Learning to Look: Butter Mold

Cylinder-shaped wood butter mold, about 6 inches high and 4 inches diameter, with 2 inches of wood handle sticking out the top

MSU Museum Education Team Collection

This is an example of a wooden Butter Mold (body of piece is about 6″ high and 4″ diameter). It was used to mold butter into shapes. Before modern methods of butter making, people made and molded butter by hand into pieces for individual use or sale. Different farms would have their own design on its butter mold. This was especially important when butter was sold at the market and not directly from the farm. Often, shoppers linked quality to a particular butter print and would ask for that butter specifically. In addition, printed butter sold for more money than the unmarked alternative. This was an early form of the branding of products that we see today.

How to Mold Butter

  1. Make butter
  2. Soak the mold in cold water to chill it
  3. Pack the butter into the mold
  4. Use the plunger to push the butter out of the mold

 

Cylinder-shaped wood butter mold, about 6 inches high and 4 inches diameter, on its side, with wood plunger carved with flower pattern fit inside

MSU Museum Education Team Collection

Many wooden molds were shaped like bells and could hold a pound of butter. The butter would take on the shape of the mold and the top of the butter would be stamped with the carving on the inside of the mold.

Wood plunger, carved with a flower pattern, fit into bottom of cylinder-shaped wood butter mold that is about 6 inches high and 4 inches diameter

MSU Museum Education Team Collection

Butter was usually made by woman on the farm, and was an important source of income for many families. Butter molds were also a creative outlet for farmers and craftsmen and a source of beauty on the farm and in the lives of the women and families making the butter. Common designs were sheaves of wheat, pineapples, thistles, cows, flowers, roosters, and even geometric designs.

Learning to Look

  • Have you seen or used one of these before?
  • Does the butter mold remind you of anything you’ve seen or have in your house?
  • This butter mold is made from wood. How do you think it feels? Smooth? Rough? Heavy? Light?
  • If you had a butter mold, what pattern would you want carved on the interior?

Activities

  1. Make your own butter – all you need is heavy cream and a sealable jar! Find instructions here: http://littlehouseontheprairie.com/making-homemade-butter-with-kids/
  2. Draw your own butter mold design:
  • Gather supplies: paper + pencil, crayons, or markers
  • Decide what shape your butter will be: oval, circle, rectangle, square?
  • Draw your design: what will your design be? Look around your house or outside your window for inspiration. Think about nature, shapes, or patterns. What represents you or your family?

Further Resources

Step-by step guide to using historical butter molds

Video of the process of making butter and using a butter mold

See other butter molds from the MSU Museum

Learn more info about butter molds from other museums:
http://statemuseumpa.org/butter-mold/
https://www.themsv.org/artwork/butter-mold
https://museumonmainstreet.org/content/butter-mold
https://highplainsmuseum.org/2013/07/holy-butter-mold-batman/

 

 

All Rights Reserved