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Southern Baking and Beyond

For many in today’s world, baking is a hobby, something dabbled in once the leaves begin to change into their brilliant colors towards the end of another year. Baking is a reason to show off a recipe seen practiced between the pages of a trendy magazine, or seen demonstrated on any number of television shows clamoring for our attention and ratings.

In the South however, baking is more than a hobby, it’s a way of life. It is as much a  fixture in our DNA as in our culture.

Southerners share food at every occasion, in times of celebration as well as sadness. Ask any Southerner to share a favorite memory of childhood and usually the answer will involve a grandmother’s kitchen filled with aromas that comforted the most troubled soul. The memory may include holidays and women with busy hands gathered together to make easy work of pies, cakes and cookies. Or perhaps thoughts harken back to a time one was in need and a special dish made from the heart was sure to accompany healing words. Nevertheless, kindness was the most important ingredient of any bake.

My mother remembers the multitude of baked goods served at dinners on the ground of her hometown church. She recalls how her mother made a well in the wooden bowl filled with flour, salt, and buttermilk for biscuit dough and “pinching off” the dough into drops that would mysteriously form a perfect round biscuit.

I still remember my grandmother’s fried chicken she always made special when we came to visit. The delicious, perfectly seasoned poultry was juicy and tender and far superior to anything you could buy in a bucket! My grandmother has passed on, but forty years later have not lessened the memory for me.

Old-fashioned Southern baking is too quickly becoming only memories for many. Today’s South seems to have no place for what is tried and true, replacing everything Southerners know and love with something newer, quicker, and more exotic. There is nothing wrong with trying something new, but when I can no longer find pimento cheese at the supermarket because it is considered “too Southern” for newcomers, I feel like a part of my heritage is being stripped away.

And so, I created this blog for classic Southern baking. You will not find obscure ingredients, or words you cannot pronounce. Along the way, I’ll provide stories and history behind our favorite bakes, as well as how-to videos and the recipes that didn’t work. (I’ve had many recipe fails! I am not a pro pastry chef!)

I look forward to sharing, learning and creating the bakes that are truly Southern as well as many that we have adopted as our own and become Southern through the years.

Thank you for visiting,

Suzanne

 

 

 

Mystery and History in a Hummingbird Cake

black yellow and green small sized bird on red steel ornament
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I can still remember the first time I came across a recipe for Hummingbird Cake. I was in my early twenties at the time and tucked in the pages of Country Cakes by Bevelyn Blair was this odd, if not strange sounding, cake. I thought, “Why on earth would someone name a cake after a Hummingbird? Surely no one would put hummingbirds in a cake!” Well, I was young.

After scanning the ingredients, I was surprised by the mix of spice and tropical fruits. Somehow, that didn’t seem like a good mixture to my imagination and I never attempted to make the cake, even though it is considered a Southern classic.

Over twenty years later, and hopefully a little wiser, my mother’s impending birthday set me to thinking of something I could bake for her that would be unusual, and not just the bakes I was most familiar with. I had done a Red Velvet with her for my own birthday just two months earlier, so it seemed odd to make it again. Then it came to me, “How about a Hummingbird Cake? It might be just strange enough to be the best cake we have ever made.”

If anyone knows about my mother and I and our history of cake baking, then they also know every birthday cake ends up in the garbage can. It is as if the baking gods have it out for us when it comes to cakes and birthdays. Any other day of the year will result in a decent and quite tasty cake, everyday but for two out of the year. This time I was determined and the mysterious Hummingbird Cake would end our streak of bad luck!

I started reading through the indexes of my many recipe books and decided on the classic from Southern Living magazine. In the February 2018 edition, was the story of the cake as well as a recipe with many ingredients already in my cupboards. And definitely no hummingbirds!

The story in Southern Living credits Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC as having submitted the recipe for the magazine in 1978. It is the recipe we all know and follow as the true Hummingbird Cake. But as I was researching further into the cakes’ history, I found that not only can the roots of the recipe be traced back to Jamaica and part of a press package advertising Jamaica tourism, but the cake itself has many variations and is known by a different name.

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Photo by Michelle Clement on Pexels.com

Doctor Bird Cake as it is called in Jamaica, began as a type of fluted, bundt cake without frosting. It was named after the national bird of Jamaica, the Red-Billed Streamertail Hummingbird. Jamaicans refer to the bird as Doctor Bird as its black crest and long black streamer like tail feather resemble the top hat and long, tailed coats worn by doctors of days long gone by. Another version states the bird is called the Doctor Bird as it lances flowers with its bill to savor the nectar. 

The bird is revered not only for its beauty, but for its history as well. The first people of Jamaica, the Arawaks, believed the bird possesed magical powers. They called it the ‘God bird,’ because they considered the bird to be the reincarnation of dead souls. The bird has been written about in many Jamaican folk songs, one with lyrics, “Doctor bird, a cunny bud, hard bud fe dead.” The translation reads, “It is a clever bird which cannot be easily killed.”

The recipe has changed only slightly since it was first introduced to American’s back in the 60’s, but one thing has remained and that is the cake’s moistness and delectable flavor. It is truly unique as the bird it was named for. Here is the recipe submitted by Mrs. Wiggins so long ago.

Hummingbird Cake

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Ingredients: 

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups granulated sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

3 large eggs, beaten

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I like Watkin’s brand)

1 (8oz.) can undrained crushed pineapple

2 cups chopped ripe bananas (the recipe calls for six, I found four to be enough)

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Vegetable shortening (for greasing the cake pans)

Frosting Ingredients:

2 (8oz.) packages cream-cheese, softened

1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened

2 (16oz.) pkg. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla extract

Additional toasted pecans can be used to decorate cake after it is frosted.

Step 1. Preheat oven to 350*. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil. Stir until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Step 2. Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with the shortening) and floured 9- inch round cake pans.

Step 3. Bake in preheated oven until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean; about 25-30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and cool completely for about an hour.

Step 4. Bein the frosting will cakes are cooling. Mix together cream cheese and butter in a mixer or with hand-held electric mixer, until light and fluffy. Choose medium speed. Gradually add the powdered sugar and mix on low until frosting is smooth. Add the vanilla and mix at medium-high speed until frosting is fluffy; about 1-2 minutes.

Step 5. Assemble the cake by placing first cake layer on a plate or cake stand. Spread about one cup of the frosting over the cake layer. Continue with second and third layers, covering with frosting after each layer is added. Spread remaining frosting over the top and sides of assembled cake. Add additional toasted pecans if desired. Enjoy!

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It sounds like a lot of work goes into making this cake. But really, it doesn’t take all day and if you have baked a cake before, this cake will not stress you out. Just take it step-by-step. If you haven’t baked a cake before, my advice is the same. Just make sure to gather all your ingredients first. Make sure your cake pans are prepared while you wait for the oven to preheat. 

 

Recipe for Cheese Biscuits Red Lobster Style

Of all the traditions in our baking heritage, my favorite is the recipe passed down through the generations. And though you wouldn’t find this particular recipe in your great-grandmother’s tin box among the oil stained index cards, it is one that was given to me by one of my mother’s former co-workers nearly 30 years ago. So, perhaps it qualifies.

As to where our friend found the recipe celebrating the beloved quick bread from the national seafood chain, I do not know. Our friend passed away a few years ago and I never thought to ask her if it was truly the original recipe or one where she had found it.

I do know this recipe is incredibly simple to make and impossible to mess up. So if you are new to baking, don’t allow the fancy name to keep you from making these for yourself. With salted butter and that zing of garlic salt, these simple biscuits are a meal all by themselves!

Here are the ingredients you will need:2018-10-24 04.08.06

2 cups of Bisquick Mix

1 cup of grated cheddar cheese

2/3 cup of water

Parsley flakes

Garlic salt and butter

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Preheat oven to 450*.

In a large bowl, mix cheese in Bisquick. Add water and stir until blended. The dough will have a lumpy appearance. The dough will be quite dry as well, but keep with it and avoid the desire to add more water.2018-10-24 04.11.24

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet.2018-10-24 04.20.34

 

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Bake until browned. About 12-15 minutes, but check them at 10 as ovens do vary.

After removing from oven, spread with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt.2018-10-24 04.57.16

Makes approximately 10 large biscuits.2018-10-24 05.00.20

 

Trying to Get My Bake On

I can’t even think about baking right now, even though this is the time of year when bakers are at their fullest glory. Baking begins in earnest once the days begin to shorten and the sweltering heat of summer’s grip loosens and allows the crisp air of autumn to fill the days. However, what does one do when you live in the South? Summer holds on with desperation, it doesn’t take notice that the local supermarkets are filled with displays of spices and dried fruits for decadent cakes and pies we associate with cozy homes and warm ovens.

Right about now, I would be perusing cookbooks in search of a better apple pie recipe; one that could stand alone as the ultimate best ever apple pie. But tomorrow temperatures are expected to reach 90* and the thought of firing up a hot oven  and rolling out pie dough is not my idea of fun. Baking is meant to be an activity that evokes feelings are warmth and family, not sweat and remorse for having thought a pie in the oven on a blistering hot day is just what I need right now.

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I don’t know when this horrid heat and humidity will give way to cooler nights and bright colors from the changing leaves, but for right now, I am content to use my microwave as much as possible. A baked potato and a tall glass of iced tea is the best I can manage. Desserts will have to be store-bought cookies and a cold glass of milk.

baked cookies and glass of milk
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I wonder if other baking devotees go through moods like this. Is there a time of year or a season that just puts them “off” baking? And if so. how do they get back into their baking “groove?” My annual apple pie might have to wait until Christmas before it sees the inside of an oven if these temps continue.

I wish for everyone to enjoy baking in parts far and away from the heat and humidity of my “neck of the woods,” and inspiration for many successful bakes!

No S’more Hurricanes

My blog has been neglected lately as the Carolinas prepares for Hurricane Florence. Hurricanes are nothing unusual in this part of the country and those of us bred, born, and raised in the Southeast have learned to “pray for the best and prepare for the worst.”

close up photo of coconut tree
Photo by Suparerg Suksai on Pexels.com

I can’t even think about baking right now as I scurry from store to store in search of water, fresh batteries, and other essentials to ride out the storm. Along with the drastic winds, torrential rains, and flooding, I know from previous experience power outages will be only a matter of when and for how long.

Baking may be an impossibility right now, however, I am reminded of a saying from long ago, “Bread and water can easily become tea and toast.”

Boiling water for a proper cup of tea might only be possible with a small tabletop grill, and only if the rain and wind are cooperating long enough for me to light a match to the coals, and toast might take more patience than I have available, but there is the assurance of better days and hard times make us all the more appreciative of the electricity once the power is restored.

Tea and toast are simple enough, but what about that delicious treat from the campfire that has become a part of our American food heritage? Good ‘ole S’mores! No need for electricity with this heavenly delight. A candle’s flame burning bright can transform a marshmallow into a toasty, gooey treat. Once the chocolate bars and graham crackers are added, it becomes sumptuous.

fried marshmallows on top of black steel nonstick frying pan
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For anyone desiring a bit of health to this American classic, some shredded coconut added to the mix gives this dessert a reason to indulge. Of course everyone has their favorites for add-ins, and times like these give us time to help ourselves and practice a bit of culinary creativeness.

I hope and pray for everyone’s safety and for common sense to prevail as Florence cuts her path through our backyards. Please don’t believe you are stronger than the storm, only God is. Keep indoors, seek shelter, and remember your pets. If you can’t make arrangements for them to stay with you, ask a relative or call your local vet or animal shelter for help. Our fur babies need to be safe as well.

Take care, and God Bless,

Suzanne

The Southern Biscuit Conspiracy

My Homemade Biscuits
Don’t fall for the twisted biscuit cutting technique as I did, biscuits will not rise as high!

My mother’s tales of her mother’s southern biscuits I fear, are soon to be all that’s left of the true southern biscuit. That fluffy, delightful quick bread, slathered in melted butter, that is of southern legend, is quickly fading away. Only a few remain working to keep the basic recipes alive. We can only hope our efforts are not wasted.

If biscuits were wild animals, not doubt they would be an endangered species. No one bakes biscuits anymore, at least not a really true honest to goodness southern biscuit. The kind our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers and so on and so on mixed in their kitchens. Today’s world is filled with plenty of “new southern” cuisine cookbooks explaining step-by-step how to make the traditional southern biscuit. However, a traditional southern biscuit it is surely not.

Biscuits are complicated, but their ingredients are not. The simpler the better. It only requires self-rising flour, butter or lard, maybe shortening if you so desire, a pinch of salt, and milk. Perhaps buttermilk if we want a tang in our biscuit. But never more than that.

I recently subscribed to a magazine dedicated to baking in the hopes I would find tips and techniques to help improve my baking skills. I was thrilled to see my first copy subtitled, “The Southern Issue,” and as I scanned the pages my joy turned to disgust. Page after page of recipes resembled nothing I knew of southern baking. The section covering how to make a perfect southern biscuit was nothing less than a slap in the face to the many who could stir up a batch of the mouth watering, buttered bread with only a few scant ingredients.

Of the various dedications to southern baked biscuits from scratch, only one required no less than seven ingredients. And not one was without requiring yeast, cake flour, and sugar. One recipe called for twelve ingredients! I am not making this up. What’s worse, anyone looking through these pages, unfamiliar with southern baking, would be terrified at the attempt of making biscuits altogether.

If I sound like a regional baking snob, I apologize. It’s fine to experiment with the basics and create something new, but please don’t change the basics and call it “authentic.” I am proud of my “southerness,” and the traditions of our culinary heritage. Just as anyone from the Midwest, or other regions of the United States feel a deep connection to the fare that has graced the family table for generations would be, or those from shores far away take pride in the uniqueness of their own recipes handed down through the years. But what is it about southern cuisine that creates in many of my fellow Southerners, a desire to change the very roots of our traditional dishes?

As a Southerner, I have heard many snipes about the South. Always by those who have decided to move here for a better life only to whine about how “backward,” we are, how strange our foods are, how we talk, how we live, the list goes on and on. Years ago, I read an article about how many transplanted southerners were attempting to rid themselves of their accent because they felt it was a handicap in business dealings. Every time I watch a movie with an actor attempting a southern accent, I cringe. So many who didn’t grow up in the South, have such stereotypes of us as a people, it probably isn’t difficult to understand why many have tried to re-invent themselves as someone else. I wonder if others with regional accents are struggling with the same issue. Apparently, we have all been told the very things that make us different are not acceptable, right down to the foods we eat and love so much.

How terrible! What would our lives be if the immigrants who came to this country never shared the heart of their beloved cuisine? Everyone wants everyone to be like everyone else, and in so doing, we are losing the very core of our identity.

Okay, maybe it’s not a conspiracy. It just feels like it. Especially when my fellow southerners have been brainwashed by the masses to “modern up” the old recipes, the recipe itself is no longer recognizable. A southern biscuit is a beautiful bread. It takes several attempts and many fails to get the mix just right and produce a biscuit worthy of the family table, but as we have all heard before, nothing worth having ever came easy.

Conspirators be gone! The southern biscuit lives!

Recipe for a Simple Southern Biscuit:

2 cups of self-rising flour

1/4 cup butter or lard, well chilled

3/4 cups of sweet milk or buttermilk, chilled (don’t allow the milk to stand for to long)

2-3 tablespoons of melted butter, for brushing over tops of fresh baked biscuits

Heat oven to 450*

Measure flour and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add butter or lard by “cutting” it into the flour. You can use a pastry blender or use your hands by rubbing the butter/lard together until the dough is shaggy in appearance and moistened.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and begin pouring the milk or buttermilk into the well.

Little by little, work the flour into the center until the milk is incorporated. Don’t over-do it. Overworked dough will be tough; not flaky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured table or board. Roll or pat out the dough until it is roughly an inch thick. If rolling out the dough, work from the center and out. Not back and forth. The dough must be handled as little as possible.

Dip a biscuit cutter or the top of a beverage glass into a little flour and press straight down into the dough. Do not twist the cutter. The biscuits will not rise up high if the cutter is twisted. (I learned this the hard way, as you can see from the picture above of my biscuits). You should be able to get around 12 biscuits from this recipe.

Place biscuits on a baking tray or shallow cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Once the biscuits are out of the oven, brush the tops with the melted butter.

Serve hot.

 

 

 

 

Easy As Tater Tot Pie

Easy As Tater Tot Pie
An easy recipe for busy back-to-school families

The heat index may be spiking at 101, but the school bells are ringing everywhere beckoning  students back to the classroom. In my town, classes begin in one week, and as busy parents are scrambling through aisles in big department stores for those essentials their children need, its east to forget how important a decent meal can be in a hectic lifestyle.

Maybe not everyone loves potatoes as much as I do, (my heritage is part Irish), but the simple spuds are staples in the American diet and versatile for many dishes.

The American Tater Tot is probably thought of as a food fit for toddlers and small children, but with a little imagination, these quick finger foods can transform into a hearty dish filled with vegetables in as little as an hour. This casserole is so simple to make and will be perfect for evenings when you are in hurry and leftovers are a cinch. Add a pre-mixed salad and you have your meal ready for everyone.

Many recipes for tater tots in casseroles exist, perhaps due to their simplicity. I have adapted my own version into something similar to a Shepherd’s Pie. of course, you can add in your own favorites to suit your family’s needs and likes, however, this is so simple and easy to make, you might even save yourself some work by asking your kids to help out. The only real hard work consists of browning ground beef, or for a healthier alternative, use ground turkey instead.

Here is a list of what you will need:

1 lb. ground beef or turkey

1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup of milk

1 can of mixed vegetables

1 small bag of tater tots

1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

a dash of salt and pepper

Directions for Easy As Tater Tot Pie

Brown ground beef or turkey in a saucepan. Drain the meat once browned and no longer pink.

Add the meat to a casserole dish and cover with the mixed vegetables. combine the milk and cream of mushroom soup. Pour over the vegetable layer.

Arrange tater tots over the soups layer and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese.

Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to set for five minutes.

You can always adapt this recipe for your family. If they prefer other vegetables, of course, try those. Your kids can help in layering vegetables, tater tots, soup, and cheese. This helps you out and gives them a responsibility in helping out at meal time without the dangers of knives and heating elements. If you would like to supervise them  browning meat, just make sure you are close by and never allow small children to take out the casserole, or place it in a hot oven!

 

 

 

 

Make Your Own Homemade Butter

Butter is one of the most essential ingredients for any baker or chef, and as many more people are choosing a farm-to-table experience, making your own butter is simple and easier than many might think.

In my home sate of North Carolina, the small farm is reappearing after seeing declines from the 1980’s. Professional chefs are more apt to be found shopping their local farmer’s markets than to be shipping in dairy and produce from parts unknown. And if you find yourself choosing farm over supermarket, one of the best ways to avoid high prices, preservatives, dyes and additives is in your local dairy where fresh cream is just a few steps from fresh, homemade butter. Of course, if you can’t find fresh cream at your local farmer’s market, heavy whipping cream will work just as well.

Let’s start with the utensils you will need; their simple enough!

A large, clean bowl,

A spoon or spatula,

A cheesecloth or kitchen towel,

Icy, cold water,

And one airtight container.

I recommend using a food processor for making butter as a stand mixer does not have a top and once you begin rinsing the butter, the water will slosh out from the bowl and create a huge mess. I have also experimented with a kitchen blender, and though it is powerful, it isn’t capable of creating enough of a vortex to bring the cream to a solid state. Cream needs a constant agitation to reach the texture that will create butter. If you have a Ninja Professional blender, or a Vitamix, I would suggest trying these blenders as they have a great amount of power to continually pull the cream down into the center. I do not have a blender like these, so I can’t say for certain they will create butter from cream. Now, we can begin to make our own butter!

Step 1. Pour the cream into the processor bowl and fasten the lid. Make sure you have secured the bowl and lid. I use an Oster food processor for making butter as it has a lid with a shoot for pouring or adding ingredients.

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Step 2. Power on processor for approximately 3 minutes. You will see the cream begin to take on a more solid appearance. At this stage, you will have whipped cream, and if you would like to remove some of the cream you will have a delicious topping for desserts. Just add either vanilla extract or confectioner’s sugar to taste. If you would rather have just butter, replace the lid securely, and power on the processor again for another 3-4 minutes.

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Here we have whipped cream!

Step 3. At this stage, you will begin to notice the cream that had bloomed and expanded to form the whipped topping appearance, has begun to relax, and is now settling down. You will see a line form against the side of the bowl. This is where the cream is being broken down further into a crumbly look that will begin to form curds.

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Notice the “line” forming close to the bottom 3rd of the bowl.

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The butter curds have begun to form!

 

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Our butter is taking its shape!

Step 4. Continue to blend in the processor for another 3 minutes. At this point, the crumbly texture will form defined curds. Also, you will notice a milky, watery substance has collected at the bottom of the bowl. This is buttermilk! And you can save this for use in recipes.

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Butter curds have formed. Notice the resulting buttermilk at the bottom.

Step 5. Scoop out the butter curds and place in a colander or mesh strainer  to allow the butter to continue to drain. Don’t try to force the butter curds through the strainer. This is just for draining, not straining! You can now pour out the buttermilk into a separate container if you would like to keep it for future use, otherwise, just discard the milk.

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Step 6. Now, return the butter curds to the processor bowl and add approximately one cup of icy, cold water. Place lid on top and secure. This is very important at this stage. It’s about to get messy and you want to make sure the water doesn’t slosh about over your countertops!

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Step 7. Continue this process of rinsing and draining the butter approximately 3 more times. Each time you will notice the water will be more clear and less cloudy. This ensures the butter is clean and will remain fresher and keep longer in you refrigerator.

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Step 8. After the last rinse, place the butter in a cheesecloth or clean, kitchen towel and begin squeezing the cloth around the butter to drain out any excess water or moisture left remaining in the butter.

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My mother demonstrates squeezing the butter and draining out the excess water.

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Our finished ball of butter!

Step 9. Now we have a completed portion of fresh, homemade butter! Now, you can add salt if you like, or spices and herbs. For through blending of extra ingredients, just place back into processor and pulse blend for quick incorporation of your added ingredients! Store in an airtight container and your butter should keep for at least three weeks or around 2 months if frozen. Enjoy!

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