When I was growing up in the Hudson River Valley, I owned a Holstein cow named Tranquility, Willy for short. I was one of seven children and my parents embraced living off the land and enjoying the fruits of our labor. Besides our single cow, we raised chickens, turkeys and pigs. My dad and brother tended to a bee hive and we had a huge vegetable garden that required hours of endless weeding.For my parents, this was a piece of paradise. For us kids, it meant a lot of work. It sometimes seemed like drudgery, but I have come to appreciate and value the hard work of my younger years.
Willy was an enormous and gentle beast whom we all came to love. She produced over 40 quarts of milk a day in her prime, which meant we were practically swimming in milk and cream. We actually got into raising pigs just so all that milk and cream wouldn’t go to waste.One day, a neighbor gave me an old, dusty, hand‐powered butter churn that had been sitting in the basement. I took it home, gave it a thorough scrubbing and filled it up with thick cream skimmed from the top of Willy’s milk. Lo and behold, fifteen minutes later we had golden butter. It was my job to take care of Willy, which meant milking her morning and night, cleaning her stall, taking her out to our apple orchard for grazing and finally processing her milk. Now, making the family’s butter was added to that list. I also tried my hand at making fresh ice cream and yogurt, but hand‐churned butter was always everyone’s favorite.
Willy and her stories loom large in my memories of childhood. I remember the day my parents brought home a new calf. She seemed more like a giant puppy to me than a farm animal.A few years later, I found her in the apple orchard getting tipsy on fermented fruit. I had a hard time leading her back to the barn for milking that day. Once a year, we would take her to the bull waiting up the hill at Peter’s Dairy. In her excitement, she would gallop along the village streets, dragging my sister and me along as cars pulled aside and the drivers stared incredulously. I also remember pulling a breech bull calf out of her womb and watching in wonder as he bucked and frolicked just a few minutes later.
Only too soon, it became time for me to grow up and move along. With a heavy heart, I sold my cow and moved to France to study languages and discover the world. Years later, after completing my education and getting married, my husband and I settled down in Connecticut and raised our big family.
On special occasions, I still bring out my old churn, and one of my five kids will make fresh butter for the family. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas are family holidays that would not be the same without our homemade butter.
Kristin Lende Frey