a peek inside the fishbowl

08 Sep, 2008

Betty Botter

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Oh! Things!|Recipes and Food

Porter posted about butter at the exact same time I was thinking of posting about butter. WHAT A SMALL WORLD.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think about butter all the time (although some may argue otherwise) but her post was timely because I recently made a butter-related discovery that has vastly improved our daily lives and I wanted to share it with you.

I bought a butter bell at Winner’s. It’s a pretty old concept. I gather it was invented before the advent of refrigeration. I’ve wanted to buy one for some time. If it worked for the pioneers, surely it would work for us!

First, allow me to indulge in some personal butter backstory.

Growing up, the butter was kept in the fridge. We also used margarine, the bright and yellow kind valued for its spreadable consistency. But butter was not the only sandwich spread in our house, nay, we also used goose lard. And a lot of rye.

When I first met Mark I was surprised to learn that he left his butter out on the counter. I secretly wondered if he was off his rocker, because butter goes bad, doesn’t it?

I realized that if a small amount (I’m talking any amount under a pound) won’t go bad right away if unrefrigerated. But I do believe its lifespan is compromised the longer it sits out, and as soon as it hits the counter it begins a downward slide towards the town of Rancid. The salt in the butter acts as a preservative and stretches out its lifespan somewhat, but here’s the rub, we buy unsalted butter. It’s better for recipes (I’ve had professional chefs recommend this to me) and I prefer the taste of it and if I have a salt craving I add a little sprinkle to the top on my toast. Unsalted butter, however,  doesn’t stay as fresh as its saltier counterpart if it is kept out of the fridge.

It’s six of one, half dozen of the other. This is one of life’s big questions! Do you leave your butter in the fridge, therefore forcing you to slice off great big squares of it? Or do you leave it on the counter to soften, therefore (erm, hopefully) using less of it because it’s so easily spread on your bread?

I found that if we left our butter out it would be soft and spreadable, sure, but it would also turn rancid, and that in between part, this slow changing of its molecular structure greatly affected the taste. This was especially true in the summer months when our kitchen heated up.

As for margarine? We buy Olivina, which is non-hydrogenated, but I’d rather eat the butter. (Have you ever read anything by Michael Pollan? He recommends basing your diet on foods your grandmother would recognize as being food. Sounds good to me!)

So, back to the butter bell. We’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now. It has kept its promises. It really does keep the butter soft, and rather miraculously, it keeps its fresh flavour. It has to do with the water creating a seal, but the scientific aspect is less important to me. What’s important here is that the butter is spreadable and ready, whenever I want it. :)

8 Responses to "Betty Botter"

1 | Chantal

September 8th, 2008 at 8:27 am


That is pretty cool. I will have to look into it.

2 | porter

September 8th, 2008 at 9:29 am


Neat. I might get one too, we’ve been using a plastic container with a lid and I’m shying away from all things plastic. I didn’t know that unsalted butter is better, good to know…we might need to switch.
PS-Great minds think alike!

3 | robyn

September 8th, 2008 at 10:20 am


Aren’t butter bells the best?

We’ve been using a butter bell for years, because I refuse to keep butter I want to spread on things in the fridge, and also because margarine is just not something we’ll ever buy. We actually have two butter bells – one that I keep regular unsalted butter in, and the other, which I put homemade butters in (like garlic, basil or strawberry) on a sort-of weekly basis if I’m feeling the ‘making things’ vibe.

4 | Nicole

September 8th, 2008 at 2:26 pm


Butter Bells are also know as French Butter Dishes. If any of you Fishbowl readers are thinking of getting one, look to your local Potters, this is a pot that is often crafted. Check out your local pottery stores, studios, and craft sales.

While you get a great hand made item, you also help out a local artist.

5 | andrea

September 8th, 2008 at 3:22 pm


Good point Nicole. Support local art!

6 | Psychgrad

September 9th, 2008 at 1:05 am


I keep my butter (always unsalted) in the fridge. I think I get around the issue of having slice off big squares of it by buying butter that is separated in 1/2 cup portions. It maybe more expensive that way, but it is much easier to use and more realistic considering the amount I use it (maybe 1-2 cups/month).

7 | Know More Do More: Can you give one processed food the heave ho >> a peek inside the fishbowl

October 25th, 2010 at 9:10 am


[…] enveloping your heart. If you want something spreadable for your toast in the morning, get thee a butter bell, or substitute a different spread, like olive oil or […]

8 | Oh butter! « Javaline

January 10th, 2011 at 11:46 am


[…] Andrea mentioned a butter bell on her blog. I thought it was a good idea and emailed her for her opinion on this item. The butter bell she had obtained required some kind of water addition to a special compartment, and at that time I thought, ugh, too time consuming. One more thing I gotta deal with. […]

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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