lived, dairy farming was big business. Dairy cooperatives of the NSW South Coast used animal powered (and later electric) churns to make butter, but in the region’s small farms and houses, small glass churns like this made butter fit for the home.

A universal desire for this wholesome, tasty, staple food has influenced numerous designs of churns throughout history. But the quality of butter has always depended on the skill of the person making it and the equipment available, and getting a firm texture is challenging.

To make butter using this model, introduced in about 1900, Ella and Ada had to first milk their cows, separate the milk to retrieve the cream, unscrew the lid of the churn, and pour in the cream. Then, they had to turn the handle for a lengthy period, which operated the gear system at the top and rotated the paddle inside to agitate and beat the cream until it thickened into butter.

As the saying goes: many hands make light work. Perhaps the sisters worked together to make this task that little bit easier?