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There was a time when most households made their own ghee and makhan. Just like pickles and papads and what-not, churning malai or cream into luscious white butter aka makhan in the confines of their own kitchens was considered routine. Today, most of us prefer buying butter off supermarket shelves. On the occasion of Janmashtami, we dig into the past and the present of the makhan story, making makhan at home and why it is the food of gods. 

Saee Koranne-Khandekar, cookbook author and food consultant, remembers the fresh makhan her gran and mother would churn out. “Most homes would have a pantry cupboard exclusively for dairy in the coolest spot in the kitchen. This is where you stored fresh makhan (and ghee, cream and milk for the day) in a vessel under water and changed the water frequently to make sure it does not smell.”

The origin and history of makhan story is not very clear. But the earliest studies suggest that it was an accidental discovery. After days of travelling on horsebacks, when cattle herders realised that the milk they had stored in animal skin bags had churned due to jostling, it became what we know as makhan. In India, makhan story is associated with tales of Lord Krishna, who is known to be very fond of it.

The Past

India's makhan story goes back to its epics. According to the Bhagwad Gita, Lord Krishna was raised by foster-parents Nanda and Yashoda, who were part of the local cow herding community. His pranks of stealing makhan from his mother’s handi earned him the tag of makhan chor or butter thief and this makhan story remains popular in Hindu mythology. Dahi Handi, the popular way in which the Western parts of India celebrate Janmasthami, recreates a scene from Krishna’s life, along with his friends, how he stole milk and makhan from the pots hanging from the ceiling.

Processed butter as we know is pasteurised butter, which has a longer shelf life, as compared to the one made at home with fresh or cultured cream. Saee says, “Butter is always derived from cultured cream. You collect the malai from milk for a week and then add dahi to it, let it sit for a couple of hours and then churn it to get makhan.” Makhan, called as loni in Marathi, is used as a side for amboli (a multi-grain pancake), thalipeeth, bhakri and as a cooking fat. Certain subjis like bottle gourd is sometimes made in homemade unsalted butter or makhan, she informs.

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The Present

For Punjabis, most dishes are incomplete without a dollop of makhan. Punjabis play an important part in the makhan story. Whether it is a melting trail on hot aloo parathas or thick cream floating on lassi, butter chicken or sarson ka saag, butter adds joy and character to a Punjabi meal. In Tamil Nadu, white butter is used to make festive recipes like Seedai, Murukku, Thengoyal and Laddoo for Janmashtami special.

Dahi, makhan, ghee – the whole chain is very precious to a Maharashtrian family. “My great grandmother would make small serving-size balls of loni and have them swim in a bowl of cold water at the breakfast table whenever she would make thalipeeth,” adds Saee on makhan story.

In most parts of north India, there are several recipes that are prepared for Janmashthami that marks the birth of Krishna, and Makhan mishri is the most common prasad or bhog that is prevalent for Janmashthami special. Prepared with fresh cream and sugar crystals, it is intrinsic to Janmashtami.

Food consultant and YouTuber Preetha Srinivasan on the makhan story says, “The most important naivedya/ prasad items include white butter, curd, milk and poha, apart from honey and kalkundu. We also make Navaneetham that is a mixture of makhan and mishri/ sugar and offer as prasad.”

“My mother typically places white butter on a banyan leaf and then offers it to God. Once the puja is over, this makhan and navneetham is offered to a child in the family. A child eating this is considered as Baby Krishna eating it,” she adds.

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Recipe for Makhan Mishri

Ingredients

250 gms cream (you can use the malai from full cream milk)

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2 cubes of ice or cold water

100 gms mishri

A few strands of saffron or cardamom powder (optional)

Method

In a blender, put the cream and ice cubes. You can use a hand whisk.

Keep blending until the butter separates.

Separate the buttermilk.

Add the sugar or mishri and mix well.

Flavour it with saffron or cardamom powder.

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