This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
As everyone knows, Butter is the fatty portion of new milk. The name is probably derived from the Greek word "Bous," a cow. Butter contains 80 per cent of fat, and therefore is capital food for supplying bodily warmth through its combustion in the system. It can be taken in large quantities if well mixed with starchy food, such as mashed potato; though, when made hot, Butter develops butyric acid, which provokes indigestion with many persons. Butter, after separation from the milk by churning, and leaving the butter-milk behind, yet retains a small percentage of the casein, or curd, with some water, and a certain amount of mineral matters; whilst this water includes a little lactic acid (derived from the milk-sugar), and traces of other constituents. By reason of the residual casein, and the water, Butter soon turns rancid, unless melted, and boiled down until the water is driven off; if then strained through muslin, so as to remove the flakes of casein, it will, when cool, in a corked bottle, keep almost indefinitely.
The most striking chemical characteristic of Butter-fat is its richness in those fatty acids (butyric, caproic, capric, and capiylic) which are soluble in water, so that the Butter-fat approximates, by its olein, closely to the fat of the human body. As a matter of fact, Butter is the most easily digested of fatty foods, and has a magnificent record on this score, no less than 98 per cent of it being assimilated by the body; thus going to prove that a meal of bread, fresh Butter, and sound new cheese, with lettuce, young watercress, or some such light vegetable addition, is about the most wholesome, and nutritious fare which a man can choose. Freshly-made dairy Butter can be taken freely, whilst uncooked, against chronic constipation with marked success, especially by elderly persons, or by thin persons of fairly active habits. Also against obstructive appendicitis, which has of late become so seriously common, fresh Butter (if otherwise suiting the digestion) will assist capitally to lubricate the affected portion of intestine, and to pass on crude, offending impediments, such as hardened excrement, or tough portions of meat, vegetable fibre, seeds, and the like.
The human intestine (larger bowels) contains an enormous quantity of bacteria (most numerous herein), this bacterial flora constituting a third part of the human excrement. Now, so long as the microbes remain within the intestine very few of them get into the general circulation of the blood, or humours, whilst with these few the organism is able to cope. But stagnation of the intestinal excrement within its walls increases the amount of harmful phenol and indol, which are products of this intestinal flora of bacterial microbes, and which then become mischievously absorbed by the intestinal walls; they pass on into the general circulation, and give rise to symptoms of a more or less serious nature. For which reason the salutary effects wrought by good Butter, and similar animal fats, in oiling the intestinal machinery for its better, and easier working, is made manifest.
Thomas Parr, the "olde, olde, very olde man," who lived to the authenticated age of one hundred and fifty-two years, in Shropshire, and then died through a change of foods when invited to stay with the Earl of Arundel (in 1635), has been described respecting his methods for longevity, by John Taylor, the Water Poet, in lines written a month before Parr's death: -
"He was of old Pythagoras' opinion That green cheese is most wholesome with an onion: His physic was good butter, which the soil Of Salop yields, more sweet than candy oil; And garlick he esteemed above the rate Of Venice treacle, or best mithridate. Coarse *meslin, bread; and for his daily swig Milk, butter-milk, and water, whey, and whig: Sometimes metheglin, and by fortune happy He sometimes sipped a cup of ale most nappy. He entertained no gout; no ache he felt; The air was good, and temperate where he dwelt".
Butter-makers have recently learnt to regard as friends those special microbes, without the presence of which the cream does not become sour. All good Butter is churned from cream which has been allowed to stand for this purpose a certain number of hours, partly because soured cream yields more butter than fresh cream, but chiefly because the flavour of the Butter is improved in this way. It is now believed that better flavours can be produced by certain bacteria over those of others, and therefore these higher-class bacteria are purposely put into cultivation. Also the quality of Butter depends intimately on the breed of cows from which the milk is got, as well as on the nature of their food; and its degree of excellence becomes determined by the place where it is grown, and the mode of its preparation. This influence of the food was expressed by the rustic writers of Rome, in the saying, "Pabuli sapor apparet in lacte" - "By the milk we discover what has been the cow's fodder." Of the prejudicial flavours imparted to milk by food containing wild plants of the garlic tribe, and other such vegetables as generate sulphuretted hydrogen through their essential oils, only small portions are retained by the Butter. Cabbages, and turnips are more subject to this imputation, but their unwelcome odours can be made to volatilize.
* Meslin bread, or Mashlum, was made of a mixture of several kinds of flour.
The most useful varieties of Butter next to the English are Irish, Dutch, Holstein, Swiss, 'Norman, and that from the Channel Islands. Butter was first used as a food by the Hebrews. The early Greeks and Romans employed it as a medicine, or ointment. Perfumed Butter has been a recent fad in the refined! homes of New York. Pats of Butter are wrapped in muslin, and laid in glass dishes on beds of roses, violets, and carnations, with other blossoms heaped over them, so that the Butter becomes impregnated with the various flower odours. The Mad Hatter, "Alice in Wonderland," took his watch out of his pocket on being asked by Alice what day of the month it was. "Two days wrong!" sighed the Hatter; "I told you Batter wouldn't suit the works." "But it was the best Butter," meekly replied the March Hare.
Again, thus sang the "aged, aged man in a song of his own-invention ": -
"I sometimes dig for buttered rolls, Or set limed twigs for crabs. I sometimes search the grassy knolls,
For wheels of hansom cabs. And that's the way (he gave a wink),
By which I get my wealth; And very gladly will I drink Your honour's noble health".
What is called by the cook "clarified" Butter, which is merely melted into a yellow, clear, oily liquid, such as is served at some tables with asparagus, will, more often than not, ferment in the stomach, especially if animal food be eaten therewith so as to stimulate a flow of acid gastric juice. Among the Jews an established rule obtains forbidding Butter to be eaten until some considerable time after a meal of animal food. Nevertheless, in the grim kitchen of old Fagin, the Jew, buttered toast was greedily demanded by Noah Claypole at breakfast as part price for playing the spy upon Nancy (Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, 1838). It was Ebenezer Elliott, the Corn-law Rhymer, of Sheffield (1831) - ("a voice" said Carlyle "from the deep Cyclopean forges;") - who in his early days "had to rock the cradle, and stir the melted butter,"with the result that "the poetry was spoilt, and the melted butter burnt".
Bread-and-Butter is the reputed food of adolescence. "She's but a bread-and-butter Miss." Anthony Trollope, in Barchester Towers, talks of the "wishy-washy bread and butter period of life." "Crawling at your feet,"said the Gnat to Alice (Through the Looking Glass), "you may observe a Bread and Butter Fly; its wings are thin slices of bread and butter, its body is crust, and its head is a lump of sugar; it lives on weak tea, with cream in it."
"The fav'rite child that just begins to prattle, And throws away his silver bells, and rattle, Is very humoursome, and makes great clutter Unless appeased with frequent bread and butter".
A curious piece of folk-lore finds credence in South Maryland. It is gravely stated there, that if the mother of twin children will spread with Butter a piece of bread for a boy, or girl suffering from whooping cough, the little one, on eating this specially endowed food, will be speedily cured. Two sons of the State Governor's wife are twins, and recently various anxious mothers have been appealing to the lady of the Executive Mansion, both in season and out of season, for her good offices in this direction. No social function is too important for the applicants to forego their importunities. The doorkeeper is continually bringing in solicitations for pieces of bread buttered by the said lady. She is too kind-hearted to refuse; so the Governor's wife, after the fashion of Charlotte in Thackeray's version of the Sorrows of Werther: -
"Like a well-conducted person Goes on cutting bread and butter".
Not a few invalids of sensitive digestion find they cannot eat ordinary shop Butter without subsequent disturbance of the liver; and the probable reason is that microbes have become developed therein, or their mischievous toxins are engendered; whereas the same delicate persons can eat a fair quantity of the day's dairy Butter, absolutely fresh, without incurring a disturbed digestion some eight or ten hours afterwards.
Professor Koch, of Berlin, has sagaciously told people, as a point worthy of thoughtful notice, that whilst being so nervous about milk, they forget Butter, in which bacilli (of fever, consumption, and other diseases) are equally likely to be nurtured. Nevertheless, so commonly given to the consumption of bread and butter are the children of the English working-man, that it has been well said this refection goes on daily upon ten thousand London doorsteps. A pithy old English proverb puts it: "When the cook and the maid fall out, we shall know what has become of the butter!" It was Charles Lamb who pronounced about Munden, the Actor: "His gusto antiquates, and ennobles what it touches; his pots and his ladles are as grand and primal as the seething pots and hooks, seen in old prophetic vision. A tub of butter contemplated by him amounts to a Platonic idea. He understands a leg of mutton in its quiddity. He stands wondering amid the commonplace materials of life, like primeval man with the sun, and stars about him".