Sunday, August 18, 2013

a smattering on bikes, barrels and bogs

I rode my bike to the farmer's market yesterday morning.  I love it when it works out that I can combine exercise with errands.  I really do hate driving around in a car--aside from the other annoying things like the exhaust, the heat, the traffic and the music that Olivia insists on playing, I think it's the getting in and out of the car that really bugs me.  Something about that just requires too much effort.  How odd that it's easier in my mind to ride 6 miles to the market than it is to drive there and have to, egad, get out of the car--and then later, horrors, have to get back into it!

So, I set out on my bike for a few cucumbers, a melon, and some milk (yes, I admit I'm still buying that boutique milk.  It's just so good we can't help ourselves).

I had wondered at first if carrying the milk on my bike would work.  I tried to imagine the various disaster scenarios: would it spoil in the heat on the thirty minute ride home? Would the bottle break from the bumpy ride? What if I crashed?  Would the bottle go flying and bonk someone on the head before smashing into a million little milk-laden daggers on the sidewalk where my vulnerable bike tires, or perhaps my soft fleshy body, would land just seconds later?

I worked all of that out by packing a small soft cooler for the bottle.  It would protect the bottle from cracking during the ride, would keep the milk cool, and would at least keep the broken glass contained should some unforeseen accident occur. 

Feeling like I had it under control, I rode into the market feeling all invigorated and car-independent.  I purchased my goods and packed them up in my panniers (basically saddle bags for a bike) then coasted happily out of the parking lot.  It wasn't until I clunked over my first bump that it hit me:


I knew immediately that this was how butter must have been discovered.  Some poor bloke (turned genius) slung an animal skin full of milk over his donkey one day, stopped for a swig hours later, and found something really unbelievably delicious had formed.  I just hope he wasn't too far from water when it happened. 

You hear of people being "ahead of their time."  I never expected to have the dubious honor of being ten thousand years behind my time. 

If I was to be the great butter prophet, I definitely dropped the butter ball, so to speak, in not happening upon how to make the stuff until the 21st century!  My failing only gets worse when you consider that I didn't even have cream in my satchel.  The last I checked (which was yesterday), you can't make butter out of 2% milk - even if it's the best, creamiest, richest, and most expensive 2% milk you've ever tasted.  If you went to the trouble to keep the milk cold, your chances are even worse. 

None of that stopped me, however, from worrying about it for every bump and jostle of that suddenly very long six mile ride.  What would we do with a half gallon of butter? How would we get it out of the bottle with that little neck at the top?  How does that play into my imagined accident scenarios?

Finally, I traversed my final bit of rough road and got the stuff home.  I pulled it out of my bag and beheld:  cold milk.

We haven't drank it yet, but it looks normal.  Surely there won't be a weird lump or some such thing that plops into Gareth's glass when he goes to pour it, right?  Something like that could ruin a kid on milk for a lifetime, don't you think? 

So the lesson is:  you can ride your bike to the farmer's market, even if you're buying milk. 

In case that's not a revelation for you, I have a few other butter facts that I found interesting once I started googling:

The word "butter" is Greek for "cow cheese."  Hmmm.  That sounds more like something that comes from the ears or toes (thank goodness cows don't have toes) than the udder.  I don't think that name does the stuff any favors.

The Irish, and other northern peoples, used to store butter in barrels that they buried in the mud.  They called these "butter bogs."  Apparently, the longer they left the butter to sit in the mud, the better the butter got.  I wonder if anyone tasted the 5,000 year old barrel one man found in Ireland back in 2011

Over time butter has been used to shine up hair, smooth skin, and to treat infections and burns.  It's also been used in religious ceremonies, in tea, and as currency.  Some crazy people, if you can believe it, even put it on toast! 

Weirder than toast, however, Dairy Goodness's History of Butter claims the Irish, Norse, Finns and Scotts loved the stuff so much they were buried surrounded by barrels of it!  I guess that gives a new and less savory meaning to the phrase "butter bog."

The same source reports that in Elizabethan England, newlyweds received butter as a wish for fertility.  Of course, this made me wonder if butter-wrestling has ever been a thing. 


Nothing so interesting as that going on around here, however.  After all my worrying, I'm now left feeling cheated because, instead of some magical, medicinal, spiritual, and seductively slippery butter in my bag, all we've got is this suddenly deficient jar of plain old milk.

1 comment:

  1. A Buttery Shakeweight

    Out of butter again? So what the heck are we supposed to put on our toast? Not to worry, with a mason jar and a little elbow grease, you can churn up some fresh butter in under five minutes while illustrating to process of aeration.

    What It Does

    Half-fill a half-pint mason jar with heavy cream, add a dash of salt, and screw on the cap. Shake the jar for a good minute or two, then pop off the cap, and check the consistency of the proto-butter (it should be roughly whipped cream at this point). Put the top back on, give it another minute of shaking and recheck. Continue this until you reach the necessary texture—or your arms fall off, whichever occurs first.

    How It Works

    Butter is essentially aerated milk fat. The forceful shaking action first breaks down the lipid coats of the individual fat molecules. Once open, these fat molecules can link together into longer clumps and chains. These lumps tend to congregate around gas molecules, trapping them in a loose network of milk fat (really more of a froth or foam). As the clumps of butter continue to group together into larger and denser portions, the air has fewer places to be trapped. These bubbles eventually pop and leak out of the concoction as buttermilk.

    The butter and buttermilk are then separated. The buttermilk is bottled and sold while the butter itself is kneaded into its normal consistency. Interestingly, butter isn't a solid; it's a water-in-fat emulsion. The water droplets are so finely dispersed through the lipids, it appears dry.