The problem is, I don’t know if ‘Olive Butter’ is being made anymore, and if it is, the manufacturers would certainly have had to make some changes to its labelling. The ‘butter’ turns out to be not a bit ‘buttery’ (in the sense of being spreadable) at all – it was a cooking oil. It also turns out not to have had any olives in it either – although it was, however, olive greenish in colour. Olive Butter was actually made from cottonseed oil – a product now ubiquitous in many commercial bakery items, especially biscuits (by which I mean ‘cookies) because it adds crunch.
At the beginning of the small recipe booklet that was released along with the product were a number of testimonials from ‘The Press.’ The one that I have chosen, from the Public Ledger, (Philadelphia),of October 1882 says much, and I don’t mean just about the product itself.
“The new olive butter is excellent for frying purposes. There's something ina name, but, probably, nothing of the "olive" in the butter, except its color; but, besides being assured by chemists that this is a perfectly pure vegetable oil, allhousekeepers who have tried it will agree that it is extremely economical and makes a very delicate frying material. Here was formerly the situation in the kitchen over the frying-pan: You could take lard, which was not cheap and "used up" very fast; you had butter, which, besides being expensive, required a skilful cook to keep it from burning; or you could use salad oil, which, though costing alarmingly to begin with, required so little to do the work that the cooking school would tell you it was like the widow's cruse - it did not seem to lose perceptibly; after frying fifty oysters the bottlewas nearly as full as before. But very few American housekeepers could be brought, by its first expensiveness, to try using sweet oil, which is the frying material of all South Europe. We leave out of the list "clarified fat," or dripping, because there is seldom enough of this to do the entire cooking with, even with a conscientious person in the kitchen who understands how to save and use it all, as should always be insisted on.
The two best known vegetable oils that this country produces are cotton-seed oil and peanut oil, both of which are understood to have been for years exported to Europe, coming back to us in wicker-covered flasks as Italian olive oil. Real olive oil from California is too small a product, as yet, to count much in the home market. The manufacturers of the new Olive Butter - which is not butter at all, but a clear, greenish oil - have agreed to give us a home product, warranted pure, without the ocean voyage; though, to conciliate our ridiculous American prejudices, do not label it cotton-seed or peanut oil, the former of which it probably is.
Anybody who tries it will agree that it cooks as well as salad oil; and as all vegetable oils heat at a lower temperature than the solid animal fats, it does not burn away or waste as rapidly as lard. It comes in convenient cans, with a mouth-piece, like the kerosene oil cans.
And another testimonial manages to appeal to jingoism, invokes authorised opinion, and suggests a challenge, all in two sentences:
Frenchmen have for a long time re-sold the oil to us both as pure olive oil and as a packing for sardines. An Atlanta authority defies any one to tell the difference between a steak fried in lard and one fried in cotton-seed oil.Evening Telegraph, August 1882
How well did the product compete with the genuine article (which I take to be genuine olive oil)? Here is an unequivocally French dish as interpreted by the manufacturers, from the promotional recipe book mentioned above. How good would it be with cottonseed oil instead of the traditional real olive oil do you think?
Pare two large potatoes and cut them into dice. Put two tablespoonfuls of Olive Butter into a frying pan, in which fry two sliced onions; put in the potatoes, and toss them now and again until they have a nice yellow colour; add a tablespoonful of chopped parsley, salt and pepper. Shake the pan until all are well mixed; dish and serve very hot.
Quotation for the Day.
Except the vine, there is no plant which bears a fruit of as great importance as the olive.
Pliny (AD 23-79)