Churning the past at our house museums


Hand-operated kitchen tools such as butter churns help school students understand the hard work that once went into food preparation in the kitchens and the running of several of our house museums, including Elizabeth Farm, Vaucluse House and Rouse Hill House & Farm.

Our Education team is always looking for interactive ways to help students to understand the past by experiencing some of the everyday activities people did in those times.

One way we can do this is in the kitchen by involving the students in cooking and preserving food.

We recently purchased an authentic butter churn for the students to investigate and handle. The churn came from a farm in Gundagai. To purchase an item like this for use in the museum we needed to consult the curators about appropriate churns for the time period and for the particular home. Then we examined the range of authentic churns that were for sale. These come in different sizes, have a range of mechanisms and have been made around the world. Finally, once we had picked an appropriate model, originally made in Victoria, we needed to work out how we could ship the churn to the museum.
Butter churns are a great tool for students to handle because they show how much hard work went into food preparation in the 19th century. A butter churn uses the physical agitation of cream to clump the fat in it together, eventually forming butter. It takes a long time and is solely based on human power; consequently it is very tiring, even when there is no cream in it (as in our programs). This process did not change much from the 1700s up until the mid-20th century, when these traditional methods were still being used on many small farms and rural homes.
Several of our Education programs - at Elizabeth Farm, Vaucluse House and Rouse Hill House & Farm - allow students to use these authentic tools to engage with the past. Many children are not aware of how basic foods such as butter are made and only see them as something purchased in the supermarket, so it is wonderful for them to be part of experiences that expand their knowledge and understanding.

Related Education Programs

Stew to Stir Fry at Elizabeth Farm. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Elizabeth Farm

Rouse Hill House & Farm

  • Early to Rise (program focuses less specifically on kitchen work, but includes typical chores and tool use)

Pickled, Potted and Preserved at Vaucluse House. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

About the Author

Portrait of woman.
Naomi Manning
Naomi is passionate about teaching history and has worked in different contexts to do this over the years. Currently she working for Sydney Living...

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