Monday, 3 May 2010

But a bit of better butter makes better batter

I like butter - not in a Last Tango way - but I cannot think of a single dish that wouldn't be improved by some lovely butteriness. I could quite happily eat buttered toast without the toast. But I don't because - unlike Marlon Brando - I try to keep my less attractive urges in check.

I blame my mother for this. (The butter, not the less attractive urges which are entirely my own responsibility.) There was something going on with the milkman when I young. Something that involved exchanging washed milk bottle tops for a Milk Marketing Board Cookbook. Each recipe in that book began: Take 1lb of dairy butter, 2 pints of dairy cream, and add 15 pints of full fat milk. We lived on a Sixties housing estate filled with young wives who engaged in competitive coffee mornings. The milkman retired at thirty-five and went to live in Spain.

My granny talked about best butter - as if there were any other kind. 'I made this cake with best butter,' she'd say. I was confused: how many grades of butter were there? Of course, I know better now. Pale Normandy butter glistening with crystals of sea salt is the best butter; Anchor, over-salted and artificially yellow is probably the worst.

My father's been diagnosed with high cholesterol (not to be confused with that pungent aftershave Hai Karate). Consequently, the butter addiction which has characterised my parents' forty-eight year discord, sorry, marriage has been abandoned. Margarine - some sort of cholesterol-lowering plant extract spread - now sits unloved and untouched in the cow-shaped butter dish. 'I only want a little bit of butter for my bread,' Pa whimpers - fruitlessly as there's not a Dairymaid or Alderney in sight.

Margarine is a travesty of the highest order. Not only does it taste nothing like butter, but it has ruined a perfectly beautiful word. Margarine, with a hard 'g' like Margaret, means pearl or pearly. And then some chemist created oléomargarine from rendered beef fat and that luscent, nacreous, iridescent pearl of a word became forever linked with synthetic spread.

Poets have long known the real value of margarine.For example:

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Margarine that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade.

(The Tempest - William Shakespeare)

And here's Robert Frost musing on his morning toast:

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like margarine, and now a silver blade.

Even St. Matthew urged us not to throw our margarine before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you. (Matthew 7:6)

Utterly Butterly? Utterly rancid. Give it to the pigs.


  1. I have to have my toast cold, so that the butter sits on the top in a thick layer. I think this is called addiction.

  2. I think this is called admirable!

  3. I tried just butter, but then realised it was the salt I liked best. So now I just have the salt.

    Incidentally, my friend Phillipa had a summer job in Wirral's famed margarine manufacturers: Van den Burgh & Jurgens (Just keep saying it - such a great name to say.) She won't touch the stuff having seen what goes into it.

  4. I can't keep up with you. Too many pats, er, posts.

    In my youth, margarine only came in white, with a little packet of yellow dye. I think my mother used it on her hair.
    But it seems this was the gov't bowing to the wishes of dairy farmers in Quebec, who wanted there to be no confusion whatsoever au moment du petit déjeuner .

    But I agree with BB, it's all about the salt.

  5. O, that's a wonderful detail, Deborah. So you could shade your margarine between palest primrose and bright sunflower?

    There's a certain type of cheap and nasty margarine that I like on cheap and nasty sandwiches. (See an earlier Lusts of the Flesh post). But otherwise it's gotta be butter.

    And you have all that lovely FRENCH butter to choose from. (Mutters enviously)

  6. Bébé - My pa was a travelling sales rep for Van den Burgh when I was little and good.

    How things change ...