The word ‘buttery’ – as with our other words this week – has a French origin and a usage in English dating to medieval times. The first thing to clarify about the buttery is that it was not the place where butter was stored - at least, not originally or solely - as even the largest medieval household would not have required an entire room for this purpose.
The buttery was where the butts and bottles (of liquor and wine) were stored – the French connection being obvious in the word bouteille for bottle. In a relatively short time the word was extended to include a room where other provisions were stored (the similarity to the word ‘butter’ no doubt helping this transition) – in other words it was the same as the pantry.
The buttery was the domain of the butler. The modern concept of a butler is of a glorified table servant, standing to attention at the periphery of the range of vision of the Master or Mistress at mealtimes, supervising minutely the work of the staff serving the food, and ready at any instant to pour the wine. Originally however he (it was always a ‘he’) had complete control of the wine and other liquor stores for the household. Because of the high level of responsibility and trust implied by this role, he had a high status in the servant world. A dishonest and poorly supervised butler could, and no doubt often did, divert some of the liquor and wine to his own purposes – this giving rise to the phrase ‘a butler’s grace’, meaning a discretionary drink.
Yesterday we had Hannah Woolley’s comments on scullery maids from her book The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673). She had a warning to those employing butlers:
“In the Buttery and Cellars, that the Butler be careful of not making every idle fellow drunk that comes to the House, and so squander away without credit the Wine, Ale, and Beer.”
Today’s recipe must be for a nice discretionary drink. And who better to advise us than the inimitable and authoritative Sir Kenelme Digby, in his The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby …. (1658)
To Make Wine of Cherries alone.Take one hundred pounds weight, or what quantity you please, of ripe, but sound, pure, dry and well-gathered Cherries. Bruise and mash them with your hands to press out all their juyce, which strain through a boulter [a cloth], into a deep narrow Woodden tub, and cover it close with clothes [cloths]. It will begin to work and ferment within three or four hours, and a thick foul scum will rise to the top. Skim it off as it riseth to any good head, and presently cover it again. Do this till no more great quantitiy of scum arise, which will be four or five times, or more. And by this means the Liquor will become clear, all the gross muddy parts rising up in scum to the top. When you find that the height of the working is past, and that it begins to go less, turn it into a barrel, letting it run again through a boulter, to keep out all the gross feculent substance. If you should let it stay before you tun it up, till the working were too much deaded, the wine would prove dead. Let it remain in the barrel close stopped, a month or five weeks. Then draw it into bottles, into each of which up a lump of fine Sugar, before you draw the wine into it, and stop them very close, and set them in a cold Cellar. You may drink them after three or four months. This wine is exceedingly pleasant, strong, spiritful, and comfortable.
Quotation for the Day.
It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend, one's present or future thirst, the excellence of the wine, or any other reason.