Monday, July 7, 2008


Growing up, we had no butter in our house. It was too expensive. Period. We always bought only what was cheaper. This included but was not limited to whipped margarine, mealy hot dogs with secret bone chips, discount grocery store brand pop, off-brand spam, white bread, and endless bologna. Butter cost twice margarine and that was that. I didn't have it until I left home at seventeen.

I, of course, never thought much of it. I knew that Country Crock was better than the supermarket brand. But I knew too that, while it was better, I never really liked it. We put it on white toast though, in great melting heaps, and passed the toast to our mother to cover with a thick layer of sugar and cinnamon (which we always kept handy) then drizzle the mess with coffee. The best result of this was a thick layer of coffee-moistened sugar - not dissolved but melted into a thick, sweet sludge with oily yellow margarine streaks. At times, however, there would be a gap in the sugar or the coffee would pool and punch through the sugar to soak the toast to mush. Or my mom would try to save money by buying a cheaper brand of margarine resulting in a slimy mouth-feel.

I found butter at the Occidental. There was never margarine in that restaurant, and butter everywhere. It went into everything. Everywhere. I learned to cook with butter there; in sauces, to finish a vegetable, to brown with oil sauteeing fish, everywhere. At the Occidental, we used only Beaver Meadow brand butter, manufactured in DuBois, PA. My hometown. How did it end up here? We stockpiled the labels as we unwrapped the blocks, using the red, white, and blue wax paper to cover foods as we cooked and held them. When the mashed potatoes were finished and placed in sixth pans, we'd cover them with butter paper. A piece of sauteed fish, waiting on a resting rack to be picked up, was protected with a butter paper. Poaching sweetbreads, you get the idea.

But, "if there was so much butter, why did we eat only margarine in DuBois?" I didn't much like it at first. Soft, it wasn't firm enough and spread mushy. Cold it wouldn't spread. Pain in the ass. Needs management. Not engineered to be spreadable at all temperatures. Why? But we kept pans of butter out at kitchen temperature. It softened, sometimes warming too much and melting. But we worked long days, with little time to eat. One quick nibble was always available - bread. A piece of bread coming off the table, grabbed from the server as they returned from the dining room, swiped through the butter and sprinkled with kosher salt, keeps the line cook motor humming.

So, I digress. Margarine. I never touch the stuff. Butter, butter. When it was reported a few years ago that, no duh, butter was healthier than margarine, I was overjoyed. Margarine sucks.