Spread The Word – Butter Has An Epic Backstory

An article by Nicole Jankowski posted on TheSalt at NPR

Among the rolling hills of ancient Africa, sometime around 8000 B.C., a dusty traveler was making gastronomic history, quite by accident.

Thirsty from a long, hot journey, the weary herdsman reached for the sheepskin bag of milk knotted to the back of his pack animal. But as he tilted his head to pour the warm liquid into his mouth, he was astonished to find that the sheep’s milk had curdled. The rough terrain and constant joggling of the milk had transformed it into butter – and bewilderingly, it tasted heavenly.

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That’s likely how it went down, as author Elaine Khosrova explains in her new book, Butter: A Rich History. From happy Neolithic-era accident to inspiration for student protests to tabletop staple, butter has had quite the ride over the past 10,000 years.

Butter_03The story of butter, Khosrova says, is a historical roadmap of humanity. “I felt like I had uncovered an epic story that very few people had been paying attention to,” she tells NPR.

Butter appeared on the world scene soon after the domestication of animals, although the first primitive batches would scarcely resemble the sticks that sit on your refrigerator shelf. Instead of cows, she writes, early butter came from the milk of yak, sheep and goats — the very first tamed beasts of our ancestors.

Butter_06And while archaeologists have unearthed a 4,500-year-old limestone tablet depicting early butter-making, it’s not clear precisely how our ancestors shifted from “accidental discovery” to purposeful manufacturing. Khosrova writes that after trial and error, early civilizations probably realized that if they removed the milk pouch “off the back of animal and hung [it] like a cradle from a tree limb,” it could be deliberately “agitated” into sumptuous golden kernels. According to Khosrova, isolated communities in North Africa and the Middle East still make their butter in this way.

As butter spread, it took on new uses and meaning. Ancient Romans associated it with barbarism, much preferring to slather their bread in locally abundant olive oil rather than resort to the food of their enemies, the marauding army from Gaul. But they appreciated butter for its “curative properties,” Khosrova says. Romans used butter for cosmetic purposes and also as a healing balm, often sneaking tiny licks in between applications on their wounds.

Butter_01Perhaps most surprising is the story of butter’s sacred and supernatural past. For many ancient civilizations, the unexplained mystery behind milk’s transformation into butter made it seem magical. It “seemed like a marvelous event,” Khosrova says.

Ancient Sumerians offered up gifts of butter at temple in honor of the “powerful fertility goddess Inanna, protector of the seasons and harvest,” she writes.

Recent discoveries in Ireland of ancient bog butter — wooden buckets loaded with butter and hidden in expanses of mossy swamp — date back as far as 400 B.C. These long-lost provisions were probably buried by early Celts, who knew that the Irish wetlands would preserve their spoils, keeping them edible for leaner times. But Khosrova also writes that ancient bog butter was likely presented to the pagan gods, as a way of appeasing the mystical “‘faeries’ that alternately terrified and awed country folk.”

Butter_07Even the first-ever documented student protest in American history is linked with butter. Harvard University’s Great Butter Rebellion of 1766 began after a meal containing particularly rancid butter was served to students, who (not unlike modern college-goers) were frustrated over the state of food in the dining hall. As reported in The Harvard Crimson, Asa Dunbar (who would later become the grandfather of Henry David Thoreau), incited the student body into action by hopping onto his chair, shouting, “Behold our butter stinketh! Give us therefore butter that stinketh not!”

Once avoided for fears of making us overweight, butter is now making a vigorous comeback, with artisanal interpretations aplenty. And through small-batch production and experimentation, producers have returned to quaint traditions, such as slow-churning and hand packing, to recapture simple flavors and generate new ones.

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As Khosrova sampled butter from around the world, she says that she was amazed by how a food with only one ingredient could produce so many diverse “nuances of flavors, textures and color.”

How this happens is a mystery that has astounded and confounded humanity for centuries. The history of butter is both humble and wondrous. With a simple batch of milk and a little creativity, a luscious — and magical — golden food is born.

Salmon Chowder / Laksesuppe

A dinner recipe found in “How To Eat Canned Salmon”
published by Alaska Packers Association in 1900

Salmon Chowder / Laksesuppe

Fresh salmon is so cheap and plentyful in our shops here in Norway that eating canned ones seems strange to us. But a quick check showed that the net is crammed full of recipes for canned salmon so it obviously doesn’t seem that strange elsewhere. Besides, transporting fresh fish over larger distances back in 1900 was close to impossible so back then eating canned salmon probably seemed more sensible –Ted

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Medieval Monday – Almond Milk / Mandelmelk

A staple medieval recipe found on mediumaevum.tumblr.com
Medieval Monday - Almond Milk / Mandelmelk

Almond milk was a staple of the medieval kitchen. It was used in a wide variety of dishes as a substitute for milk or cream, especially on “fish days”, when the church placed restrictions on what foods could be eaten (the most prominent of which were the days during lent). Fortunately, almond milk is quick and easy to make.

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Orange and Cinnamon Drink & Cocoa with Ginger / Appelsin og Kaneldrikk & Kakao med Ingefær

Warm drink recipes found in a booklet published by tine.no
Orange and Cinnamon Drink & Cocoa with Ginger / Appelsin og Kaneldrikk & Kakao med Ingefær

When winter is at its coldest it is wonderful to cuddle up with a hot and delicious milk drink. Whether it’s at home in front of the fireplace or out by the fire on a hike. Hot milk drinks warms both your inside and outside. Hot cocoa, chai tea, chocolate milk with coriander or mint. There are countless variations you can make.

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Eighteenth Century Sickbed Custard / 1700-talls Sykeleiepudding

An eighteen centure sickbed recipe found on Revolutionary Pie
Eighteenth Century Sickbed Custard / 1700-talls Sykeleiepudding

Karen Hammonds who runs Revolutionary Pie writes: Modern custard recipes usually call for vanilla, but that wasn’t used in America in colonial times. Thomas Jefferson first brought vanilla beans back from France in the 1890s, and as Richard Sax noted in Classic Home Desserts, vanilla extract wasn’t widely available until the mid-19th century. Eighteenth-century custards were flavored with wine or brandy, tea, or spices. I added nutmeg to Simmons’s recipe since it seemed so bland — but I guess that was sort of the point.

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Chocolate-Amaretto Ice Cream / Sjokolade og Amaretto Iskrem

A great dessert recipe found in “Hershey’s Make it Chocolate!” published by Hershey in 1987Chocolate-Amaretto Ice Cream / Sjokolade og Amaretto Iskrem

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Amaretto (Italian for “a little bitter”) is a sweet, almond-flavoured, Italian liqueur associated with Saronno, Italy. Various commercial brands are made from a base of apricot pits, almonds, or both.

Amaretto serves a variety of culinary uses, can be drunk by itself, and is added to other beverages to create several popular mixed drinks, as well as to coffee and ice cream.

Citrus Flavor Creme Catalane / Creme Catalane med Smak av Sitrus

A contemporary take on a traditional Spanish
dessert recipe found on meny.no

Citrus Flavor Creme Catalane / Creme Catalane med Smak av Sitrus

Crema catalana is a traditional Spanish dessert made from milk, egg yolks and sugar. It is considered by some to be the forerunner of crème brûlée. The crema catalana on the pictures is sevred with a citrus salad.

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Medieval Monday – Arbolettys

A medieval spicy egg dish recipefound on
One Year and Thousand Eggs Medieval Monday_headingMedieval Monday – Arbolettys

Saara who runs One Year and Thousand Eggs writes: This egg dish is kind of scrambled eggs with herbs. It is very good with toasted bread.

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Chocolate Pots de Creme / Sjokolade Pots de Creme

A classic French dessert recipe found on epicurus.com
Chocolate Pots de Creme_post

Simply extraordinary, Chocolate Pots de Crême may be served in a variety of containers. As individual portions, they’re perfect for entertaining and easy for family sweets. These go perfectly with a nice after dinner liqueur.

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Walnut Milk / Valnøttmelk

A recipe for a dairy free milk found on bhg.com
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Silky nut milks are a great alternative to traditional dairy milks
and are surprisingly simple to make.
For a smoother milk, strain with a cheesecloth.

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19th Century Excellent Potato Pudding / 1800talls Utmerket Potetpudding

Some content on this page was disabled on April 6, 2017 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Kim Connor. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Medieval Monday – 15th Century Roasted Milk / 1400talls Stekt Melk

Some content on this page was disabled on April 6, 2017 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from Kim Connor. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Duchess Potatoes / Duchessepoteter

A great way to serve potatoes found on frukt.no
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Duchess Potatoes are mashed potatoes with added egg yolks, shaped with piping bag or knife and then roasted in the oven. A decorative new twist to your dinner.

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Health Advice From the Past – Part 1 – Ice Cream

What greater tribute could be given
a health food!

icecream_ill        Ice cream heads the list of wholesome, nutritious, appetizing foods in hospitals and health sanitariums. Doctors and dietitians know that it is a health food full of nutriment. Nutrition experts recognize it as an accepted way of giving children more pure rich milk and cream. What greater tribute could be given a health food!

        The ice cream that you buy today is a pure dairy product made of rich milk and cream and the same wholesome ingredients you would use at home. Made in modern plants under official health regulations, its purity is assured.

        Give ice cream to your children often. When you buy it, look for this emblem of purity and wholesome-ness.

Copyright 1926: Research Council,
Ice Cream Industry,
Harrisburg. Pa

From an add published in
“The Ladies’ Home Journal”
January 1927

Millet porridge / Hirsegrøt

A classic breakfast porridge recipe found on tine.no
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Millet porridge is a flavorful porridge suitable for both breakfast and and an evening meal. The porridge can be cooked with whole grain or millet flakes.

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