Friday, February 19, 2010

Top Ten Tools for Keeping Southern - 2. Butter

Thus continues a somewhat regular series in ten parts highlighting some of the basic accoutrements of keeping Southern.

I can’t believe you can’t believe it’s not butter.


There’s no point in even trying to approach keeping Southern without butter. Try eating a saltine spread with butter and then one with margarine, and I don’t care what the talking Parkay bowl said, you are not going to mistake the two. There is a fortune being made on products that pretend to replace butter, but none of them even comes close. They aren’t even healthier, for the most part!

I make biscuits and pie crust with butter (Crisco is made from cotton plants and a combination of butter and lard makes a much better pie crust). I put it in vegetables. Pasta or rice with butter and salt is nearly as good as desert. I cook all my eggs in it. 
Mama used to fix me a “butter-poached” egg for a treat when I was little – you melt a tablespoon or so of butter in a smallish skillet, and then break an egg into one side. Tilt the pan so that the egg is not over the heat but the side where the butter pools is, and spoon the hot butter over the egg until it cooks it with the yellow still runny. Then slide the whole thing over a piece of whole grain toast, sprinkle on some salt, and relish the deliciousness. When I make it now, I add a little fresh parmesan if I have some around. Oh, yum. (Now I’m hungry.)

Startlingly enough, this is one part of keeping Southern that’s actually easier up north. Restaurants up here always serve real butter, whereas back home if you ask for butter with your bread, you’re apt to be brought packets of the artificial stuff. My folks, who don’t eat margarine, often encounter confused looks from servers in the South when they tell them that what they brought is not actually butter. I’ve seen them resort to instructing them to go ask the cooks to give them some real butter, and the server comes back with a slab of butter on a saucer, looking amazed to discover that there is such a thing in their restaurant.

The confusion still reigns outside restaurants in the north, though, and I always feel awful when I ask someone to bring butter and they come back with some form of margarine. But there is a difference. And while I’m giving away one of my “secrets” here, it’s just better with butter. Even a box of brownie mix can go from ordinary to mysteriously rich and delicious if the oil is replaced with melted butter. Every smidge of flavor from simple ingredients matters.

The great thing about Chicago is that, with a significant portion of the population retaining genetic European memories, you can get European, high butter-fat butters fairly easily. Some of the most expensive is Irish butter, but oh yum. Even better than that to me, though, is finding a Wisconsin dairy outlet with fresh butter. Great butter here can go well beyond Land O’Lakes (the best of the grocery store brands).

And if you’ve largely forsaken butter because it’s too hard to spread on your toast and the like, you may be happy to learn that there is actually no need to refrigerate butter! Butter does need to be protected, but the fridge isn’t necessary – a Butter Bell does the job nicely. (Another item on my wish list.) So go ahead! Dig in, scrape on, drizzle over - savor the goodness of butter.

I’m proud to say it – I ♥ butter!


  1. Jennifer,
    This is so awesome! I can totally picture your voice saying these things - it's great. And I learned that butter doesn't need to be refrigerated. We use margarine in a tub. I know - heretics. :(

  2. Well, Ty, not being Southern, I'm not sure you can quite qualify as a "heretic" here. :) But now that you know, maybe you and Laura can move beyond that tub stuff! I'm not sure I can fully express what a difference such a simple change can make in your quality of life.