Victorian Way of Life

Immerse yourself in history by living as a Victorian for a day! This collection of games, recipes, skits, and activities will help students discover what life was like in New Zealand in the past and appreciate the technology that they have today.

Recommended for Year 1 to 8

Curriculum Links

Social Sciences 

“Understand that people have different roles and responsibilities as part of their participation in groups.” 

“Understand how the past is important to people.” 

“Understand how time and change affect people’s lives.”

Victorian Kitchen

Early settlers in New Zealand had kitchens that were very different from our own. There was no electricity, no appliances and no running water! Because they did not have a fridge or freezer to keep their food in, they devised clever ways to make their food last longer. Fresh milk was turned into butter and cheese. Loaves of damper bread were made without yeast; these lasted for days and are made with just four ingredients.

Make your own butter

For early settlers, the butter making process began with milking the cow. This fresh milk was left to stand overnight, allowing it to separate into milk (below) and cream (on top). The cream could be used to make butter, and the milk could be used for cheese. If you do not have access to a cow, buy some cream from the shops to get started.

Call an older person in your life and ask them about milk delivery, scraping the cream from the top of the bottle, and milk in schools.

– Large Screw Top Jar
– Marble/Pebble
– 100mL Cream
– Sieve/Cheesecloth
– Wooden Spoon
– Large Bowl
– Optional: Salt, Herbs


It is very easy for bacteria and mould to ruin a fresh batch of butter. Make sure all your equipment and your hands are clean before you start.


Pour the cream into the jar with the marble or pebble. Screw the lid on tightly. Ask someone else to check the lid is screwed on tightly. Start shaking!

Keep shaking the butter, it will move through the following three stages. Make sure you are listening and looking into your jar throughout the process.

Stage 1. Whipped cream
The cream will become thicker and thicker as you shake the jar. Look out for a soft thick white texture. Listen for the sound of the marble, once the cream is whipped it should be very difficult to hear.

Stage 2. Butter turns yellow
The fat will start to separate out from the mixture. Look for yellow globules Listen for the sound of the marble, it should start to rattle again Smell the jar, it may have a sour or rancid smell.

Stage 3. Butter separation
The butter will start to clump together and separate from the buttermilk Look for the yellow butter and the white buttermilk Listen the buttermilk will be sloshing around inside the jar


Now it’s time to give those arms a rest and squeeze the last of the liquid from our butter.

Place the piece of cheesecloth or sieve over the large bowl. Pour the contents of the jar over the sieve for straining. Use the wooden spoon to squash the butter, allowing the excess buttermilk to drain into the bowl.


Finally, you can rinse the butter under the cold tap. Squash the butter as you rinse. This will remove the last of the buttermilk and will prevent your butter from going rancid quickly.

Now you can add salt or herbs to your butter. You can also mould your butter into different shapes. Because you have a fridge, you can keep it in there! The buttermilk you strained off is delicious, especially in pancakes or scones.

What’s happening?

Cream is made up of fat floating in water. This is called an emulsion. When we make butter, we transform this emulsion and remove most of the water. The remaining water is locked up inside the fat globules. It is now an emulsion of water floating in fat.

FIRST, in cream, the fatty globules float around and tend to repel each other. When you shake the cream, you are violently knocking these globules together and causing them to join up. These larger, joined-up fat globules take longer to flow past each other. This slow flow results in thickened cream.

NEXT, as you continue to shake the cream, the fat globules continue to join up and get larger. The fat is starting to separate from the water.

AND THEN, the cream splits into mostly fat, and mostly water. The watery part is known as buttermilk and the fatty part is the butter. Because the fat is airtight, oxygen struggles to get into the butter, making it harder for bacteria to grow inside. This means that butter will last much longer than milk or cream.


An explanation to the question Why is butter yellow?

Make damper bread

Early settlers favoured damper over other types of bread because it was so quick and easy to make. The dough can be made quickly and doesn’t require any yeast, which wasn’t always easy to buy. Damper was often cooked on a campfire, or directly on top of an old wood fire stove.


– 3 cups self-raising flour
– ½ teaspoon salt
– 3 tablespoons butter
– ½ cup milk
– ½ cup water
– Large Bowl
– Baking Tray


Preheat oven to 200oC.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, salt and butter together. Knead it with your fingers until all the butter is rubbed through.

Make a well in the centre, add the milk and water. Mix the dough together with your hands until it starts to stick together in a large ball. Add extra flour if the dough is sticky. Gently knead the damper in the bowl.

Place the dough on a floured baking tray. Pat it down into a large flat wheel.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Reduce the heat to 150 oC, and bake for another 20 minutes.

Enjoy with your freshly made butter and some jam.

Damper can made with just flour and water, but it tastes a bit better with addition of other ingredients. Some Kiwi’s make their damper sweet by adding sugar to the dough or sprinkling sugar on top before cooking it. Be adventurous and try a few variations!

If you’re feeling adventurous, make a campfire and cook your damper outdoors.