Let's Bring Back Our Southern Grandmother's Trusty Butter Bell
There are few things worse in the world of Southern cooking than forgetting to soften your butter. Too many times, I've sat down at the table for breakfast ready to spread butter on my biscuits or pancakes, and the stick of butter is still sitting rock hard in the fridge. Microwaving just doesn't achieve the same perfectly spreadable softness, and it never occurred to me to leave butter out on the counter always. That is, until I came across a nifty contraption my grandparents had on their kitchen table.
I asked my grandmother why she always had the butter out on the counter, and she laughed at me. "Because it doesn't need to be in the fridge," she answered. I was perplexed. She explained that her Butter Bell was the reason her butter stayed at a safe room temperature that also happened to be optimal softness. No refrigeration necessary!
The result is smooth, spreadable butter. You don't have to remember to thaw your butter before digging into your Sunday spread. Where had this lovely invention been all my life? I had many questions, so I took to the internet to learn more about the mysterious butter bell—that, in fact, has not been mysterious to Southern cooks for decades.
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This style of butter dish is said to have originated in France during the late-19th century. Known as a French butter dish, or "beurrier Breton" as they call it, it made its way to the U.S. in the 1970s through craft fairs.
In 1995, L. Tremain trademarked their version titled The Original Butter Bell Crock, and it has become quite the icon amongst seasoned home cooks who know it's never a bad idea to have softened butter around at all times. Despite what you may have grown up thinking, it's perfectly safe to leave your butter on the counter. If Julia Child did it, then we can do it too.
A butter crock has two parts: the bottom crock and the lid, which has an upside-down bowl attached to it. The crock is where you place the water, and then you spread your stick of butter into the lid. The water ensures the butter remains at a safe room-temperature and soft.
Before you go enjoy 24/7 spreadable butter, here are a few things to note, to ensure you get the best performance out of your Butter Bell.
How To Use a Butter Bell
First, make sure you buy the real stuff. No margarine or fake butter allowed in the Butter Bells. It makes for an oily mess and clean-up process later. Second, a little water goes a long way. You want just enough water in the bottom to ensure that the top will form a seal when replaced. Too much water equals wet butter, and we prefer our butter to stay at a normal consistency. Third, make sure you refresh the water in the bowl every week or so. The colder the water, the fresher the butter will stay. It's best not to leave your butter bell in direct light or heat. This could cause the container to get too hot and weaken the effectiveness of the design.
Finally, when you fill the lid with butter, make sure to pack it in and eliminate air pockets. This way you won't have a butter pad plop into the water when you open the lid. Follow all of these steps, et violà—fresh, spreadable butter!
Shop Butter Bells below.