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Fine did not butter up the type of food

3 August 2009 1,908 views No Comment

If there is one thing that sets the Sam ‘n’ Ella Cafe apart from the competition, it is this: Butter is used in cooking. It is also placed on the tables.

Notice that I did not write “real butter,” as you might have seen on advertisements for that product. The dairy industry has had to counter so many ads that proclaim “buttery flavor” and “like butter” and “you won’t know it’s not butter,” that it has taken to calling its product “real butter.”

Bless them. Butter is either butter, or it’s not.

There are government standards, and they are enforced. If they didn’t exist, we would be living in a Bernie Madoff-like world of butter make-believe, where man-made products that never came close to a dairy masqueraded as being fresh from the churn.

A friend of mine who had breakfast at a Lakeland restaurant the other day was presented with two perfect biscuits – fluffy but yet appropriately crisp on the top and bottom. Beside them were small plastic containers marketed by Land O’Lakes. Under the big, bright red-and-yellow logo was: “Fresh Buttery Taste Spread.”

He tasted it. “Is that butter?” he asked. One might think it would be: Land O’Lakes was founded in St. Paul, Minn., in 1921 and “developed and implemented the systematic inspection, grading and certification of butter from member creameries, resulting in greater uniformity of product,” says the Wikipedia Web site. In short, Land O’Lakes knows butter. To many folks, Land O’Lakes IS butter.

But back to the question before us. “‘Tain’t butter,” I said. He nodded in agreement.

On closer examination, the flea-sized type on the packet in which the product was packed said: “44 percent vegetable spread – 4 percent sweet-cream butter.” After a moment, he said: “That leaves 52 percent of the ingredients unaccounted for.”

On further examination of the sub-flea-sized type, we found (using a magnifying glass) the additional ingredients: water, soybean oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, butter, salt, buttermilk, distilled monodiglycerides, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavors, sodium benzonate, potassium sorbate, vitamin A, palmitate, beta carotine.

A few decades ago, an old scuba-diving buddy of mine who flew DC-3s over Germany in World War II for the Royal Canadian Air Force gave me a bit of advice: “Life,” he said, “is too short not to eat butter.” It is advice that served me well: Even as you read this, there is a stick of Grade AA in my refrigerator.

The ingredient list of the aforementioned “buttery taste spread” listed 15 ingredients. Here is the ingredient list for the Cabot butter I have in the cold chest: Sweet cream, salt.

My dive buddy has long ago gone to that Great Creamery in the Sky. But to paraphrase him: “Life it too sort to read the ingredient list of the spreads that try to keep from calling themselves oleomargarine.”

To include butter in your life for taste is far different a topic than excluding it because of health concerns. I am not touching the health benefits of oleomargarine over butter – except to say that butter has probably been overly prosecuted.

Having said that, from a restaurant owner’s point of view: This is not like the “Smoking or nonsmoking” question. If you are at the table next to me eating butter, you are not affecting my gastronomic atmosphere. Gobble it up.

Yet butter is something that I expect to at least have as an alternative at a restaurant. That fact was instilled in me by Jane Nickerson, who was the food editor for The New York Times from 1942 to 1957. In 1973, she came to work as food editor for The Ledger until her retirement in 1988.

When she needed an assistant to help write restaurant reviews, I was one of the two people she trained and enlisted. One of the first points she made: “If McDonald’s can serve butter to customers, any restaurant should serve it.”

In Nickerson’s memory, I went into a McDonald’s the other day and specifically asked for “a biscuit, with butter, please.” When it arrived, there on the tray was a plastic container with a daub labeled “whipped margarine.” With great expectation, I asked: “Could I have real butter?”

Pointing to the plastic pack, the counterperson said, “You got it.”

I don’t get it.

What I really get is: “Sweet cream, salt.”

[ Lonnie Brown, The Ledger’s associate editor, is interlocutor of the Coffee Guzzlers Club. The club motto this week is provided by the late culinary expert James Beard: “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” ]
                                                                                                   By Lonnie Brown

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