Butter and margarine have been feuding for years. The feud began shortly after margarine was introduced to the United States in the 1870’s. In 1886 the federal Margarine Act was passed placing a tax on the sale of margarine and making manufacturers pay a steep licensing fee to produce it. Some states including Wisconsin, outlawed margarine altogether. Then there was the question of color. Yellow belonged to butter. Margarine was forced to remain white or worse, colored pink. It would have been interesting to be privy to those debates. Wisconsin (the Dairy State) finally in 1967 was the last state to rescind its ban on the sale of yellow-colored margarine. That’s about the time I started thinking about the stuff my Dad put on my cinnamon toast in the morning.
When I was growing up in Marshfield, Wisconsin, smack dab in the middle of the Dairy State, there was a period of time I wasn’t allowed to eat butter at home. My Mom, a nurse, thought it a healthier choice for my Dad, sister and myself. Mom called it Oleomargarine, my Dad called it Oleo and my sister and I called it just plain margarine. But it wasn’t long before we simply called it butter. Well, it looked like butter, especially when you put it in a butter dish.
These days when I cook I use both butter and margarine. While I am true to my Dairy heritage and love butter, sometimes margarine is just easier. And sometimes you can’t tell the difference. I have a great sugar cookie recipe I have been using for so long I don’t remember why I named them Scandinavian Sugar Cookies. (Probably because I’m Scandinavian – Norweigan.) I have made the cookies with butter and I have made the cookies with margarine. The only difference is the cookies tend to be a little more flakey when baked with margarine and a little more crumbly when made with butter. Both versions are good raw, partially baked, perfectly baked and a tad over baked. Neither is good when burned. (Even renaming them Cajun Crisps doesn’t help.)
Being French-trained in the culinary arts, as well as being from Wisconsin (plus the fact I am an adult and can buy my own butter), I have to use butter for making sauces, sautéing meat and spreading on bread. And butter’s best friends are heavy whipping cream and salt when they take on mashed potatoes. I use salted butter when I bake. I like the flavor combination of sweet and salt. Unsalted butter tastes pretty good if you dip it in salt, too (just kidding). I have found that it actually has a more pronounced dairy air about it. (Yes I just did say that.)
All those years of eating margarine weren’t so bad, though. For me it was the era of Tang, Hamburger Helper, Spam, Jello, canned condensed soup and soft white bread. That was just the way it was at home, normal to me. But I remember finding my mom’s stash once, tucked in the back of the refrigerator. It was next to the special jar of blue cheese dressing she kept for herself to enjoy on her iceberg lettuce. It was in a crock that blue cheese had come in. I don’t know what made me look but I remember the giddy and naughty thrill I got when I cut off a chunk of her real butter and ate it.
Scandinavian Sugar Cookies
One of the best sugar cookie recipes there is.
1 cup butter (or margarine)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Method: In a mixing bowl, stir the butter and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add the egg and vanilla. Stir that until it is smooth and creamy. Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir to combine. Chill the dough if possible. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Form the cookie dough into 24 even size balls and bake 8-12 minutes until done the way you like them.
Copyright Hemmachef: Joel Olson, 1996.