Butter: A Home

I look out the window toward the blaring sun and can feel my skin melt through the glass like a healing salve, full of fat: warm and yellow. The comfort of the soft light gives a distinct sense of home from the inside. Coming from divorced parents, home was always a changing place. On both sides, there would cyclicly be vast purges of clothing and furniture. My father had a nomadic existence to begin with that led me from one house to another. I learned to make myself comfortable where I was. But this transience made it hard for me to dig my heels into any place and feel rooted there. All the while I obsessed over other people’s homes and families that felt so ingrained in their ways: a home with a garden, a home with worn floors, a home with a large couch, a plate full of bagels and butter to feed many mouths. These were all things I looked for and relished, oozing quietly into it on contact.

I don’t remember my first encounters with butter exactly. Just the frustration of hard butter that I had at home, and the pristine beauty and ease in spreading a soft butter (usually from a hotel or fancy restaurant). The anger produced by hard butter was wild, not being able to cut into a butter when I was hungry, or the hard butter tearing the perfect slice of bread seemed to stand in direct opposition to the pure joy of a warm butter slathered and dripping from foods. But butter was often the first go-to in the refrigerator: on bread, in cookies, on radishes. 

As an adult, my efforts to make home have been an uphill battle emotionally, physically, and infestionally, i.e. being shooed out of places by various creatures who saw the place better suited without me. But these hurdles, I now know, are an essential part of the quest for home and painful though they are, make the home even more precious still - and not in a victorious kind of way, but a sheer plea kind of way, a compromise you make, as the gravelly voiced and tragic Leonard Cohen said, a Hallelujah, as if from the bottom of a well. This is finally home - not forever, but for now, and I have worked so hard to have this. Hallelujah.

Sitting In the bathroom of one of my homes whose ceiling had crashed into the kitchen, I wondered if home was a place at all. The first step to make home was adopt a mangy black cat several years back. Since then, she has been the anchor to my deeply rooted movement. This companionship is the first stage to a feeling of home, and the close second would be food, the two going hand in hand at one time in human existence: Animals and food. Cows, goat, yaks, and sheep were our sedentary ancestor’s first tame animals, and therein the production of dairy and butter was created.

The very essence of butter lies in this desire for settlement. Rather than relying on hunting or gathering, a herd of cows are owned, and their milk used for various hearth related activities including fuel for fire, as well as butter, milk, and cheese. This dairy that made home for our ancestors were linked inextricably from the way we understand home, the way we understand landscape. A home must have space for all that you own, the most essential of which are you, your source of food, and your hearth.

Often you don’t even realize when you are eating butter as it is the underlying nourishment in many foods, an actor that is both for taste, texture, and chemical. It remains one of those ingredients that you can put on almost any food at all and it will enhance the flavor.

One of the most ancient man made foods remains a strong staple all over the world. Butter was used as an oil for hair and skin by the ancient Romans, and precious as it was, used in religious ceremonies. In India, the cow being a sacred animal, ghee is also a significant item used in ceremonies. Butter is the main ingredient in French cooking (literally. It’s in everything).

The light brown Jersey cows are believed to produce the best quality butter for their milk with a The milk comes out of the cow for months after the calf is born. When collected, the milk is beat until it becomes lumpy. The lumpy substance is filtered, the liquid comes through as buttermilk, and the hard, as butter. According to the critically acclaimed author, Elaine Khosrova who wrote the book Butter: A Rich History, the yellow of the butter comes from beta-catrotene, an antioxidant and yellow pigment found in grass. This antioxidant makes the yellow color of butter that comes out in the pummeling process. The varying of the colors depends on the breed of cow that produces it (goats and buffalo do not yield beta-carotene so their butter is white).

And so we eat butter without remembering its history, without taking the time to appreciate all that it brings to our lives, the nourishment and stability, the universality of its existence. Consider the feeling that butter gives inside you. Consider the migration and value the times of settlement because they will never be permanent.