Saturday, January 05, 2013

Ghee Lamps for Brigit!

Brass Ghee Lamps
photo by Dushiayanthini Kanagasabapathipillai

This idea comes courtesy of Ogam Bear (of Brigid's Irregulars, a Celtic Reconstructionist Flame-keeping Group found on LiveJournal). Though not traditional, it is a neat idea for devotional flame-tending.

Mael Brigde: I suspect you have discussed this before and I have missed it, Ogie, but I am very interested in hearing more about this. When did you start using butter? How long does a pound of butter burn for, once clarified? What do you strain it with--regular cheesecloth? Very cool idea. Was it your own?

Ogie: On a trip up to Seattle (I believe it was before the trip that I got to meet you), I went with erynn999 to Traveller's for tea. I saw the brass Indian ghee lamps there, and realized they could reasonably be used for Flame-Tending. Unlike the Greeks' and Romans' olive oil, butter was an established part of the Bronze Age Irish diet. While they never actually melted butter down for lamp fuel like the Indians did, they at least had the means to have done so. Using a butterfat lamp ritually, one can have an active devotional practice of actual Flame-Tending (e.g. minding, refueling, trimming the wick). Thus, I decided to buy a small brass ghee lamp and a package of wicks to try it.

Clarifying butter—separating the butterfat from the milk solids and driving off the water—isn't difficult, just time-consuming, and using a slow cooker overnight makes the process very easy.

During a Flame-Tending shift, offer a pound of butter to Brigid specifically for use in a lamp. About an hour or so before bed, put the butter in a slow-cooker (mine is a small 1½-qt one) set on high with the lid on to melt it down. You'll never need to stir. As soon as the butter is melted and boiling, turn the temperature down to low so the milk solids are less likely to burn (ruining it), and remove the lid so the water can evaporate. The next morning, skim the foam off the top, discarding it. With a paper coffee filter in a cone holder set on top of a jar, carefully ladle the hot, clear butterfat into the filter avoiding the milk solids on the bottom. Discard the milk solids. You can store the butterfat unrefrigerated for months.

How much butterfat per pound of butter? I have not measured, but will do so the next time I make it. Irish Kerrygold and Plugra butters have higher fat & lower water contents than most brands and yield more butterfat. A pound of butter gives me enough butterfat for at least three Flame-Tending shifts. Note that butterfat from salted butter will burn with a yellower flame because of the higher sodium content.

No comments: