Wednesday, March 4, 2009

25 Random Things: Butter

I like butter.
I like the sound of the word, as well as the taste of cultured, sweet cream, and salted butter. Here are some associations:

Don't overdo it, though: I remember hearing my grandmother Mary Logeland describe how she "lost her taste for butter" after eating a large chunk of it as a child. This story held me spellbound, and was installed as a cautionary tale. Despite her distaste for butter, it was always on Mary's table.

I have always mistrusted margarine: We lived in Albert Lea, Minnesota when I was a kid, and occasionally made the trip over the border to Iowa, to buy margar-eene in plastic bags. (Despite Truman's passage of the federal Margarine Act in 1950, there were restrictions on the sale of margarine in Minnesota in the 50s.) I understood this as a cost-saving measure of some sorts, but was secretly dead set against it.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table with a packet of white margarine, using my thumbs to break the orange color bubble that was supposed to be worked through the stuff to give it a yellow color. As I tried to beautify the margarine (which not only looked but also tasted bad), I heard a favorite commercial on the radio: "Land O' Lakes, the people who make...dairy foods as fresh and the morning dew!" I didn't know at the time that Land O' Lakes was a dairy cooperative, but I remember missing butter desperately at that moment.

Here is some additional info about margarine packaging in those days (transparency warning: this is not for the squeamish):
In 1944 uncolored margarine came to be packaged in the Peters bag, which considerably expedited the job of coloring the product. Countless people experienced the bizarre American ritual of popping the tiny plastic capsule of oil-soluble orange food color inside the sturdy plastic bag, kneading the bag for about 5 minutes to work the color into the white milk-and-fat emulsion, then clipping a corner off the bag and squeezing out the yellow margarine.

You can learn more about the history of margarine, from the Soy Info center, here.

Butter at its best: A couple of years ago I was able to tour a small creamery in southwestern Wisconsin, where the Organic Valley Cooperative Family of Farms makes some of its butter. I was with a busload of co-op folks, and it felt a bit like one of those elementary school field trips. Here are a few pictures from the tour, including a cool poster about teamwork at the creamery. I was in butter heaven that day!

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