Saturday, May 30, 2009

Are We "Butter" Off Without It?

"Much Depends on Dinner: the Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal" by Margaret Visser (unofficial winner Longest Book Title Probably Ever) . Collier Books 351 pages $10.95

Visser has carved a career out of exploring the history, anthropology and mythology of every day life. This book focuses on a simple meal - corn on the cob, chicken and rice and salad. The butter on corn on the cob apparently sets her off on an excruciatingly detailed account of butter.

She posits that butter could originally have come from traveles in northern climes, carrying leather bags of milk. As they walked or rode, the milk-filled bag jolted and swayed (essentially acting as a churn) and viola! Butter.

The color of butter used to be determined by the cow's diet. Pale in winter (no grass) and darker in summer. To get a desirable color, people from the Middle Ages onward tinted it with various things -- crushed marigolds, carrot juice, saffron and annatto.

Because butter can only be churned in a cool environment, northern Europeans ate it while southern Europeans used olive oil.

It was considered so rich in the Middle Ages that it was banned for Lent. But, by paying the Catholic church a fee, one could indulge. The "Butter Tower" of Rouen Cathedral was constructed from these proceeds.

Butter was practically unknown to the Japanese (before exposure to the West) and they were appalled at the scent of people who did eat it. They called them "bata-kusai" or "butter-stinkers.

To be continued because there is much to depend on butter.

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