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The South and Butter


Holly Moore
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So what's up with Southern fare restaurants and butter. Real butter?

gallery_14_243_1098027739.jpggallery_14_243_1098028080.jpg

Above, a couple of places, the Arcade in Memphis and the Log Cabin in Hurricane Falls TN that I hit during a recent trip. But I find it all through the south. Restaurants famous for their breakfast, restaurants that take the trouble to bake fresh biscuits, corn bread and rolls, almost always serve them up with Country Crock or buttery Land-O-Lakes spread.

It can't be a cholestrol thing - what with the thick slabs of country ham, the milk gravy and the eggs that make up a full Southern breakfast. I hate to think it's penny pinching, though southern prices are a tremendous value compared to Philadelphia.

Has the use of butter substitutes become a cultural change, where locals prefer them over real butter?

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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So what's up with Southern fare restaurants and butter.  Real butter?

...

Has the use of butter substitutes become a cultural change, where locals prefer them over real butter?

Trying to save a buck? (And because they can get away with it-- i.e. without people complaining...)

To me it would be sad if there was actually a preference for these subs of real butter but maybe it is true. Wonder what other people's opinions are.

This is a great point though; especially given, as you mention, the great biscuits, cornbread, rolls, etc. that are sometime available. I think you lay out the basis for what could be a great strategy. If you're eating in a place that serves great breads--compliment them on it and mention how it's a shame not to have real butter with it... i.e. a disservice to the good breads they are going out of their way to serve.

If it is a matter of choices for health for some people; they could offer both options! Arguing for non-butter subs may becoming mute now though with the realization among many that transfats are not a great sub for butter...

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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My Mamaw & Papaw kept both butter & "butter-flavored spread" in the fridge. Butter was for cooking & baking, the spread was for. . .well, spreading. I have no idea why. It's even stranger, now that I think about it, because part of the "fun" we'd have when visiting was using the old butter churn to make butter. I hope someone has an answer.

Diana

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My guess would be portion control and labor issues...i.e. the time (however short) it takes to prep butter for service.

I have often heard that there is an unfortunate dearth of skilled and willing labor for the (smaller or Mom &Pop) restaurants in the areas of the South I've lived in.

On the other hand, one can still often find 'real country butter' (you know, the stuff that really smells like a cow) in the local stores, and it seems to sell well enough.

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Now I'm really getting mad, because not only have you reminded me that there is no real butter to be had out there, but worse...even worse...there is no MILK TO BE HAD FOR YOUR COFFEE.

Sorry. Just had to let that out.

I wonder now. Are the cows I see in the fields here still real?

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Shortage of good butter is certainly not the problem here. I think that it is more a matter of developed tastes for the stuff, although I don't think that it is quite as universal as Holly's sampling indicates. I know many places, at least here in South Louisiana, that still have butter on the table-although that butter is often in the same chilled bowll with some kind of spread.

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Over the past couple of months I've put down maybe 20 southern breakfasts and a similar number of southern lunches and dinners - alas none in South Louisiana. Of them, the only place I remeber for sure that served butter was Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill NC. This has been an ongoing frustration for a number of years, not just my recent trip to Oxford and Memphis.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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I would never have a problem asking for a chunk of butter. Maybe you should've asked  'em, Holly. Try that next time?

Valid suggestion and I could have.

But I'm still wondering why all these these places take such great pride in their biscuits and their breakfasts and then serve them with non-butter. Portion control butter is available, so it's got to be either to save money or that's what people have come to prefer.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Or it could just be that is what they have come to expect from long-standing useage.

One more thought came to me on this.

During the final processes of consulting on the menus and operations procedures of a restaurant that was to be opened here (in the Southeast) I was showing the owner how to draw up the initial orders lists, with all the zillion details such as table butter that ones takes for granted.

As I started to check off what she would need, while discussing it, she said "Butter? For the breads? Oh, no, don't order that."

I was rather stunned, and asked why. For the breads...were to be brought in every day from a good local bakery.

"It's not healthy for you" she said..."and plus, it costs too much."

All the other menu components were headed towards 'upscale' (at least for this geographic area) so I continued my arguments for butter.

No dice. She would not be persuaded.

And there the place is....serving...margarine.

Pah.

I think there is a generation of people who grew up believing that margarine was somehow better and healthier for you...and can not change course from this belief no matter what would come along to say otherwise.

Habit.

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I think that's it's become a developed taste down there. When these spreads first started it was so "modern" to have in the refrigerator. I was a bit taken back when I went to set a table and that was what they had, how do you put it out? I thought on a china dish, or scoop some out and place in in a glass bowl? I just put it back in the icebox and let them think I forgot it.

Carman

Carman's Country Kitchen

11th and Wharton

Philadelphia, PA

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I have spent a bit of time thinking about this weird conundrum, and I reckon it's like the consensus, meaning that tv, general practice, and what the 'widder women' are serving at church functions that lets something like MAR-GA-RINE (sorry, my tongue could not pronounce it out loud) become so widespread. Like Brooks' post, I never found it a problem in North Central Texas. You usually get a dish with both.

Now, if someone would just find and hang that first critter who came up with 'sweet-tea' made with sugar substitute!!! GAH!!! Git a rope! :biggrin:

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Now, if someone would just find and hang that first critter who came up with 'sweet-tea' made with sugar substitute!!! GAH!!! Git a rope! :biggrin:

Probably a diabetic.

Regarding butter/margarine, my money is on the spreadability factor. You can't tear bread trying to put margarine on it (especially for older or younger folks with motor skills issues).

Edited by FistFullaRoux (log)
Screw it. It's a Butterball.
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This is a great topic, and having grown up in the South - and with some country relatives, it's important to remember these are not generally high-class folks slapping grits and country ham onto diner plates along with the Shedd's Spread - so money has always been an issue - and most of what's great about Southern food is that it works with the cheap stuff straight out of the garden and barnyard. Which makes it particularly vulnerable to the shift to agribusiness, and it's much harder to keep 'farm food' going with fewer local farms.

Country Southern food, in general, is more about family pride than high-minded culinary aesthetic, so no one really gets offended by much or wants to hang on to the "trimmings," especially if they are expensive. The biscuits are good because that's how "meemaw" made them more than because someone "learned how to make great bread."

Also - I know my dad, who grew up in small-town South Carolina during WWII, still eats margarine because that's what he had during rationing as a child. I'd consider that a small contributing factor, though - but I had a heck of a time telling him it was bad - he wouldn't believe me at all till he wrote a check for culinary school, but he still eats margarine when I'm not around to be a snob.

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I know that in central TX it's a mixed bag -- portion control packs --some real butter, some mixed in with the other stuff, or just the margarine.

We grew up with the other stuff -- it was all called "butter" -- go figure that? But Butter was called "real butter" and I hate to admit the same habit myself. When I buy real butter it's a treat -- usually a holiday or special dinner event. And i make bread, biscuits, rolls, cornbread, etc., all the time. It is a health issue -- can't add the cholesterol and the fat on a regular basis. I buy non-transfat stuff for me, and the real butter is a treat. Of course I'd rather eat the real thing. But as far as acceptance goes, just look at the grocery store and see all the different brands of butter-like margarine available compared to the few brands of real butter. I think people accept it in the restaurants because so many eat it at home.

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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Oh that is painful, a beautiful biscuit like that and margarine. My inlaws in Florida use margarine too... then when they discovered that was bad they switched to the "healthy margarine" stuff which is even worse. You may as well spread vaseline on your bread. I think they like the spreadability factor and the cost. I actually used to buy a tub when they would visit to prevent issues. Fortunately they seem to accept the canola butter blend at this point, which is a little less painful, but still not great.

Maybe those "don't mess with mother nature" ads really struck a chord in the South.

Edited by Cusina (log)

What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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I grew up in South Louisiana and we had margarine, not butter, for daily use. We were neither poor nor rich, simply middle class. I have no idea why my mother preferred to serve us margarine because I never questioned it. (What did I know?) I would venture to guess that most of our friends and relatives also used margarine.

I serve butter at my house, but it has not always been so.

Edited by patti (log)

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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I grew up in an old-fashioned household that looked with a jaundiced eye on anything that might be too "new-fangled".....

I can remember my mother coming home (from Chicago, where she worked as a model) sometime late in the war years, (I was about 5 or so) with margarine as a special "treat". It wasn't even colored, but rather in a plastic bag with a little red marble in it that had to be broked so one could mix it into the white stuff so it looked a bit like butter.

Since we made our own butter, it was always served in bowls at the table, except for dinner when it was in fancy molds on a butter plate.

I supposed someone perhaps hinted to my mother that the margarine was in one of the bowls because I recall she used only that one.

However a few days after she left to go back up north, I was looking for something in one of the ice boxes and found the bag of margarine, still white, red marble intact, shoved behind a crock of the real stuff.

Our cook saw me handling the bag and took it away from me and put it in the waste bin.

"Won't even feed that nasty stuff to the hogs." was her succinct remark.

Years later, when I went to live with my mom and stepdad in Wisconsin, colored margarine was available but not in that state. (of course it was the powerful dairy industry) One had to drive down to Illinois to buy it that way.

I finally got to try some and to me it tasted faintly of kerosene or what we called "coal oil" - I never got to the point where I could eat it without tasting that. Probably all in my mind but that is the way my mind works.

I have butter tubs, butter bowls, butter keepers, all made to keep the butter fresh and soft at room temperature.

I never have any trouble spreading it (unless I forget to turn the thermostat up and it is chilly in the house), even on delicate breads and rolls.

I like the taste and have too many other things to worry about to pay attention to cholesterol, besides, mine is below normal anyway, in spite of my consuming a relatively high cholesterol diet. It is in the genes, not on the fork.

In my opinion, worrying about cholesterol can cause more problems than eating butter and eggs.

I used to travel with a friend who was constantly worried about her cholesterol which was fairly high and she watched her diet religiously and it never went down.

Then we and another friend went to the Basenji National specialty together - in Rhode Island. She ate lobster swimming in butter, potatoes fried in butter, those lovely hard rolls, well buttered, plus we had big breakfasts, eggs, ham or sausage or bacon, biscuits with more butter.

True, during the two weeks of the trip she gained 4 pounds but when she had her cholesterold checked the following week it had dropped 70 points! Incredible. Ate all the wrong things, had a good time and her cholesterol was that much lower. I have heard similar stories many times. Worry is worse than the stuff itself.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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My Grandmother grew up milking cows and making butter, but there is always margarine on the table. I'm guessing that butter tastes like hard work and poverty.

Also, margarine will keep better in the heat if you aren't going to use it very quickly. At least that's what I was told....

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I know that in central TX it's a mixed bag -- portion control packs --some real butter, some mixed in with the other stuff, or just the  margarine.

We grew up with the other stuff -- it was all called "butter" -- go figure that? But Butter was called "real butter" and I hate to admit the same habit myself. When I buy real butter it's a treat -- usually a holiday or special dinner event. And i make bread, biscuits, rolls, cornbread, etc., all the time. It is a health issue -- can't add the cholesterol and the fat on a regular basis. I buy non-transfat stuff for me, and the real butter is a treat. Of course I'd rather eat the real thing. But as far as acceptance goes, just look at the grocery store and see all the different brands of butter-like margarine available compared to the few brands of real butter. I think people accept it in the restaurants because so many eat it at home.

Y - we called it "butter" too - and real butter was "real butter"

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I grew up eating butter, real butter, made from soured ("clabbered") cream skimmed from milk obtained from Jerseys and Guernseys grazed on my grandparents' farm. This product is as different from the stuff that masquerades as butter in the rest of the U.S. as the latter is from Crisco, frankly.

So if you can't get the real thing, you might as well just use whatever tasteless greasy ick happens to come in portion-controlled packets and not agonize over it. Or just do without entirely.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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Over the past couple of months I've put down maybe 20 southern breakfasts and a similar number of southern lunches and dinners - alas none in South Louisiana.  Of them, the only place I remeber for sure that served butter was Mama Dip's in Chapel Hill NC.  This has been an ongoing frustration for a number of years, not just my recent trip to Oxford and Memphis.

I stopped being frustrated when I started traveling with a cooler of essentials, like butter and cream. I even took butter pats into restaurants and the homes of my relatives.

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I stopped being frustrated when I started traveling with a cooler of essentials, like butter and cream. I even took butter pats into restaurants and the homes of my relatives.

:biggrin: I just love this idea, Katherine. It has a sort of heroic aspect to it...sort of like Johnny Appleseed spreading the bounty across the land... :rolleyes:

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  • 3 weeks later...
I would never have a problem asking for a chunk of butter. Maybe you should've asked  'em, Holly. Try that next time?

Valid suggestion and I could have.

But I'm still wondering why all these these places take such great pride in their biscuits and their breakfasts and then serve them with non-butter. Portion control butter is available, so it's got to be either to save money or that's what people have come to prefer.

Margarine was cheap. Lots of folks in the south were poor (or thrifty). And people got used to eating the stuff. It's just the way they eat. Chances are if you ask for butter in a "real" southern restaurant (not a white tablecloth place) - they won't have any.

BTW - we used to have a "New York" style deli here. The southern people liked pastrami cold on white bread with mayo. Because that's the way they eat. When I absent-mindedly ordered a pastrami sandwich one day - without giving any particulars - that's the way I got it. Robyn

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