Were there never any pine trees in Pennsylvania or did they just cut them all down? CHURNS – “If one looks at the rich people around the world, it is hard to believe that a fool and his money are soon parted.” More than any other item the churn is a symbol of folk pottery, so today’s lesson, boys and girls, is everything you ever wanted to know about the churn – maybe a whole lot more than you wanted to know. Let’s start with four questions – 1- What is a churn? 2- What was a churn used for? 3- What is a good churn? 4- How do you make a good churn?  Ah, simple questions, all. From the top, what is a churn? That one isn’t too hard, now is it?  It is a vessel in which one churns, right? Yeah, right – in this day and age, what the heck is churning? Well, back in the dark ages, some of your Grandparents and most all of your Great Grandparents churned milk to separate the butter fat from the whole milk to make butter.  The butter was then molded into round blocks, most of which had a design on top to make them pretty – they even had wooden molds with which to make these blocks – and they then stored them in a cool place, usually a spring house, so they would keep a little longer.  (Springhouse - a small structure built over a spring or brook, used for cooling milk, etc.)  I know, I know.  You’ve never seen a springhouse – trust me on this one. Churning starts with whole milk – you know, like as it comes from a cow - which one pours into a churn.  This milk is then “churned” – the process of agitating the milk until the fat in the milk starts to separate from the liquid.  As this fat separates it starts to clump together and we call this “butter” – yup, butter is nothing but fat!  What is left after the churning is called “buttermilk” and besides tasting great to drink it is used to make the best biscuits you ever put in your mouth. (Few things in this world are better that crumbling up corn bread into a cold glass of butter milk.) Since there were no refrigerators or freezers in which to keep those everyday items like food, churns were also used to store and preserve a multitude of food items – meats, fish, kraut, pickles and other veggies – some salted and some in vinegar - syrup and sorghum molasses (a thick, usually dark-brown syrup produced from sorghum cane.) Churns were also used to hold all types of other dry and liquids items, both in the home and around the business.  Around the pottery, glazing and other items were stored in them – in fact, if you needed something to hold about anything it was a churn or other clay vessel. Think about it – 150 years or so ago, if you didn’t have churns, what would you have used? Before tinning, metal was not a practical storage medium for foods, was expensive and was in short supply.  The average household, and certainly not those that lived in the country, could not afford metal containers Although wooden products were used, since they were porous, bits of whatever had been put in them tended to stay there and decayed, creating a serious health problem, if not cleaned properly.  Since most pottery items had a smooth glaze of some sort on them and could therefore be cleaned easily, items made of clay became the most desired products of choice – the potter becoming an important member of the community. With an abundance of clay in many parts of the US and certainly the Southern US, churns could be produced at a reasonable price most anywhere and became the items of choice, just as clay items had been for thousands of years.  Now, another question – how many of you have ever seen a real, live churn and how many have seen one in operation? (I’m not even going to ask if anyone has actually USED a churn.) Times have changed in the last 100+  years or so, haven’t they? On to question number two – what was a churn for? Well, that’s simple – we just answered that in number one, right?  WRONG! Everyone thinks a churns main purpose in life was to store food and make butter – not true. Now think about it a little – who used a churn? Well, the easiest way to find out that answer is to see who DIDN’T use a churn. It wasn’t the men – no, men didn’t churn butter, that was women’s work.  (Remember, this was before the NOW movement.) But women didn’t use them either – at least, not unless they had too. So, WHO used the churn? It was the youngin’s, that’s who. Now, all you gals out there ought to understand this.  Again, think back 100+ years or so – a man went looking for a wife as someone to help around the farm, keep his house and feed him and the passel of kids they would have so THEY could help around the farm.  There was a very good reason for having large families – it’s called survival. Let’s face it, no electricity; no lights; carry water from the spring or well not only for the house but for the livestock as well; chop wood for the stove used to cook as well as heat the water for your Saturday night bath in a metal wash tub (I know, I know – you have no idea what a wash tub is.); plowing behind a mule that has enough sense to know what gee and haw means (do you?); clearing land with a double bladed ax and a crosscut saw (what’s a crosscut saw?); making your own clothes from thread you spun yourself or from flour sacks from the store.  (In those days, the companies that sold flour bagged them in sacks that had brightly patterned prints on them.  This was then used to make shirts and dresses for everyone in the family – about their only source of any material that had colors other than the drab browns and off whites of the material they spun and weaved themselves.  Flour was many times bought based upon what nice design the sack had and everybody in the country wore clothes made from these flour sacks – only the rich had “store bought” cloths.) No, it wasn’t easy living on a farm in those days.  A full 5 gallon churn weights over 50 lbs – no movie star types need apply.  A man needed a real woman. Now, let’s give the women a little credit for it was not the 25 year olds that the man ended up with as his helpmate to do all these things. No, it was that poor 12, 13, 14 or 15 year old who’s Pa said Farmer Smith needed a wife and she was “gitttin’ married this Saturday”! You’ve got to realize that besides it being a man’s world and the way things were done, she didn’t have much choice – the nearest neighbor might be 3-4 miles away and if she could talk Pa into letting her use the mule that evening the best she could hope for was to get 1 farm over – no hangouts for the kids in those days - so potential mates she might have to pick from were few and far between. So what a man looked for was a woman with some meat on her bones who would work from dawn to dusk and more and “be with child” most of the rest of her life – however short that might be! And all that brings us to why it was the youngin’s that used the churn. Now, stop and think about it – when children were very small – up to about the time they started to walk – the Mother (or one of the older children) took care of most of their needs.  At about five or so they were old enough to start doing some of the chores around the place - feeding the chickens, slopping the hogs, mucking out the stalls in the barn (if they were rich enough to have barn).  A little older and chopping fire wood, hauling water from the spring or well and some of the other “small” chores around the place were added.  So we have a period of about three years that the poor woman was trying to get all her chores done without any of the modern things we take for granted – like a refrigerator, a stove, vacuum, washing machine, dryer, etc, etc. - and she’s got maybe five kids under foot and if she don’t find something for them to do she is going to go crazy and that’s that! I mean, here she was having a child every year since she was a child herself and now she has all those little ones under foot – WHERE’S THE CHURN! Do you realize how long you can keep a child occupied with a churn? Why, you can keep they busy for hours!  Just churnin’ – up and down, up and down - while you get some real work done! Do you realize that without this use for churns we would have had milk in bottles 500 hundred years ago? Kept them kids busy! OK – now we come to the hard part – what is a good churn and how do you make one? (We’ll keep it simple and lump them together.) Well, most important, it just has to be designed properly with a gentle slope to the sides, a well rounded shoulder and the top pulled in with a slight flare to it, right? Wrong! The single most important thing about a churn is that it don’t leak.  If a churn leaks you might as well toss it out. Now, that ain’t as simple as it may sound.  Instead of taking clay – that you bought - making a churn on a wheel – that you bought - burning it in a kiln – that you bought, think about using clay you found and dug yourself, making it on a wheel you made yourself, firing it with wood in a kiln you designed and made from materials you dug to make the churn to start with, yourself.  Now, get it to a temperature that will vitrify the clay or add some kind of slip or glaze over it and now it won’t leak. Simple, real simple.  (Yeah, right!) O.K., next thing is that it should be pretty, right? Well, think about it.  Can you just picture yourself walking into a pottery 150 years ago and telling the men turning there that their churns were pretty?  (That would give them the best laugh they had had since ‘ol John got drunk one winter night and fell off the foot log over the creek three times trying to get to the house - was completely sober when he finally hit the door.) No, the last thing in their minds was what a churn looked like.  They were makin’ a product to be sold – as many as they could as fast as they could.  So, how do we make a churn? Well, those ‘ld potters were just ‘ld country boys – they didn’t know too much about design and the like so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to make a good churn, should it? Well, let’s see. First off, we are making a vessel that is going to be used, not set up and looked at, so how it looks just ain’t as important as to how useful it is. OK – so far, so good.  Now, among other things, this thing is going to be used to churn butter, so it will have something – usually a wooden stick with a couple of slats across the bottom – that will move up and down inside the churn.  (Anyone know what that stick thing is called?)  Now, this wooden thing should be almost as large as the inside of the churn if it is going to do a good job so that means the mouth of the churn should be almost as large as the inside – not quite but almost.  That leaves out those nice, well rounded shoulders, don’t it? (And it was so pretty that way!)  Next is the mouth itself – this wooden thing goin’ up and down inside needs some type lid to keep from splashing milk all over the place so we will come down about an inch or so on the inside and put a rim for the lid to sit on.  That should work, huh? Now, about that lid – it’s going to need a hole in it so that stick think can fit through and if we just make a flat lid with a hole it wouldn’t be very strong and would be easy to break so maybe we should beef it up a little around the center hole and maybe if we taper it down between the center and the edge, any milk that did splash would collect there and not make such a mess and maybe, just maybe, if we sloped both the lid and that little rim on the mouth that splash would run right back into the churn. Boy, this churn thing is a little more complicated than we thought, huh? If we then turn both the churns and the lids to a gage (You know, that stick we use on a potters wheel so we can make all the same type pots the same size.) we could make hundreds of churns and hundreds of lids and they would all fit – no making each lid to its own churn.  Boy, we’re really cooking now. Now, this thing we are making will be heavy when full so we need some way of picking it up, right? Right!  That means we need a handle – or two.  Maybe three, if we are in Alabama. (Many Alabama churns had 3 handles on them.) So we just plop a handle with a nice curve to it on the side and that’s it, right? Well, no.  First off, how are you going to pick this thing up?  I mean, what with? Well, let me tell you how you figure handles on a churn or jug or other type ware. First, there is one loop type strap handle on one side and an ear on the other.  (That’s right, an ear, just like yours - only prettier.)  Now, we are going to make this handle about this big ‘cause it looks about right for that size churn, right? Well, wrong again. On a one gallon churn, full weight is maybe 12 lbs or so, so we can get by with a handle we can stick two fingers through.  On a 2 gallon, one you can get by with two fingers as well.  On a 3 gallon, three fingers and on 4 gallon and up one you need to be able to get all your fingers through.  Remember, a full 5 gallon churn will weight about 50 lbs so those handles had better be sturdy and attached well – don’t want one coming off when you have a days milk about three feet off the floor, now, do we? (Evan Brown said that almost every churn he had seen broken was because a strap handle had been knocked off so he started making his with two ears instead of an ear and a strap handle.) Gee, I didn’t realize there was so much to this churn thing.  Those ‘ld boys really put a lot of thought into those things. And speaking of sturdy handles, the whole vessel must be sturdy as well.  You like those paper thin pots that are all the rage now? – boy, they sure are nice to look at - but think of how many you would break trying to actually use them? No, thin is not for real, usable pottery items of the folk era – it was for china teas sets, not churns, crocks or jugs.  The only thing thin churns were good for was to sell more churns after they broke. So that is all you ever wanted to know about churns.  You now know that a churn isn’t pretty, that it doesn’t have a nice rounded shoulder for a reason, that some thought has gone into the lids design and the handle size and that it should by all means be sturdy.  Now when you see a churn you can have a little more respect for it and those that made it. By the way, where can you get a churn today? Not many places, are there?  I mean, just how many people left in the country can make ONE five gallon churn, must less up to 40 or more a day? Marshall Pottery in Marshall, Texas, made them by the hundreds but a while back they took the ear off and I understand they have now taken the handle off as well.  Think about how to pick up a 50 lb churn with no handles. My cousin, Jerry Brown, in Hamilton, Alabama, still makes churns – just tell him how many and what size you want - but don’t expect to buy one for $.35 per gallon.  And speaking of Jerry, as far as I know he is the only man left in the US that is still grinding clay with a mule – not for the tourist but to really grind his clay.  He is also one of the only ones I know still burning a single shot ground hog kiln with wood.  He has been designated a State treasure by the State of Alabama and is also a National Heritage Foundation aware winner – not bad for an ‘ld country boy. Oh, yeah – remember what I said about a churn not being pretty? Well, that’s not quite true.  I can remember taking a kiln of ware out at my Grandpa’s one time.  This was the large kiln inside the shop – held about 3600 gallons of ware – and we had burned this one with churns, jugs and other such items, all Albany Slip glazed. As you know – sure you do – Albany Slip will fire a nice chocolate brown in oxidation and a jet black, as black as the ace of spades, in reduction. Grandpa had just taken a 5 gallon churn out of the kiln – black as sin and so shiny you could see yourself in it.  He sat it down, struck it with the pocket knife he always carried and it rang like a bell.   “Damn,” He said, “that’s a pretty churn.” BROWN’S POTTERY - from the inside