What’s Buttermilk For? A Four-Year-Old Weighs In

“Mommy, how do you make buttermilk?” my four-year-old asked at dinner the other night.

I don’t have a smartphone, so I had to answer based on what I remembered from the Little House on the Prairie books. “Well, I think you make butter and then take the leftover liquid and maybe let it culture—er, spoil—a little and then you drink it, which your Nana likes to do, or you—”

I was going to go on to explain that you can also use buttermilk to make pancakes, but he interrupted with a literary reference of his own. “No, you don’t!” he yelled. “You don’t drink buttermilk! You put it on pigs!”

E. B. White
E. B. White, the man who taught my son that buttermilk is for washing pigs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to Charlotte’s Web, my son thinks the only purpose of buttermilk is to wash pigs.

One’s as good as another, I guess. But I wondered, how many other uses of buttermilk are recorded in classic children’s literature?

I found it fed to chicks in a story called “A Merry Family” by Nikolai Nosov (in a collection entitled, A Harvest of Russian Children’s Literature by Miriam Morton).

There’s a book called Buttermilk in Stephen Cosgrove’s Serendipity series, but that’s about a buttermilk-colored bunny called “Buttermilk,” not the drink called buttermilk.

Then there’s Nora Woodson Ulreich’s 1934 The Buttermilk Tree, in which buttermilk appears to come from the moon or perhaps from a tree. I can only find six of the illustrations and none of the text, so I’m not sure how buttermilk plays in.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve discovered in my brief search for buttermilk in children’s literature. It’s probably enough to confuse my four-year-old, but I could use a few more examples. Do you know of any other children’s books that mention buttermilk?

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