Monday, October 25, 2010

A Curious Recipe for Butter.

There is avery curious recipe for butter which I have been meaning to post for some time, in the hope that your comments will enlighten me as to how it actually ‘works’. I have never tried to roast butter, but the amazing Hannah Glasse describes the method in her wonderful The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1774). The intention seems to be to make a buttered breadcrumb topping for oysters, but I really don’t understand why it would not immediately melt off the spit and drip into the ashes – even over the very low fire she suggests. If buttered crumbs are needed, why not simply melt the butter in a pan and then toss in the breadcrumbs?

To roast a pound of butter.
Lay it in salt and water two or three hours, then spit it, and rub it all over with crumbs of bread, with a little grated nutmeg, lay it to the fire, and as it roasts, baste it with the yolks of two eggs, and then with crumb of bread all the time it is a roasting; but have ready a pint of oysters stewed in their own liquor, and lay the dish under the butter; when the bread has soaked up all the butter, brown the outside, and lay it on your oysters. Your fire must be very low.

I have searched for other recipes for roasted butter, in the hope of gaining some insight, but without success. That is not to say there are not any interesting variations of the idea however. Firstly I give you a version from The Country Housewife’s Family Companion, by William Ellis (1750), which was sliced and eaten as a sort of snack.

TO roast a Pound of Butter or more the Irish Way. Take a pound of butter, season it well with salt, and put it on a wooden spit; place it at a good distance from the fire, let it turn round, and as the butter moistens or begins to drip, drudge it well with fine oatmeal, continuing so to do till there is any moisture ready to drip, then baste it, and it will soon be enough. A certain Irish woman told me this eats very nicely, insomuch that she has done on a Christmas eve twenty-seven different pounds so, at a farmer's house in her country, where it has been kept all the holidays, to accommodate a friend with a slice or two, as we do cakes or minced pies here.

The following recipe, from a century and a half earlier, is quite different and obviously intentionally sweet – but I still don’t understand how, even with the sugar and the repeated dredging with breadcrumbs, it would stay on the spit. Do you? The recipe is from Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife (1615), and he describes how to roast the butter ‘curiously and well’. The word ‘curiously’ had different meanings in the past – it could mean ‘carefully, attentively’, ‘skilfully, exquisitely, cunningly’, and ‘finely, handsomely, beautifully’, and (but perhaps not until after Markham’s time), ‘in a way that excites interest or surprise.’

To roast a pound of butter curiously and well.
Take a pound of sweet butter and beat it stiff with sugar, and the yolks of eggs; then clap it roundwise about a spit, and lay it before a soft fire, and presently dredge it with bread crumbs; then as it warmeth or melteth, so apply it with dredging till the butter be overcomed and no more will melt to fall from it, then roast it brown, and so draw it [from the spit], and serve it out, the dish being as neatly trimmed with sugar as may be.

Quotation for the Day.
Butter is "...the most delicate of foods among barbarous nations, and one which distinguishes the wealthy from the multitude at large."


Sharlene T. said...

So, basically, you end up with a very buttery pound of roasted/toasted bread/flour?... hmmm...

The InTolerant Chef ™ said...

But why? I'm sure the butter could be put to better use than roasting?

Elizabeth said...

Sounds like you just keep adding crumbs until it's the bread thats stuck to the spit. Very odd.

Calpete said...

That's what I was wondering, too. It almost sounds as though you keep packing on the crumbs until they've absorbed all the butter, and then you have a sort of crumb cake, very buttery and delicate. So tempting!

Nancy said...

This is fascinating. My guess is that "roasted butter" would have slowly become a log of shortbread. Think how full of butter shortbread cookies are, and consider also that they are usually baked long and slowly. The egg yolk in the second recipe would also serve as a binder.

J.W. said...

Hmmm...I have a theory!

In olden days butter was often a cultured food product. Tangy, more like sour cream or a very fatty soft cheese.

Perhaps this was a little bit more like one of those pastry-wrapped brie cheeses that some people do at holidays?

The Old Foodie said...

Good Theory Jesse - might work with a thick coating of crumbs. I am not sure about the slow fire though - the pastry-wrapped brie is cooked for a short time in a hot oven. I hope someone tries it and lets us know.

Anonymous said...

Compare it with the recipe in Markham's English Housewife.
To roast a pound of butter well. page 87 in the Michael Best edition.

To roast a pound of Butter curiously and well, you shall take a pound of sweet Butter and beat it stiff with sugar and the yolks of eggs, then chap it roundwise about a spit, and lay it before a soft fire, and presently dredge it with the dredging before appointed for the pig; then as it warmeth or melteth, so apply it with dredging till the butter be overcomed, and no more will melt to fall from it; then roast it brown, and so draw it, and serve it out, the dish being as neatly trim'd with sugar as may be.

Johnna H.