O la la! C’est magnifique!

Butter DishI’ve been meaning to post about this for eons! Since last summer, actually….

summary: a French butter dish is fabulous (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

In winter, we almost don’t have to keep butter in the fridge. It’s pretty much the same on the counter as in the fridge; the butter is hard. (heh heh, I cannot help but think of Grandpa’s favourite response: it’s harder where there’s none!)
me, blog from OUR kitchen, annual Scrabble clout and cake fest

Butter Dish To stop the furry black fiend from sneaking onto the counter to eat butter, we have to put a hat on it. We put the butter on a saucer with a custard bowl inverted overtop.

For about 10 months of the year, the standard phrase (spoken through chattering teeth) in our house is “The butter’s hard…”. Then, for about 2 weeks or so, when left out on the counter on a butter plate, it softens a little and then stays at exactly the right softness.

But for the rest of the time, when summer hits with a vengeance, it turns into a semi-liquid greasy mess. In the past, we didn’t dare to leave the butter out. Unless we wanted rancid butter…. :stomp:

And then, one day last summer on holiday, as we wandered through the farmers’ market near my sister’s house, I saw some butter bells made by a local potter.

Here’s how the conversation went:

me: Look!! She has those cool French-style butter dishes for keeping butter on the counter in the summer!

he: Mm-hmmm….

me: No really, look! I’ve always thought these would be great to have!

he: [sighing] Yes, very nice. Can we focus on getting the corn on the cob and plums?

me: Should we get one? [silently pleading 'yes. yes. yes.']

he: [looking at the price] I don’t know. Does it really work? What would we do with it if it doesn’t?

me: Look at the nice blue in the glaze! We could use it as a jam jar or something. [looking at the price and pausing] Hmmm. It’s not really really expensive. But, you’re right. We’d better not. [walking away reluctantly]

We continued on, strolling through the market to see what other things they had. T and my brother-in-law announced that they were going to get a little snack and take the dog for a walk and instructed us not to take too long.

My sister and I ignored them and stopped at every stall to admire everything, staying a little longer at some stalls to buy beautiful plums, onions, peppers, chard, corn, eggs and cheese. Then we headed back to my sister’s house to make lunch.

As we walked out of the market area, T handed me a paper bag, saying he’d brought me something. Being sure that it was food, I said I’d open it later to have at lunch.

he: It’s for before lunch! [looking excited] Open it now!

Do I have the best husband, or don’t I?

French Butter Dish (Penny)

I’m not positive, but I think that our butter dish was made by Penny Swanson of the Burnaby Potters’ Guild….

French Butter Dish (Penny)French Butter Dish (Penny)

[T]he French Butter Dish, used to prevent butter from getting rancid without the aid of refrigeration, has […] a variety of names; for example, the French butter crock, the French butter keeper, the French butter pot, the beurrier Breton, beurrier Normand, pot à beurre Breton and the beurrier à l’eau.
Interestingly enough most people I have met from France have never seen one […] [T]he French Butter Dish was invented in Normandy or Brittany in the late 1800’s. Both regions were famous for butter production at that time.
The unique design of the French Butter Dish keeps butter at the perfect spreading consistency. The water creates an airtight seal that keeps oxygen away from the butter (oxygen is what turns butter rancid). In the bell shaped lid your butter will stay soft and fresh!
– James Sloss Pottery | French Butter Dish, FAQ

Oh yes…. “Does it work?”, you ask.

You bet it does!

Butter containers, or Beurriers, appeared on tables as early as the 1200’s. They were made of porcelain ceramic and metal, solely for preserving butter. The problem of preservation forced people to keep butter in salted water. By the turn of the nineteenth century, a butter dish was designed which is still in use today. It is a crockery jar with a cover. You put salt water in the jar. The cover is recessed, and there is where the butter goes. When the butter is not being used, you flip the cover, so the butter is dipped in the salt water.
– Monique Jamet Hooker | Organic Valley, What’s Cookin’

French Butter Dish (Penny)

It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted,
a very extra special thing.
It’s useful and quite pleasant,
and is just the sort of present,
that is fit for a king!
-the king, Puss in Boots, written by Douglas Moore, libretto by Raymond Abrashkin), Childrens Record Guild


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3 responses to “O la la! C’est magnifique!

  1. barbara

    Does it somehow keep it a bit cool, or does it just prevent it from getting rancid?

    It keeps it a bit cooler too, Barbara. The butter is soft but never so soft that it’s almost liquid, the way that it was before we were using the French system. -Elizabeth

  2. Patricia

    I remember that conversation. The next time I’m at the market, I’ll take a look because now I want one too!

    Oh do! You neeeeeed one, Patricia…. -Elizabeth

  3. CAM

    hmm, this sounds very useful! I will watch for such a contraption!

    It’s extremely useful, C! The thing I really like about it is that as the butter is used, there’s no unsightly messy looking plate to deal with. You can just invert the bell back over the water. -E


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