By Christalee Froese
The memories of being at my Aunty Arline’s farm when I was a kid run deep. I recall with fondness the barn where the cows were milked, the sucking sounds of the milking machines and the warm frothy milk pouring from the cream separator.
And oh how I remember the cream—the thick, rich cow’s cream. I loved it best when sugar was added to the heavy cream and the whole sticky concoction was used as a ‘dip’ for white bread. Aunty Arline also slathered cream on her yummy new potatoes from the garden and on wild mushrooms she picked in the pasture.
But of all the things that fascinated me about my Aunty Arline’s farm, none caught my attention as much as the milk separator. I don’t know what it was about that rattling, clanking and shiny piece of equipment that enthralled me, but I simply loved it.
I loved all of those metal cups that would be washed meticulously each evening and strung together to fit perfectly into the separator. I remember the foamy warm milk being poured into the huge metal cauldron at the top of the separator and then I remember the ultimate moment of milk-separator joy—the moment that the heavy cream came running through one spout, and the foamy milk came tumbling out of a second spout.
So it was that I found myself sitting in my Aunty Arline’s living room last week reading her a book simply called Cream Money. This book of prairie stories compiled by editor Deana Driver of Regina recounted old-time milking scenes that took me right back into my Aunty Arline’s barn.
As my dear aunt listened to the words, she easily reached back into her past to remember story after story about her days as a dairy farmer. She recalled her best milk cows who knew their stall by heart and even started releasing milk in anticipation of milk time. She remembered the ‘kickers’ too, the ones that you had to watch because of their habit of taking a jab at the milk pail, or the milker.
We read interesting story after interesting story from farmers across the prairies who had gathered cream like it was gold and sold it to keep their families alive. We read about the shoes they bought for their kids with cream money, the clothes they put on their own backs and the grocery bills that were paid with cream money.
In one interesting story by Montmartre’s Maurice Giroux, we read about a dairy farmer who found a mouse in her cream can one day. Rather than lamenting, she simply went on and made some fresh butter with the cream.
She then took the six pounds of butter to the local grocery store and asked if she could have six ‘fresh’ pounds in return. The store clerk said he’d fulfill her request, but instead of returning the six pounds of ‘fresh’ butter to his customer, he rewrapped her ‘mouse butter’ and returned it to her without her ever knowing the difference.
“What she doesn’t know isn’t going to hurt her,” the store owner chuckled to himself, parroting the phrase the customer had used when he asked her if she felt guilty about passing on her ‘mouse butter’ to an unsuspecting customer.
If you’re ever up for a delightful walk down memory lane, pick up the book Cream Money. You’ll be right back in the milk barns of your past, or at the very least, in the milk barns of your ancestors.
To order Cream Money, visit driverworks.ca.
Visit Christalee Froese’s blog at bookjourneytojoy.com or email Lcfroese@sasktel.net.