Homemade Butter and the Drip, Dripping of Sabbath Time

A steady dripping rings out in my kitchen and I listen to the singing of the metal bowl as it catches every drop. Normally I can’t stand repetitive sounds – the ticking of a clock, the smacking of chewing gum, the clicking of a ballpoint pen. But this sound is different. Each drop pops through the surface of the buttermilk that already has collected below. Instead of creating an annoyance, this sound calms my mind and my soul.

I decided to make homemade cultured butter in preparation for a tea and then a luncheon and now find myself at the most difficult moment of the process: waiting for the buttermilk to drain off of the butter.

Butter making is not complicated, especially in our modern age when food processors do the hardest work of “churning” the butter in mere seconds. I use one part cultured buttermilk to four parts heavy cream, mixing the two milks together then letting them sit for 18-24 hours uncovered in my microwave so as to give the cultures a chance to work their magic on the cream. Then it’s into the Cuisinart for a quick whirr. I listen as the cream first thickens, making the motor of the machine work harder, then as the fats break apart from the liquid, changing the sound from strain to sloshing. This gets dumped into a tea towel (which I prefer to cheese cloth) that I have laid inside of our large colander with a bowl underneath. I tie up the ends of the cloth to make a tidy pouch, secured with the ever-trusty rubber band. I then hang the parcel from a knob on one of my upper kitchen cabinets and place the metal bowl underneath it.

Now, it’s time to wait and listen to the drip, dripping of the buttermilk. Later I’ll dump the butter out of it’s package and into a clean bowl to continue kneading out the buttermilk to dump it with the rest, leaving behind beautiful, fresh yellow butter. I’ll add some salt then, in my impatience, smear some of the fresh butter on a piece of toast or freshly baked scone before putting the rest in the fridge to harden.

But first is the waiting. I’m not good at waiting. I tend to have plenty of patience for other people but very little for myself or inanimate objects. Waiting for gravity and physics to work on the butter and buttermilk is excruciating. Surprisingly, the dripping doesn’t exacerbate my impatience but settles me instead. It sings out to me to pay attention.

I think one of the reasons I love to cook as much as I do is because it is the work of preparation. Peeling, chopping, searing, baking, sauteing, all of it is in service of a future moment, one in which I with my friends and family get to sit and relax around a table. We will pass around the warm scones and fresh butter, settling into our chairs to chat, laugh, and share. The time spent in the kitchen is an an investment that will yield great rewards once we sit together.

As I listen to the dripping of the buttermilk, the sound of my own preparations, my mind calls my attention to our observant Jewish brothers and sisters who observe a strict sabbath, one in which there will be no work, no turning on or off of stoves or even lights, one in which the family will be gathered for the day to reflect and be still. You can’t settle into a day of no work without making significant preparations. The house and the food must be ready so as to require no work from family members on the sabbath, allowing them to truly take a day of rest.

When was the last time you observed a full day of sabbath? For those of us who rarely if ever do so, we enter into the rare sabbath days extremely ill-prepared. Everytime I think I have planned well for a “day-off,” I find myself waking to a long list of “to-dos” that must be fulfilled before I can fully relax. How long will that list take? Two hours? Three? That’s half of my sabbath gone because of my lack of preparation.

I hear the singing of the buttermilk again as it drops into the bowl below. I know sabbath-keeping to be worth every moment of preparation it requires. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be hanging out in my kitchen, waiting for the liquid to drain off of butter, a product I could have bought quite cheaply at the grocery store.

I begin to feel myself chided in this moment. I have not tended well to my own sabbath-keeping, much less in my preparations for it. It takes intentionality to set aside times of rest to sit in the presence of God and I have been remiss in my own arrangements.

How about you? A day off is different from a day spent in keeping sabbath time. When was the last time you fully prepared for and lived into sabbath rest?

Prayers and blessings to you in these last days of spring and first days of summer. May you be intentional in your planning and preparations, enabling you to find authentic moments and days spent in sabbath keeping.

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