The sign of the churn

IN an evident ecstasy of delight, the chewing actor exclaims, ``I can't believe it's not butter!'' and that's the way to sell whatever it is he's selling. But I can believe it, all right, and that's because I'm an old butterfingers from away back and credulity is my strong point. All that glisters is not butter, and the word has been used for some of the loudest injustice placed on table. Those of us who grew up in the sign of the churn well know that it doesn't have to be good just because it tastes like ``butter.'' When my storekeeper Uncle Ralph bought the old Ruel Norton business up in Somerset County, the inventory included a considerable quantity of butter. Ruel had been generous with the farmers in the matter of barter, and there was one farmer up around Twelve Corners who always brought down a box of his wife's butter. Mr. Norton knew the butter was poor, but he made profit enough on his dairy feeds so he didn't lose. He would stick each new box of butter in the far end of his ice-cooled meat room and pretty much leave it there. He may have sold a pound or two now and then to strangers, but he wouldn't dare pass any off on his regulars.

So Uncle Ralph found this accumulation of butter, and I suppose anybody except Uncle Ralph would have been annoyed at being cheated to that extent. But not he. He thought for a moment, and then he went with his big opening-day advertisement for the Bulletin, where he splurged with a full page.

He said he was offering, among other things, a magnificent sale on butter. He said this butter was loud and unruly. He said it was suitable for greasing wagon wheels and perhaps would keep a camp stove from rusting in the summertime. He offered this at an amazing 10 cents a pound; butter of the finest quality was at that time going for 40 cents. His ad said, ``If you buy some of my 10-cent butter and don't like it - don't bother to bring it back. Just set it on the back steps, and it's strong enough to walk back by itself.'' Then, he went on that he didn't expect to sell any of this butter but was using it as a horrible example to emphasize that he handled a top-grade, high-quality dairy butter that would please one and all at 39 cents a pound. This proved to be a good advertising message, and people came in to ask about the 10-cent butter, laugh, and buy his good butter. Except one man.

This man came in and asked for five dollars' worth of the 10-cent butter. A week or so later my uncle said to him, ``Did you eat that stuff?''

No, he said, he didn't. But he said his wife had two great louts of sons by a previous marriage, and they'd sit at table and slather great gobs of 40-cent butter on hot biscuits until he was being ruined. So now he put this 10-cent butter on the table and it made them stand back.

There is nothing, on the other hand, in the ``spread'' category so good as fresh, country butter made properly by somebody who knows how. The day is gone for such to be in long supply. The making was a kitchen matter, and three or four Jersey cows made a good start. The Jersey is a cream-line cow. The cream needs to ``rise,'' or be otherwise separated, and it must be churned before age settles in - many and many a buttermaker kept the cream too long.

It needs to be brought to churning temperature, and then some abused, picked-on, unhappy, pitiful youngster (me, for one) is attached to the handle of the churn and told to crank. To such a youngster the greatest pleasure in life is to hear the round-and-round rhythm of the cream change to the slap of butter - now Mother will take over and the abused youngster can go skating or find a baseball game. The next step is to paddle, spank, larrup, and ``work'' the butter until every trace of buttermilk has been washed away. The product will brook no substitute spread. I do think, sometimes, on the baseball I missed, but I also remember the sweet butter and home-baked bread that compensated.

One time Ed Grant walked the trail to town, 15 miles, to fetch back his packbasket of groceries. Right on top, well wrapped, he put his five pounds of butter. Al Blodgett, the storekeeper, had said, ``And there you are, Ed - five pounds, strong!'' Ed surmised Al was being generous, but he said when he was about halfway to camp and the sun hit that packbasket, the word ``strong'' sounded otherwise. You better believe that's butter!

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