Recipe Time: Make Your Own Buttermilk and Sour Cream

Sometimes I am astounded by my own ignorance, and by my lack of intellectual curiosity.

I have known about buttermilk since I was a small child and tasted some at Nana’s.  I didn’t like it, but then I was just a kid with kid tastes.  And I have purchased buttermilk from time to time for one or another of Nancy’s recipes.  In all the 60-odd years since my first sip, I have never wondered where buttermilk comes from; or if I have wondered, I have never taken a step to find out.  Well, I know you can get it from the Safeway (usually), but that’s sort of like knowing that cars come from the Toyota plant.

Today, while browsing recipes at  (I had received a “like” from her, or them as the case may be), I came across a recipe for “instant buttermilk.” It was a revelation: buttermilk is made!  And it’s simple.  You just add a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, take our pick, to just under a cup of milk. ( I’m guessing it’s a cup of milk less one tablespoon.)   Wait 5 minutes and, voila!  You have basically the same buttermilk you buy in a store.  That is, you have ersatz buttermilk.

If you want real buttermilk, fresh buttermilk, the kind my grandparents drank, start with a closed container, fill it half full of heavy cream, and make butter.  You can shake the cream or churn it or put it in the blender, and it will, progressively, turn into whipped cream and then butter plus liquid.  The liquid, mirabile dictu, is buttermilk, genuine fresh buttermilk. And the butter is fresh butter.  Amazing!  It lacks preservatives and will go bad in a few days, so go ahead and use it.)   Amazing, too, that I have from time immemorial known how to make butter.  We actually made some in grade school.  And I paid attention, because it was butter.   I must have realized that there was liquid left over.  I probably spilled it.  But I am such chucklehead that the leftover liquid held no interest for me.  The teacher probably told us that was buttermilk, but I had a lazer-like focus on the butter, even then.

I also have learned that if you take a quarter cup of the buttermilk and add it to a cup of heavy cream or whipping cream, seal it in a clean jar, shake it well, and leave it on the counter for 24 hours, you will have creme fraiche, which is like sour cream only richer (more fat) and not so tangy.   And it’s more expensive, which is why I always use sour cream when a recipe calls for creme fraiche — that and I like the tang.  But, as I have demonstrated from time to time, sour cream curdles if you add it into the recipe while you’re still cooking, as opposed to stirring it in at the end; whereas, as I now know, creme fraiche does not curdle.

The world is full of wonders.  I think I’ll try some buttermilk and see if I like it.

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