One very Bad Thing about the Good Old Days was the constant problem of keeping foods in an edible state without the Good Modern Day benefits of refrigeration and canning. Keeping butter from spoiling is not something we give any thought to today, is it?
Several ideas for preserving butter were suggested in a long article in an English agricultural journal in 1790. One of the “recipes” is eminently adaptable for use as a breakfast spread today. The journal is Letters and Papers on Agriculture, Planting, &c: Selected from the Correspondence of the Society Instituted at Bath, for the Encouragement of Agriculture, Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Within the Counties of Somerset, Wilts, Gloucester, and Dorset, and the City and County of Bristol..., 1790, and a section of the article is below.
Common salt is almost the only substance that has been hitherto employed for the purpose of preserving butter; but I have found, by experience, that the following composition is, in many respects, preferable to it, as it not only preserves the butter more effectually from any taint of rancidity, but makes it also look better, and taste sweeter, richer and more marrowy, than if the same butter had been cured with common salt alone. I have frequently made comparative trials with the fame butter, and always found the difference much greater than could well be conceived. The composition is as follows:
Take of sugar one part, of nitre one part, and of the best Spanish great salt, (or of Doctor Swediaur's best salt, which is still better than the former, being cleaner) two parts. Beat the whole into a fine powder, mix them well together, and put them by for use.
Of this composition one ounce should be put to every sixteen ounces of butter; mix this salt thoroughly with the butter as soon as it has been freed from the milk, and put it without loss of time into the vessel prepared to receive it, pressing it so close as to leave no air-holes, or any kind of cavities within it. Smooth the surface, and if you expect that it will be above a day or two before you can add more, cover it close up with a piece of clean linen, and above that a piece of wetted parchment, or for want of then, fine linen that has been dipped in melted butter, that is exactly fitted to the vessel all round, so as to exclude the air as much as possible, without the assistance of any watery brine; when more butter is to be added, these coverings are to be taken off, and the butter applied close above the former, pressing it down and smoothing as before, and so on till the vessel be full. When it is quite full, let the two covers be spread over it with the greatest care, and let a little melted butter be poured around the edges, so as to fill up every cranny, and effectually exclude the air. A little salt may then be strewed over the whole, and the cover be firmly fixed down to remain close till it be opened for use. If all this be carefully done, the butter may be kept perfectly sound in this climate for many years. How many years I cannot tell, but I have seen it two years old, and in every respect as sweet and sound as when it was only a month old.
It deserves to be remarked, that butter cured in this manner does not taste Well till it has stood at least a fortnight after being salted; but after that period is elapsed, it eats with a rich marrowy taste that no other butter ever acquires; and it tastes so little salt, that a person who had been accustomed to eat butter cured with common salt only, would
not imagine it had got one fourth part of the salt that would be necessary to preserve it.
Butter thus cured would bear to be carried to the East or the West-Indies, and would keep sweet during the longest voyages, if it were so packed as not to allow the butter to be so far melted as to occasion the salts to separate from it. But as none of these salts admit of any chemical union with the butter, it must happen that if ever the butter be so far melted as to become of a fluid consistence,
… Butter, in its natural state, contains a considerable proportion of mucous matter, which is more highly putrescible than the pure oily parts of the butter, Where it is, therefore, intended that butter should be exposed to the heat of warm climates, it ought to be freed from that mucilage before it be cured and packed up for keeping. To prepare butter for a distant voyage, therefore, in warm climates, let it be put into a vessel of a proper shape, which should be immersed into another containing water. Let the water be gradually heated till the butter be thoroughly melted ; let it continue in that state for some time, and allow it to settle; the mucous part will fall entirely to the bottom, and the pure oil will swim at top, perfectly transparent while hot, but when it cools it becomes opaque, assumes a colour somewhat paler than the original butter before it was melted, and a firmer consistence more more nearly resembling that of tallow, and consequently it will better resist the heat of a warm climate than butter itself. When this refined butter is become a little stiff, and while it still is somewhat soft, the pure part should be separated from the dregs, and then salted, and packed up in the same way as is directed for butter" This would retain the salt longer and keep much longer sweet, in hot climates, than if it had been cured in its original state.
This refined butter may be preserved in yet another way, which I have sometimes seen practised here by way of medical bonne bouche (comfit.) After the butter is purified, add to it a certain proportion of firm honey, mix it well, it will incorporate thoroughly with the butter, and when cold it eats very pleasantly spread on bread like butter; and may be given to old people, if they relish it, instead of marrow, and to others as being useful for coughs and colds. These were the uses to which I have seen this substance applied, and on these occasions the proportion of honey employed was considerable, I have seen it kept for years, without manifesting the smallest tendency to rancidity, so that there can be no doubt but that butter might thus be preserved in long voyages without spoiling. The only point that remains to be ascertained is, what is the smallest proportion of honey
that would be sufficient to preserve the butter. Sugar is known to be a much more powerful antiseptic than common salt, and probably honey may be in that respect nearly on a par with sugar. If so, it would be reasonable to suppose that one ounce of honey might be sufficient to preserve sixteen ounces of butter. In that cafe the taste of the honey would not be extremely perceptible, so that the butter, even to those who might not relish the sweet composition above-mentioned, might prove very agreeable, especially if a little salt were mixed with it when about to be used. A few experiments would be sufficient to ascertain this particular.
From the circumstance of the honey incorporating with the butter, and not separating from it while in a fluid state, it would promise nearly to accomplish the purpose wanted above. Whether, when it became very fluid, and was long continued in that state, any separation would take place; or whether the honey in these circumstances would be in danger of fermenting, are questions that experience alone can determine. Sugar, tho' it would preserve the butter equally well while it continued in a solid state, would doubtless separate from it when it became fluid. Whether melasses would do so, or what effects they would in this case produce, I cannot tell; but a few experiments would ascertain these points. Should any method of preserving butter in warm climates be discovered, it would be productive of so many benefits to individuals, and to the nation at large, by giving an opening for a new branch of commerce and manufacture, that it is much to be wished the few experiments wanted to ascertain these points were made, with such care, under the direction of persons who would faithfully report the result to the public, as should be sufficient to remove all doubts upon this head.
A version of this recipe, which solves the question of quantities of honey required for a given quantity of “refined” (clarified) butter, appears in Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c.1870.)
Butter, Preserved with Honey.
Wash and press the butter until it is quite free from milk. Put it in a jar, and place it in a pan of boiling water. When clarified, and just before boiling, remove it from the water to a cool place; take off the scum, and work it up in the proportion of two ounces of honey to every two pounds of butter. This mode of preparation will be found very convenient where butter is eaten with sweet dishes. It will keep as long as salted butter if the air be excluded from it.
Hmmm … Buttered Honey, or is that Honeyed Butter? Either way, it sounds delicious, and makes me think of Honey Cakes as the recipe for the day.
Honey Cakes (A German Recipe.)
Put two ounces of butter into a saucepan, and when melted, stir in half a pound of honey. Let it boil, stirring briskly all the time. Take it from the fire, and when slightly cool, mix it with the finely-minced rind of half a lemon, two ounces of sweet almonds, blanched and coarsely pounded, the eighth of a nutmeg, grated, and half a pound of flour, and last of all, half an ounce of carbonate of soda dissolved in a small quantity of warm water. Leave the mixture in a cool place twelve or fourteen hours. Roll it out half an inch thick, cut it into small square cakes, put a thin slice of blanched almond in the four corners. Bake in a moderate oven for twenty-five minutes.
Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery (c.1870.)