Thinking about butter

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

By the time you read this report, the December holidays will be over and cold winds may be piling up snow in Monroe County. During the winter, I find cozy spots in the mansion and think about the crumbs of warm food I may be able to find when the staff finishes their lunch break.

Bread and butter crumbs are one of my favorites, and I try to imagine the life in the 1790s, with the big basement fireplace warm and steamy as the Stroud servants are busy making soup, baking bread and churning butter. You can see a butter churn in the kitchen, as well as a fascinating display of beautiful wooden butter mold presses.

I wondered what the mold presses were used for. Flat, usually round or oval, and handmade from poplar, soft pine, or sometimes walnut wood, they are carefully decorated with carved images of Pennsylvania German folk symbols like flowers, animals, wheat, eagles, six-pointed stars, acorns, and hearts.

So, it was time to do some research. Books and the internet helped me find some surprising information about the role of butter and mold presses in colonial Pennsylvania.

Farm families lived in widely scattered homesteads and produced much of their own food, furniture and tools. They didn’t rely much on money to procure the products and materials needed to establish and maintain a comfortable life. Instead, things made, cut, or caught — like animal skins, eggs, lumber — were commodities the families traded, or bartered, with shopkeepers or neighbors to get what they needed.

Butter was a food that was always in demand that maintained a stable price and could be traded for goods or sold for cash.

Very interesting, but how does it relate to the mold presses?

There’s more to the story! I needed to learn more about 18th and 19th century farm life in Monroe County. I found out that a farm wife’s daily jobs included milking cows, churning the milk into butter, dividing the butter into different quantities, storing it in stone crocks or cheese cloth, and stamping the butter with a specially chosen butter mold press.

And here’s why stamping the design was important:

The quality and taste of butter varied from farm to farm. Families were proud of their butter — its flavor, color, and consistency — and chose a favorite design to mark their product. Storekeepers and customers looked for the design from the farm who supplied their favorite butter, making the mold pressed design important to both the customer and the supplier.

The customers would be willing to pay more for their favorite butter, and the supplier would be happier as well. Isn’t that what we now call branding?

Here’s my butter mold press. What do you think of it?

Be sure to stop by the Stroud Mansion to take a look at the butter mold presses and all the other cooking equipment in the kitchen as you keep learning about the history of Monroe County. Stay cozy!blogEntryTopper