Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Eastern v. Western (U.S.) butter sticks


JAZ
 Share

Recommended Posts

Over on this topic which asks the question why American recipes tend to specify butter in tablespoons rather than by weight, this comment was made:

Here in the New World, the Yankee Doodle butter manufacturers have cleverly devised a means of marking uniform 1/4 pound sticks of butter in convenient Tablespoon segments

which is, of course true, but it's only half the story.

The full story is that yes, the butter companies in the U.S. generally package butter in one-pound blocks divided into 4 1/4-pound sticks, with tablespoon markings on the wrapping. But the other half of the story is that in the East, those sticks are a different shape than the Western sticks. (Western sticks are a little shorter and bigger in diameter.) This isn't something that keeps me up at night, but, having just moved to Atlanta after spending all my life in Western states, it's a curiosity to me that my butter sticks are a different shape from what I've bought my whole adult life. (Incidentally, it also means that I've had to relearn my eyeballing technique for measuring butter.)

If you think that it's just due to different dairy companies packaging in the East than in the West, think again. Land O Lakes, as an example, packages butter differently for Western and Eastern distribution. Why? It's got to be more expensive, more time consuming, less efficient. So, why do it? Is there some tradition that dictates the shape of butter sticks?

And of course, once I noticed that, all kinds of other questions came bubbling to the surface. Well, one did. Are butter dishes shaped different in the East? Since I use a butter bell instead of a flat dish with a cover, I don't have a Western butter dish to try an Eastern stick on. That question will remained unanswered for now, although I suppose I could go shopping for a butter dish here and see what shape it is.

I do know that there's a gadget that measures butter by tablespoon -- you put a stick in and use a pusher and cutter to measure and cut however much you need. The cookware store where I used to work sold them. I always thought it was a pretty useless gadget -- if your butter is already that shape, then chances are excellent that the measurements are on the wrapper, and if it's not in that shape, then it's got to be way more trouble to cut it or shape it to fit than it is to measure out a tablespoon or quarter-cup or whatever you need. I did check out local cookware stores, and in case you're interested, at least some Eastern cookware stores sell Western butter measurers. I have yet to see an Eastern butter measuring gadget.

So, what's the deal with the dairy industry? Is there a tradition I'm unaware of, or a reason that butter sticks are a different shape depending on where you live and buy butter? And most importantly, is there an Eastern butter measuring gadget?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Do you have the exact measurements?

Here in MN, (neither East nor West), the sticks measure approx 4.625x1.125x1.125.

Vegetable oil sticks, (aka Margarine), are the same size.

SB (intrigued) :hmmm:

Edited by srhcb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wikipedia says:

"In the United States, butter sticks are usually produced and sold in eight-tablespoon (approximately 74 ml) sticks, wrapped in wax paper and sold four to a carton. This practice is believed to have originated in 1907 when Swift and Company began packaging butter in this manner for mass distribution.[15] Due to historical variances in butter printers, these sticks are commonly produced in two differing shapes. The dominant shape east of the Rocky Mountains is the Elgin, or Eastern-pack shape. This shape was originally developed by the Elgin Butter Tub Company, founded in 1882 in Elgin, Illinois and Rock Falls, Illinois. The sticks are 4.75" long and 1.25" wide, and are usually sold in flat, rectangular boxes packed side-by-side.[16] Among the early butter printers to use this shape was the Elgin Butter Cutter.

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

Both sticks contain the same amount of butter, although most butter dishes are designed for Elgin-style butter sticks"

So, I guess that means Minnesota is in the East, butterstickwise? :rolleyes:

SB (where does the butterstick West begin then?) :unsure:

Edited by srhcb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I noticed the same thing in reverse when I moved from NYC to Hawaii 16 years ago!!! I never gave much thought to the "why," but still haven't found a refrigerator butter dish meant to fit the Western shape. Best I can do is some Japanese plasticware that'll hold two sticks side by side. It's kind of annoying.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wikipedia says:

The dominant shape east of the Rocky Mountains is the Elgin, or Eastern-pack shape. This shape was originally developed by the Elgin Butter Tub Company, founded in 1882 in Elgin, Illinois and Rock Falls, Illinois. The sticks are 4.75" long and 1.25" wide, and are usually sold in flat, rectangular boxes packed side-by-side.[16] Among the early butter printers to use this shape was the Elgin Butter Cutter.

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

Both sticks contain the same amount of butter, although most butter dishes are designed for Elgin-style butter sticks"

Obviously I don't have a Western stick of butter here as I type, but I have to say that Wikipedia is wrong on the dimensions. No way is it only 3.125" long (the math doesn't even come out right). And Eastern butter is not packed side-by-side; it's also packed two-by-two. And maybe the difference is not so great that butter dishes can't handle both, but I know that butter dishes in the West fit the Western sticks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I vaguely remember a time when butter around here (New York) was packed 1x4 sticks in a flat box. But today it's always packed 2x2 sticks, assuming a pound of butter in sticks. In Manhattan supermarkets a lot of what you see is 1x2 boxes with half a pound. Land O' Lakes also now sells a, well, I don't know how to describe it in x language, but it's a half-pound box of four half-sticks, "for smaller households."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wikipedia says:

The dominant shape east of the Rocky Mountains is the Elgin, or Eastern-pack shape. This shape was originally developed by the Elgin Butter Tub Company, founded in 1882 in Elgin, Illinois and Rock Falls, Illinois. The sticks are 4.75" long and 1.25" wide, and are usually sold in flat, rectangular boxes packed side-by-side.[16] Among the early butter printers to use this shape was the Elgin Butter Cutter.

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

Both sticks contain the same amount of butter, although most butter dishes are designed for Elgin-style butter sticks"

Obviously I don't have a Western stick of butter here as I type, but I have to say that Wikipedia is wrong on the dimensions. No way is it only 3.125" long (the math doesn't even come out right). And Eastern butter is not packed side-by-side; it's also packed two-by-two. And maybe the difference is not so great that butter dishes can't handle both, but I know that butter dishes in the West fit the Western sticks.

That's what I thought. Maybe the western stick is supposed to be 4.125"?

While I've always seen butter sticks packed in 2x2 pounds, (or 1x2 half pounds), margarine comes in 1x4's.

SB (still wondering) :huh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I vaguely remember a time when butter around here (New York) was packed 1x4 sticks in a flat box. But today it's always packed 2x2 sticks, assuming a pound of butter in sticks. In Manhattan supermarkets a lot of what you see is 1x2 boxes with half a pound. Land O' Lakes also now sells a, well, I don't know how to describe it in x language, but it's a half-pound box of four half-sticks, "for smaller households."

I now remember my mom buying margarine (Elgin-size) in the side by side by side by side four packs, but don't remember butter ever coming that way. You may still be able to get margarine quad-wide. Although i haven't bought any in a while, I have a memory that's a little too strong for that long ago and may suggest I saw them in the store recently.

Bode

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, I guess that means Minnesota is in the East, butterstickwise? :rolleyes:

SB (where does the butterstick West begin then?) :unsure:

That's an interesting bit of history.

I don't know where exactly the butterstick West begins, but Minnesota is quite definitely in the butterstick east. When I first moved here I was brought up short by the funny-shaped butter sticks: long and skinny. What was up with that? Now, whever I go "home" to visit, I'm brought up short by the funny-shaped, short and fat butter sticks. :laugh: My mother, originally a Floridian, remembers the same surprise when she moved west lo these many decades ago.

JAZ, I now realize I have one of each type of butter dish in my house. Hadn't really thought it through before now.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wikipedia says:

The dominant shape east of the Rocky Mountains is the Elgin, or Eastern-pack shape. This shape was originally developed by the Elgin Butter Tub Company, founded in 1882 in Elgin, Illinois and Rock Falls, Illinois. The sticks are 4.75" long and 1.25" wide, and are usually sold in flat, rectangular boxes packed side-by-side.[16] Among the early butter printers to use this shape was the Elgin Butter Cutter.

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

Both sticks contain the same amount of butter, although most butter dishes are designed for Elgin-style butter sticks"

Obviously I don't have a Western stick of butter here as I type, but I have to say that Wikipedia is wrong on the dimensions. No way is it only 3.125" long (the math doesn't even come out right). And Eastern butter is not packed side-by-side; it's also packed two-by-two. And maybe the difference is not so great that butter dishes can't handle both, but I know that butter dishes in the West fit the Western sticks.

It's true, the total volume is not matching up between the western and eastern dimensions given in the article. (Since they only give one short dimenision, I both short sides are the same length.) Maybe it is due to some rounding errors but it seems a bit large for that (7.0 sq inches for west; 7.4 sq inches for east).

In any case, I just measured a frozen stick of butter purchased at a California Trader Joes and the dimensions are 3.1-3.15" x 1.5", agreeing with the article...

It's funny that I never consciously noticed this before (or forgot if I did).

"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"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Speaking of butter differences... are typical supermarket brands such as Land 'o Lakes qualitatively better than generic store brand butter or is it just the advertising and marketing costs that account for their higher price? I know none of the supermarket butter is in the same league as products like Plugra but I am curious.

This is particularly pertinent for me because my regular local supermarket has cheap store brand butter in salted only. If I want unsalted I have to buy Land 'o Lakes at 2X to 3X the price. But I've discovered that the nearby Aldi's store has generic unsalted for even less than the supermarket's generic salted.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, I guess that means Minnesota is in the East, butterstickwise? :rolleyes:

SB (where does the butterstick West begin then?) :unsure:

I think you answered your own question within your quote (emphasis added):

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

I grew up in ND and it's 'eastern' butter there too.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, I guess that means Minnesota is in the East, butterstickwise? :rolleyes:

SB (where does the butterstick West begin then?) :unsure:

I think you answered your own question within your quote (emphasis added):

West of the Rocky Mountains, butter printers standardized on a different shape that is now referred to as the Western-Pack shape.[16]. These butter sticks are 3.125" long and 1.5" wide and are typically sold stacked 2x2 in a taller, boxy container.

I grew up in ND and it's 'eastern' butter there too.

I suppose if you keep heading west long enough you'll eventually get to New Jersey! :biggrin:

SB (bets eater.com never covered this topic!) :wink:

Edited by srhcb (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Speaking of butter differences...  are typical supermarket brands such as Land 'o Lakes qualitatively better than generic store brand butter or is it just the advertising and marketing costs that account for their higher price?  I know none of the supermarket butter is in the same league as products like Plugra but I am curious.

Land o' Lakes specifically used to be a hippie/food co-op darling because the participating dairy farmers belong(ed?) to a collective or co-operative business. Another brand-specific example of this type of organization is Florida Natural (juice).

However, as an outgrowth of the culture of natural foods stores and food co-ops, Whole Foods discontinued sales of Lo'L a few years ago because the farmers would not sign an agreement stating their milk had been produced without use of hormones.

Disclaimer: this is what I recall of the situation; I could be wrong since I haven't verified recollections.

Your supermarket's milk probably doesn't come with "not treated with rBGH" on the label either and benefits from the FDA disclaimer that tests cannot distinguish between milk coming from treated or untreated cows.

I would imagine that variables including how much air is whipped into sticks of butter would differ widely among supermarkets unless they all use the same methods and equipment. Lo'L would be consistent. I don't think the fat content would be that different--i.e. a major distinguishing factor when you compare a supermarket's butter to Plugra (American brand). Plugra's European counterparts are produced from cows whose diets may very well impart distinctive taste, especially if they eat grass and thistles. L o' L does not claim that its cows are pasture-fed, as far as I know.

Edited by Pontormo (log)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wikipedia has the butter packaging backward. In the West, sticks come in a flat package alongside each other.

BUT, Land O Lakes is the exception-they don't package it differently. That is the only butter you'll find in stores here that come in long, narrow sticks, boxed 2 by 2. Oh, and the organic butters do that too-like Organic Valley.

I just measured my western butter sticks. They are about 3 1/4 x 1 1/2.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think it's a more a misunderstanding, or lack of clarity/specificity, in the term "side by side". In the Eastern butters block, they are side by side, in that only the sides of the butter touch each other (none are touching end to end). In the west, there are 2 sticks laid side by side which are packaged end to end with another 2 sticks laying side by side. But I also remember old packaging for butter or margarine, in which all four sticks lay flat next in a row.

Western packaging of 1 pound from Tillamook

Eastern packaging of 1 pound from Horizon

M. Thomas

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've emailed Land O' Lakes with this question, and I'll let you all know what they have to say.

According to Land O'Lakes, the sticks sold on the west coast are know as "western stubbie size" in butter makers parlance.

SB :cool:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kate's Homemade Butter from Maine, whch is possibly the best butter made in the northeast, packages their Eastern-style sticks 4 flat, perhaps in an effort to differentiate themselves further from more ordinary butters.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...

"That's what I thought. Maybe the western stick is supposed to be 4.125"? "

I'm Seattle so I just measured a quarter Lb stick. 3.125 or 3.25 [different sides] by 1.5 "square.

To those who asked, no they don't fit the longish eastern butter dishes.

Robert

Seattle

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...