Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Butter and Bustin' a Move

Back in March The Colonel and I were volunteers at the 15th annual Florida Frontier Days Festival.

The festival celebrates the pioneers of Florida, especially those of this area. There were artisans and crafters such as: a wood carver, a scrimshaw and horn maker, a tanner, a spinner and a weaver.

Every year, bus loads of school children attend the festival. The children could participate in all kinds of fun and games as well as hands-on activities. There were sack races, horse shoe games, tug-of-war and marble games. The kids could (for a nominal fee) dip candles, make a kite, braid a rug or dig for fossils. There was music playing and food for sale too.

The Colonel and I had to dress in period clothing. The Colonel portrayed Albert W. Gilchrist, a surveyor who first came to the area in 1885. He later became the 20th governor of Florida and was also a member of the Florida House of Representatives. The Colonel, as Gilchrist, gave a short speech to a group of school kids, telling them about himself and his life. The Colonel was just one of the handful of volunteers who portrayed key people of this area's past.

I volunteered to churn butter that day along with two other ladies. We had two glass jar, butter churns filled with heavy whipping cream. The churns had a geared handle that when cranked, turned a wooden paddle inside the jar, and then that paddle's agitation caused the cream to become butter.

It took a little while for the butter to come (the kids, as well as myself, were a little impatient for it to arrive). There is an old wives's tale that says, if the butter won't come while churning, someone is in love. I told the kids about the tale and I asked some of them who helped us churn if they were in love. You should have seen their faces. "Eeewww," they said.

When we finally had some butter, we served it on crackers. The butter was very light, creamy and delicious. The kids asked why it wasn't yellow like in the stores. "Our butter does not have any coloring added and this is what fresh, real butter is supposed to look like", I said.

The kids and their adult chaperons all loved the flavor of the fresh butter. I thought we would have to add salt to the butter for flavoring, but it was perfect the way it was.

I took a little break from the churning, grabbed a bite for lunch and then was grabbed by the arm and "pressed into service" by two of the other dressed volunteers, to dance the Virginia Reel. The Virginia Reel is folk dance that was most popular in America from 1830-1890 and originated in Ireland and Scotland.

My partner for the reel was Maggie. She had dressed in her own period clothing for the school trip to the festival. She was a good dancer.

We dancers formed two lines and faced our partners. We bowed and curtsied to our partners. Then the head couple sashayed down and back between the two lines and then reeled (taking the right arm of their partner and turning once and then taking the right arm of the next person in line, turning once, and so on) down the line. Next, the head couple lead the two lines in a march then formed an arch for all the rest of us dancers to go through. The head couple then stayed at the end of the lines and the next couple at the head of the lines would repeat what the last head couple did and so on...

It was a fun dance and easy to learn. It made me wish we still had dances like this. What a wonderful way for young men and women to have good clean fun together. Remember having a crush on someone when you were younger? Wouldn't it have been a delicious thrill to be able to briefly touch their hand and link arms together in a dance like the Virginia Reel?

The dance ended before Maggie and I could become the head couple. I think the musicians were getting tired and needed a break. The picture of us dancing the Virgina Reel was in the local paper a few days following the festival. You can see me at the left hand side in my black dress.

After dancing, I returned to my butter churning for a little while more and when the festival ended in the early afternoon, The Colonel and I headed for home.

This year's festival may be the last. Funding issues. I certainly hope not. I had fun churning butter and "bustin' a move" old school.


  1. I love this entire post. The spinner. (you knew I would be drawn in by the sight of that spinning wheel) The weaving. (I think I there is a loom in my future.) The dancing! I totally agree that we all need this kind of dancing to make a comeback. And I do believe I recognize your shawlette...

  2. Enjoyed reading this post, reminded me of the festivals we went to as kids.