Friday, March 26, 2010

So When Did They Start Doing This?

Yes, it's a stick of butter. I was making "Ultimate Brownies" over the weekend and needed 2/3rd cup of butter or margarine. I don't cook with margarine anymore. If I'm going to consume fats, I might as well consume real ones, not "fake" ones.

I remember making butter in grade school. You get cow's milk of a high butterfat content. Usually Brown Swiss, Jersey or Guernsey was used. Holsteins give the most by volume but it's not usually high in butterfat. Put the milk, a quart was used, into a mason jar with a snug fitting lid, and shake. Generally, a child sat in a chair at the front of the classroom and shook the jar for 30 minutes. They passed the task off to the next child. The shaking of the jar congealed the butterfat into solid butter. This process took hours. I'm thinking it took us the better part of a class day. You could not stop the process once you started so kids who got the lunch hour got to eat late and in the classroom. Someone was assigned as their "lunch buddy" and they got to bring the lunches back to the classroom and eat with them. I remember doing this 3, maybe 4 times while in grade school and once at home.

Butter varies in color. It's dependent upon what the cow consumes. Spring, summer and fall cows who forage will produce butterfat that is deeper yellow than cows fed a grain or hay diet in the winter. The beta-carotene in grass gives the butterfat the resulting yellow color. For uniformity sake, food coloring is added to commercial butter so one box from one herd doesn't look any different from another herd. Salt is also added. Real butter is not salty. Depending upon the cow's diet, however, it can have an earthy or, we used to call it, grassy taste.

Oleomargarine is solid fat. It is white in color. I remember when it came onto the market. Stores would advertise this new fat that holds up to the high heat of frying and leaves baked goods moist. They also advertised "Colored" Oleo. As this was around the time of the Civil Rights Movement, I could not understand why, as we wanted to not use pejoratives when describing each other, stores would heavily advertise margarine that seemed aimed at a certain segment of the population. I'm grateful that my mother, very kindly said, "That's in reference to the addition of food coloring. Oleo without food coloring is white and people don't like that." Ohhhhhhhh.

In Home Economics, we learned that one stick is a half cup of shortening. My mother insisted that we know how to cook. We started on Jell-O and moved up to chocolate chip cookies and then on to deviled eggs and potato salad before being allowed to make hamburgers and pot roast. I remember when the tablespoon marks were put on a stick of butter. For years, you couldn't buy butter in quarters. You bought the pound, took it home and quartered it yourself. It was hugely convenient to have it wrapped in sticks. It certainly made for easier baking.

Measuring 2/3rd of a cup of shortening has always been a hit or miss affair. A third of a cup is 5 and a third tablespoons. That third has always been up to the cook to eyeball. I need 2/3rds which means either two sticks will be cut in pieces or I'll have to figure out, once I cut the one, how to utilize the remaining 2 2/3rds chunk left. I got out my knife and prepared to slice. That's when I noticed the printing on the package. Wow. Finally, after all these years, someone has decided to help us and eliminate the eyeballing. I still wound up with two chunks of butter sliced off two sticks, but I know exactly how much is left and I used it for other things. This is a great day.

Yes, I'm fully aware that, perhaps, this has been printed on butter sticks for several years now. But I'll swear that the butter I used over Christmas did not have this measurement on the label. When you have reached the age where you sometimes have to take off your bifocals to read, a graphic line like this is major news.

Beverage: Water


1 comment:

  1. I think I'm going to go out on a limb and say they've been printing that on butter for a good 10-15 years, believe it or not. I'm just not sure because none of my recipes use measurements other than "pinch", "scoop", "handfull", "some", "enough", or "a little". :P

    - D / Z