Today we simply go to the refrigerated section of our supermarkets and buy butter already cut and wrapped in such accurate and convenient portion sizes that we don’t need to cut it to make it fit into our butter dishes, or use in many of our favourite recipes. It was a far different exercise in the eighteenth century. Getting half a firkin of butter home instead of half a pound would be quite a logistical issue - and one had to deal with unscrupulous butter-men too.
Here is Mr.Trusler’s advice on the matter:
For fresh butter, Leadenhall market is the best and cheapest in London. The best lump butter, in summer, may be bought for 9d [pence] halfpenny or 10d. a pound; in winger for 11d or 12d. … In winter time, Cambridge and Dorsetshire salt butter arrives fresh in London twice a week, and is within one penny or a halfpenny a pound as dear as fresh; but the best way for a family is to buy half a firkin, which weighs 28lb.of the best Yorkshire butter. This may be bought for 17s. or 18s. the half firkin, less than 8d. a pound, and may be bought agreeable to the palate of the buyer; but when you taste it, taste a piece on the outside, next the tub; if this is good, and free from any rankness, you may be certain the middle is. But the middle shall often be sweet, when the outsides are rank; and butter-men, knowing this, always give a taste out of the middle.
Bad butter-men who were caught were heavily penalised:
Bad butter is not to be mixed with good, on pain of forfeiting double the value. Buyers of butter should set their mark on the tub &c, and if the sellers open the tubs, or put in other butter, after the tubs are thus marked, they are liable to a fine of 10s. for every hundred weight.
So, what delights could the eighteenth century housewife prepare with good fresh butter? How about flavouring it with orange ? This recipe is far more elegant than the early twentieth century version of orange butter I gave you in an earlier post, for serving with your Finnan Haddie.
Take new cream two gallons, beat it up to a thickness, then add half a pint of orange-flower water, and as much red wine, and so being become the thicknesse of butter, it has both the colour and smell of an orange.
Closet of Rarities, 1706
Quotation for the Day.
Honest bread is very well - it's the butter that makes the temptation.
Douglas Jerrold (1803-1857)