Monday, October 25, 2010

Turkey Butter

Butter! I’ve forgotten how good butter is in France (and Italy too).

Arrived Friday in Paris, as expected, to 37 degrees F, unexpected. I must learn that temps on the internet show the high -- not the average.

One story in Half Italian is from a day in the 1960s when I was 7 or 8 years old, sitting in the breakfast room at my grandmother’s house eating saltine crackers with butter. I looked up and asked my mother, “How come you don’t buy turkey butter all the time, like Grandma?” She and my grandmother were suddenly speechless. Turkey butter? Yes, I told them, you know, the kind my mother bought only when we had a turkey dinner, like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

This is how I learned the everyday stuff my mother put on our table was something called “margarine,” a product whose origins point (amazingly) to France. I often complained to my mother about margarine’s inferior taste to “turkey butter.” Each time, she’d cheerfully tell me she thought it tasted just the same, if not better. Then she’d hurry me off to get ready for school or some other distraction, before I could respond. One day I finally asked how she could even think the taste was close, let alone better, and she shot back, “It’s cheaper!

Margarine had consumer appeal even before there were concerns over saturated fats found in butter, because it was indeed cheaper than butter. Nowadays there are butter blends, which improve the taste, but I remember no such thing when I was growing up; there was just oily margarine, and TV commercials insisting that one brand tasted better than another. I swore that when I was an adult I’d buy only butter for my home.

In France, Americans are often noted for putting butter on already butter-rich croissants. I’m one of them, and I wickedly tease that’s because I was deprived of butter on a regular basis and raised on margarine, a product of French beginnings.

Here’s breakfast in Paris this morning; now, off to Provence.

P.S. My family was so amused by my choice of words that day at my grandmother’s that they still refer to real butter as “turkey butter.”

- PJ

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