Wednesday, 26 January 2011

ABC Wednesday: Butter

Butter, it's the only thing my best friend and me disagree on: she hates it. I love its cool, creamy paleness and culinary versatility. And this is my very favourite sort:

The wrapper alone would sell it to me, did the first time I bought it, but there is something very special about this butter. Too expensive for daily use, I have it only as a rare treat* it makes pastry taste the way it used to, transforms plain cakes (oh the seed cake!), and if there's any left over:

it's worth making jam to go with it on toast.

But the best thing about it is just unwrapping it and sniffing takes me back to the time I first really noticed butter.

I was about fifteen and had been invited to a new friend's house after school. Her mother greeted us and into the kitchen we went. Through a hall twice the length and not far off as wide as our whole house, past semi open doors through which I glimpsed chintzy couches, tables groaning with books, and musical instruments. I'd never been in a house like it, huge and rather seedy, you could imagine Jane Eyre in it.

Anita's mother put the kettle on, some teacakes in the toaster and sent her off to the corner shop for butter: 'Ask for fresh.' She insisted. I hung about on the edge of the kitchen, shyly, and watched as this filmic woman (she was wearing jewelry, eye-liner, and a caftan! (my mother wore slacks)) placed pretty china on a tray:

'Could you put these on the table in the dining room, please Eryl?' Her pink painted lips asked.

When Anita returned we sat at the table. She poured the tea:
'Milk and sugar?'
'Just milk, please.'
Her mother buttered the hot teacakes, and passed them around. One bite and I was lost. The taste was better than anything I'd ever eaten, new yet strangely familiar. Salty and creamy it was the equivalent of a long soak in a warm bath for the palate. As I walked home later I remembered that before my father died my mother baked bread for weekend breakfasts which we ate with strawberry jam. Between the bread and the jam we spread real butter. I remembered, too, rolling small lumps of it in the sugar bowl, while no one was looking, and crunching. Those days were long gone. Now we could only afford margarine with its odd flaky texture and face-cream taste.

In the days that followed I raved about the butter so much that my mother baked a loaf and bought a packet to go with. We all sat in the kitchen and stuffed ourselves. Later my brother told me when he grows up he'll have butter everyday, and I told him I would too.

And while I probably don't, I do use it a lot: in cakes, pastries, certain types of icing (frosting for you Americans), egg dishes, mashed potato, and goodness know what all else. Here's a selection of my recent buttery doings:

Fuel, with crackers, cheese and pickle, for when work goes on late into the night.

A chicken for roasting: thyme, onions, half a lemon (up its bottom), white wine and a good application of butter.

Cayenne pepper, dark muscovado sugar, chopped rosemary, sea-salt and melted butter, for spicing up some lightly toasted nuts.

A rather large tattie scone, made with tonight's leftover mashed potato, cooks in a butter smeared pan.

All through the health scares when oil derived spreads were fashionable I held out and stuck to butter. So I'm rather glad to hear it's been found far healthier than those nasty augmented substitutes. Goodness knows what they do to make olive oil solid!

*at all other times I use a french brand I can get locally

For other ABC Wednesday posts click.


Kass said...

Delightful. Delectable. Delicious writing. The memories you weave into this are as good as the warm wafting of buttery smells.

Titus said...

Brilliant, brilliant post. I've only ever eaten butter, I'll only ever eat butter. We use President for everyday, I buy Anchor whenever I feel a bit nostalgic (brand I grew up with) and I'm a sucker for anything new and continental in the butter line I see on the shelves of any supermarket or deli! I eat butter (and cream, for that matter) with nothing else. On fridge raids. My idea of heaven would be that the creamed butter and sugar mix one creates for baking cakes contained all the nutrients required by man, meaning one could thrive on it alone.

Enough rhapsodising; great pictures, fantastic butter memory and, cutting to the chase, where do you get the burro alpi from?

Roger Owen Green said...

how does one hate butter? i can understand opting against because of fat or calories, but not liking it? strange.

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

savannah said...

*sigh* i'm hungry now and it's 2100hrs. buttered toast and tea! xoxoxox

Wanda said...

Oh my, after reading this, I have completey melted, and laying prostrate on the floor, drooling like a madman.

I love butter, and the fresher the better...

Remember Julia Childs..."Butter and Cream" "Butter and Cream" one can't live without them.

Great post...no better yet, a delicious post.

SY said...

reading post about food is always difficult. Great post..
btw the first time I bought butter I thought it was actually a package of frozen cookie batter.

ya stupid i know
- Sy

Eryl said...

Kass ~ thank you. I find it impossible to keep my memories out of food, or food out of my memories.

Titus ~ Anchor was the butter Anita brought back from the corner shop! I haven't had it for thirty years, I must get some. We use President too. The Burro can be got from Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh, but you might get it from Sarti in Glasgow, too.

ROG ~ she's a strange girl, is the only answer I can come up with, but it actually makes her gag. The strange thing is she loves cheese.

Savannah ~ nothing better than buttered toast and tea, XXX

Wanda ~ thank you! Julia Childs was a woman who knew.

Sy ~ not stupid, just inexperienced. I once bought pomegranate syrup thinking it was the stuff you put in cocktails (grenadine?).

magiceye said...

deliciously buttery take!

Carole said...

Oh my goodness my mouth is watering. I always have butter in the house although I don't find as many uses for it. I use it for fresh bread, hot popcorn, and cookie baking. It is dreadfully expensive compared to margarine so I use that mostly.

We made homemade butter all the time when I was a kid. I took it for granted then, not so much now.

Tess Kincaid said...

Butter is a staple around the manor, too. Oh, man, did this post ever make me hungry.

Tumblewords: said...

Good butter is an absolute gift. Well crafted story - love it.

Halie Santos - Dayo said...

This post made my mouth water. I want butter on toast...

angryparsnip said...

What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful story filled with lovely and quite tasty memories.

I love butter but I rarely use it.
We have it in the frig and my son the cook uses it.
A fabulous chef I knew many years ago said it is the smell that excites the senses, taste buds and a little goes a long way. ( Good for me !)
When I do make crepes my favorite filling is butter then sprinkle inside and out with powered sugar.
Heaven !
Must make some this weekend .....

cheers, parsnip

Mollie said...

Butter, particularly Anchor, is a reason for me to stay here. I'm dead serious.

Your conversation with your brother about butter reminded me of a story my mom told me. Growing up when she did, margarine was a luxury and butter was an everyday item. She had margarine for the first time at a friend's house when she was 9 or 10. From then on she said she would always have margarine when she grew up. Guess what's in her fridge.


RuneE said...

An d all the health evangelists tells us that we can't use this. Boo to them.

Mona said...

i love butter, your post makes my mouth watering all yummy foods here, btw MY ENTRY IS HERE have a peek :)

Petrus said...

Yes I think my wife would agree with you - butter is far better for baking than marg.

Problem is butter can cause heartburn in some people but of course the wonderful taste may make that all worthwhile.

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm never coming here before breakfast ever again.

Alesa Warcan said...


Both of my parents are from the butter producing regions of their countries... I was fortunate enough to grow up with the taste of good butter. Better than gold I say, certainly tastier!

Oy, is that Branston pickle I espy? I keep hearing about it, but have yet to experience it! One of these days I'll cross the channel and nab myself some malt vinegar, Branston pickle, and other sundry items. Or I could just go to British supermarket in Paris and pay the markup, but what would the fun in that be? ; j
Hey on an unrelated note, I made bread pudding last Saturday... With the twist that I used coconut milk, blueberries, and apple. And a quick nuker-blender coulis with raspberries...
Coconut made the pudding feel a lot lighter. Although it's really a homey kind o' nosh it looked rather posh. : p
Tasted ok too.

I'm loving these food posts and pictures of yours! : j

The Unbearable Banishment said...

@SB: Ha! That made me laugh!

Who doesn't like butter? That's crazy. I didn't think it was possible. What do you mean by "expensive?" How much is that package you picture?

Sausage Fingers said...

First time in my life I have heard of someone not liking butter!
Your culinary pics are damn good and always make me hungry, you are now my main source of food porn.
Eryl = Food Porn Goddess

newjenny said...

It's difficult to spread, though.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Oh Eryl, I don't eat butter on doctor's advice - but that does not stop me from drooling over your photographs. I too remember going to a friend's house where they had 'bought cake' for tea and coming home and raving about it to a mother who would only ever serve homebaked stuff and was less than pleased that I was enraptured by it.

jabblog said...

I like butter, too, and your photos have made me quite peckish :-)

nick said...

I must say I haven't bought butter for many years, we use supposedly healthier spreads of one kind or another. But all this "expert" health advice is very dubious. The theories keep changing every few months.

How to explain that I ate butter all the time when I was a kid and at the age of 63 my heart is still in fine condition? Perhaps I should take a deep breath and sample some again....

Cezar and Léia said...

oh girl, I need to think about my diet here! hehehe Just kidding!
You are very talented, congratulations!
Léia - Bonjour Luxembourg

The Pollinatrix said...

My paternal grandparents always used real butter, but we never had it at home, except when my mother made shortbread cookies at Christmas.

I only use real butter these days. Life is too short not too, I feel. I read somewhere once, regarding the butter vs. margarine debate, an opinion to the effect of "I trust cows more than scientists." Indeed.

On an unrelated note, I had a dream about you this morning. You were giving some sort of a talk at at a university, but your last name was Barber. I have no idea.

Pat said...

My Granddad had a grocer's shop and in the window was a pat of butter the size of a coffee table and two wooden paddles he used to pat butter out for customers.
Butter in a shop window? This was the frozen north - Haslingden.
You could always get a job setting up food shoots - they are excellent - especially the jam butty.

Eryl said...

Magic Eye ~ thank you.

Carole ~ you made butter?! I am in awe, I'd love to try it, is it difficult?

Tess ~ I couldn't imagine margarine infiltrating the Manor!

Tumblewords ~ it so is! And thank you.

Halie ~ toast is still the best vehicle for butter, to my mind.

Parsnip ~ all I have to do is heat butter in a pan for the boys to come sniffing around asking what's for dinner, so I think your friend is absolutely right.

Those sound like the most indulgent crepes ever! I must try them.

Mollie ~ I must get myself some Anchor, is it very different from the butter you get in OK?

RuneE ~ too much of anything is bad for you, even water I've heard(!), so I take what the health evangelists say with a pinch of salt (also bad for you!).

Mona ~ thank you for your link, I will come over shortly.

Petrus ~ I didn't know butter could cause heartburn, though I once met someone for whom it caused migrane.

Scarlet ~ sorry! X

Oops, ,y oven timer is going, be back soon!

Eryl said...

Alesa ~ it is Branston pickle, good with strong cheeses but it overpowers milder ones.

I love coconut milk, must try making bread pudding with it. My mother used to make a pudding with rice and coconut milk that was very yummy indeed.

UB ~ unimaginable isn't it?

At just over two pounds a pack (250 grams) it's about twice the price of my usual butter.

Sausage ~ ha! Thank you.

Jenny ~ that's one of things I like about it, you can have thick slabs.

Weaver ~ you remind me of my nephew who when asked what cake he wanted for his birthday one year said: 'a proper one from a shop'!

Jabblog ~ I guess this is how advertising works!

Nick ~ they are now saying that trans-fats are extremely unhealthy and that they are a byproduct of solidifying oils to make 'healthy' spreads. Butter is probably a safer option. I quite often drizzle olive oil on toast if I'm having it with something savoury, or if bread is very fresh I don't bother greasing it at all. In this way I hope to offset my unhealthy ways!

Be careful if you try butter again, you might become like the mayor in Chocolat!

Léia ~ thank you!

Polli ~ my feelings exactly: life is too short. And the scientist v cows thing is spot on.

Eryl Barber, mmm, sounds quite good!

Pat ~ I have a very vague memory of a shop when I was a child that patted out butter with wooden paddles. I have some wooden paddles myself, bought in some fit of 'good life' dreaming years ago and never used!

That jam butty was like Monroe, the minute the camera was on it began to glow.

Meri said...

Ah yes, life's better with butter. I never succumbed to margarines and spreads. . . I figure life's short and I don't use a lot of it, so why deprive myself of something so delicious.

grrl + dog said...

the power of taste and smell to take us back..

I just relaised I am a butter philistine...

upgrade my butter..

NanU said...

There's nothing like the taste and texture of real butter. I don't use it every day either, but my kitchen has been margarine-free ever since I figured out there's exactly as many calories in a gram of the good stuff as there are in a gram of the fake stuff.

Eryl said...

Meri ~ somehow I never did see you as the margarine kind.

Denise ~ knit yourself some!

Nanu ~ exactly!

Kim Ayres said...

There's no substitute for real butter. Unfortunately we have to restrict having it in the house very often because when we do we slice it into slabs to put on and in everything, and eat far more of whatever it's in or on because it tastes so bloody good.

Have I told you lately just how superb your writing is, Eryl? The way you evoke all the senses and memories with the words you use are quite exquisite. Your poetic skills have worked their way into your prose in much the same way that butter makes everything that much richer and a fuller experience.

Eryl said...

Kim ~ that is one of the problems of it: it is so bloody tempting. When I left home and was able to have butter any time I wanted, I wanted to have it all the time, on and in everything. I once stewed a cabbage in it! Luckily it's become just another ingredient now, it's always there so I don't really notice it.

Thank you, oh so much, for your generous words about my writing.

Stocker said...

You made me think about butter for the first time today, and I remembered my first buttery experience too. Although my Mother will probably inform me that that's not the first time I had it, but my memories don't need to be right 100% of the time.

Joey said...

I am going to LOVE this blog!

Golden West said...

What a great post, Eryl! I love butter, too - yum! Enjoyed this immensely!

Eryl said...

Stocker ~ I would go so far as to say it would be impossible for your memories to be right 100% of the time. I don't think mine are quite right 10% of the time!

Joey ~ very glad to hear it.

Golden ~ thank you.