Soft butter

By Marion Tucker-Honeycutt | Aug 14, 2019

I really, but really, do not like refrigerator-hard butter.

I’m an old farm girl. I want my butter ready to spread — and not tear up toast. I want it to spread easily and melt into toast, muffins, potatoes, over vegetables, etc.

This isn’t much of a problem in winter. It stays just right in a butter dish on the counter. But in the summer, it melts and turns rancid quickly.

Up on the farm, we had two places that would keep the butter just right: the oak ice box just outside the cook room, as we called kitchens then, which was on the landing in the woodshed/granary or on the cellar-way shelves, always cool from the dirt-floored cellar.

The cellar-way also kept the cream fresh from the week's morning and evening milkings until Friday, churning day. Grampa would churn the butter in a barrel churn until the sound of the ker-chunk, ker-chunk of the balled up butter was heard after it had separated out from the buttermilk, and the little silver-dollar-size glass window showed clear.

Then Grammie would strain the buttermilk from the balled up butter, and then, with her wooden butter paddles, squeeze the rest of the buttermilk out. That was a most important step to keep the butter fresh longer. She would form it into pound sizes by packing it into a wooden butter mold that Grampa had made for her with her initials in a circle of mayflowers. That would stamp the design on the top of the butter. Each pound would then be wrapped in "butter paper."

Our butter for the coming week would go into the cellar-way and the rest would be taken to the general store in Prentice to trade for such items as sugar, flour, molasses, coffee — things they couldn’t produce themselves.

But today’s refrigerators keep the butter too hard and there’s no cool cellar-ways.

So, come summer, I turn to another very old way of keeping butter soft and fresh on the counter top, a “butter bell.” For many years, I had to improvise, as butter bells had long been out of use. I used two bowls, one that fit, upside down, in the other. In the bigger bowl, I put an inch or so of water and a pinch of salt. I would pack butter into the smaller bowl and put it upside down in the bigger bowl. The water kept air from getting to the butter, helping to keep it fresh for several days — and the butter stayed just right for spreading.

Then, hallelujah, what appeared on Amazon a few years ago but butter bells! They come in all colors and materials, but I prefer the ones made of marble, and marble stays cool. That’s why marble is a favorite for rolling things like pie dough and kneading bread.

So, the butter bell gets its name from the shape of the half that is used like my smaller bowl was. It goes inside a larger jar-like holder. It has a handle you lift to take it out and the part that holds the butter is shaped like a bell.

One very important thing, though, in these modern days: Never use tap water. If you have city water, the chemicals will contaminate it, and if you have well water and copper pipes, you may end up with a copper-green covering on your butter. It’s recommended to use distilled water.

Although, to tell you the truth, I use my sweet well water and have no green. Maybe because I use my butter up pretty fast, especially on baked potatoes — and the skins.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast schools. She now lives in Morrill.

 

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