Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Butter to follow the Bread.

April 29 ...

Butter is the natural corollary to bread. After several - Nay! - Numerous bread stories over the last couple of years, I am finally induced to write about the lovely, pure, vitamin-rich (A and D), all-natural and very tasty yellow grease. Olive Oil may be all very well and equally pure and natural, but you cant make decent pastry and cakes with olive oil. Butter’s only crime is that it is currently politically-nutritionally incorrect. As for its substitute, the awful yellowish grease called m..g….e, – to paraphrase someone whose name escapes me – Who do you trust most, cows or factories?

Margarine has been described as being only one step away from plastic, and I for one believe it. In less enlightened times, entirely chemical-free butter substitutes were available, and they were quite delicious in their own right. Here is one:

Almond Butter Gelly.
Take a pound of almonds blanched, and beat fine seven yolks of eggs, and strain out the amonds, then set a quart of cream, or more, on the fire, and when it boils up put in a little lemon peel, and add the juice of a lemon; put it in a cloth, let it hang a day or two, and put it into dishes.
[Hannah Glasse, Compleat Confectioner, 1742]

Doesn’t that sound delicious?

Butter does not keep well, this is its sole fault. Such is the way of ‘natural’ foodstuffs. In previous times some heroic efforts were made to preserve it, and by way of example I give you “Dr Anderson’s famous recipe for preserving butter”, from an article in A Compendium of Useful Knowledge (1835).

“Best common salt, two parts; saltpetre, one part; sugar, one part – beat them up together, so that they may be completely blended. To every pound, or sixteen ounces of butter, add one ounce of the composition. Mix it well with the mass and close it up for use.” The article continues “Butter prepared in this manner will keep for years, and cannot be distinguished from that recently salted. It should, however, be remarked, that butter thus cured does not taste well, till it has stood a fortnight or three weeks. Dr. Anderson remarks, that he has found by experience, that the above mentioned composition not only preserves the butter more effectually from any taint of rancidity, but makes it also look better, taste sweeter, richer and more marrowy, than if it had been cured with common salt alone.”

That is a pretty amazing recipe – it manages to make margarine sound almost tempting. I like my butter to taste buttery, not marrowy. It is the saltpetre that is the problem, not the sugar. The addition of sugar to butter gives us buttercream icing. Hannah Glasse also gives us the following delightful idea – a recipe that was plagiarised regularly in subsequent cookbooks for the rest of the century.

Fairy butter.
Take the yolks of two hard eggs, beat them in a marble mortar with a large spoonful of orange-flower water, and two spoonfuls of fine sugar beat to powder; beat all to a fine paste, add a like quantity of fresh butter just taken out of the churn, and force it through a fine strainer of little holes into a plate.

Tomorrow’s Story …

More on Fairy Food.

Quotation for the Day …

Honest bread is very well - it's the butter that makes the temptanion. Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)

7 comments:

sharon said...

Mmmmmmmm, butter. I was brought up on m***e (because, for some reason, my dad likes it) and I always hated it. But my great-gran would give me cream crackers with real, salty butter. I'd steal from the butter dish and lick it off my fingers when she wasn't looking. Good quality butter is something I would never be without (and I'm sure the food nazis would say I eat too much, but they can get stuffed). Although I've never been convinced by that unsalted stuff.

Wouter said...

Hello, you were probably referring to Joan Gussow, "I prefer butter to margarine, because I trust cows more than I trust chemists."

http://www.chelseagreen.com/2001/items/thisorganiclifepb

Liz & Louka said...

That almond butter gelly does sound delicious, but I don't really understand the instructions. Are the almonds ground? Are they and the egg yolks mixed with the cream when it goes on the fire?

The Old Foodie said...

Sharon: I am in complete agreement with you on salty butter - although I do use unsalted in baking, usually.

Wouter - thankyou for that, I meant to look up the quotation, but I was running a little late ....

Liz - the problem with old recipe books is that the instructions are a bit vague by our standards. I think this is a sort of custard - but would be interested in other readers' comments.

Lidian said...

The almond butter sounds wonderful!

sharon said...

By way of follow-up: When I went shopping at lunchtime today, the shop had some very good locally made Irish soda bread in stock. It's amazing smothered with yummy butter and nothing else; it's just so difficult to not go and cut another slice...

The Old Foodie said...

AS the ad used to say "Butter makes it Better".