Dietribes: I Can't Believe It's Butter!

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"¢ Butter has enjoyed a long history all over the world, from Middle Age Parisians being denied the coloration of butter (in the case of it not being yellow enough) to American Pioneers multi-tasking by making butter by allowing the motion of the wagons to churn milk as they traveled. In fact, by WWII butter was so popular that there were shortages due in part by the Army's consumption of over 200 million pounds a year!

"¢ Butter is often seen as an indulgence. Supposedly the Butter Tower of Rouen, for example, was built from money paid by parishioners in exchange for being able to eat butter during Lent.

"¢ Beware the butter! From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: "Before the deceased body of a Parsi is removed from the house, the forehead is smeared with clarified butter or ghee, and the dogs of the house are admitted. If the dog or dogs lick the butter, it is a good omen; if not, it signifies perdition."

"¢ Margarine is not the only butter-pretender - Witches Butter is the common name for a certain familiar-looking fungus that grows on trees, and Bog Butter, found in Northern Ireland, is a buried (and sometimes forgotten) variety of the stuff to preserved to enhance natural flavors.

"¢ Speaking of butter-imposters of course brings us to Margarine. Emperor Napoleon III offered a prize to anyone who could come up with a butter substitute. The winner was Hippolyte Mege-Mouries, a French chemist, who created oleomargarine, a combination of clarified beef fat, water, and a bit of tributyrin (a milk fat) - yum!

"¢ The love-affair was short-lived, however. In 1886 Grover Cleveland signed the Margarine Act, a tax on oleofats. In the early 20th century margarine was defined as a harmful drug
thanks to the powerful butter lobby, with five states going so far as to dye margarine pink so there would be no confusion. And of course Julia Child famously noted on her television cooking show, "If you're afraid of butter, as many people are nowadays, just put in cream!"

"¢ No matter how you feel about margarine, take the Mental Floss quiz and see how you fare with these fabulous facts.

"¢ Butter can also be used as art, like in these beautiful highly detailed Tibetan Butter Sculptures and also in creations by the Butter Cow Lady who, yes, made life-size cows from butter as well as a curious butter sculpture of The Last Supper.

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So how do you Flossers indulge with butter? Margarine versus Butter? And has anyone ever made it themselves? Do tell!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

May 20, 2009 - 4:46am
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