“If you knew anything about food, you’d know that fats and oils are the vehicles by which flavor travels. Fat is what makes things taste good. That’s why a wise and loving God created fat in the first place.” – Reese, Malcolm in the Middle
As a child of the 90s, I grew up in a family that consumed a lot of margarine (we went the Gold n Soft in a tub and Imperial in stick route). After all, margarine was better for you. All the doctors and dietitians and health reports proved it was so — butter would kill you, but margarine would practically save your life. It probably didn’t hurt that margarine was about 4 times less expensive than butter, but I’d say our decision was completely rooted in the health aspect.
In looking back, I realize I wasn’t much of a bread/dinner roll/biscuit eater as a child. At least, not when we were at home. But when we went to nice restaurants that served up butter in fancy little balls or even small pats wrapped up like a present (incidentally, that wrapping is totally not microwave friendly and it will light on fire), I couldn’t get enough. I didn’t know there was a difference — in fact, I am almost entirely positive I thought margarine was just another word for butter (this coming from a person who also thought, for many years, the letters in caterpillar were interchangeable [calepitter], so take that as you will). Deep in the recesses of my child mind, however, I could distinctly notice a flavor profile in butter that simply did not exist in our Gold n Soft.
I don’t remember the exact point at which I discovered the huge difference between margarine (oily and lackluster) and butter (salty and creamy and a little sweet), but when I did it was a modern day revelation. So when all those doctors and dietitians and health reports recanted their stance on margarine; that, in fact, it might cause cancer (like everything else) so butter was definitely the way to go, it felt like Christmas and my birthday all at once. My mother began work on convincing my dad that we needed to make the switch and, although it took a little prodding, he finally went for it and as a family we haven’t looked back since.
Recently I did some calculating and determined that I go through one pound of butter a month, minimum. And I don’t do that much baking, to be perfectly honest, so it’s almost total straight consumption. Or cream sauces. We love cream sauces in our home. I love the way butter makes everything much better; like salt, it’s a great food elevator (as in, elevates it, not carries it up in a rectangular box on cable wires). If I do take the time to bake something — say, banana bread, for example, you can bet I will not only generously spread softened butter on the top of my slice, but I will then proceed to spread butter in each bite mark. I’m a firm believer that two out of the four sides of my food (particularly carbs) should be slathered in creamy salted butter.
You can brown it and clarify it and soften it. You can put it in both savory and sweet dishes. Early in our marriage, when we were kind of on the poor side, I started buying margarine to save money. It didn’t take very long for me to recognize how ridiculous I was being and decide it was better to save money elsewhere. It’s a joke that butter is my best friend — after all, how could an inanimate thing become an object of my affection — but it’s one of the first foods that made a difference in my life. We have a history together and a kinship that I don’t have with just any other ingredient. Butter is ultimately what took me from food lover to foodie, and for that I am grateful.