You might think that eating copious amounts of butter is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Between county fairs and Paula Deen, fried butter has become an oft-mocked form of caloric intake. But neither Deen nor the Iowa State Fair can claim to be the first to turn a stick of butter into a meal. Ivan Day at the blog Food History Jottings points to several recipes for roasted butter that date all the way back to the 1600s.
One, published in the book The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy in 1747, gives the following instructions:
Lay it in Salt and Water two or three Hours, then spit it, and rub it all over with Crumbs of Bread, with a little grated Nutmeg, lay it to the Fire and as it roasts, bathe it with the Yolks of two Eggs, and then with Crubms of Bread all the Time it is a roasting; but have ready a pint of Oysters stewed in their own Liquor, and lay in the Dish under the Butter when the Bread has soaked up all the Butter, brown the Outside, and lay it on your Oysters. Your Fire must be very slow.
Other recipes date all the way back to 1615. But they're not easy to pull off. Day tried the 1747 recipe above, with less than stellar results:
I eventually attempted Hannah Glasse's 1747 method, but using a wooden spit as advised by Ellis. This time the butter was dredged with breadcrumbs before it was put down to the fire and basted with egg yolks. Again the dredging dropped off as the butter softened. The dripping pan filled with a soft buttery porridge! I am glad I did not waste any oysters, which would have been covered in this unpleasant looking gloop. Failure number three. John Timbs in his Things Not Generally Known (London: 1859) describes Glasse's recipe as 'a culinary folly'.
Today, a similar result is achieved by simply freezing the butter, putting it on a stick, adding some bread crumbs and dumping it in a vat of oil. Here, for example, is Paula Deen's recipe for fried butter balls. And Deen may in fact come from a long culinary tradition of skipping the bread and simply eating the butter.
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