Better Butters

Island Epicure


The best butters for breads, biscuits, or rolls and for cooking vegetables such as carrots, celery, cabbage and other vegetables. They gain flavor with the enhancement of helpful herbs. Each variety of herb has its own medicinal value, too. For when we lived in Crete our neighbors told us, “If you feel a cold coming on, just walk up the mountain until you come to a thyme plant. Pick and chew on some of its leaves.”

It worked. Neither I nor my husband nor either of our two sons had a cold, sore throat, or flu all that winter. We had chosen Crete as a place to spend that winter of late 1973 and early 1974 because  we looked in an Atlas and noted that Crete lies at the same latitude as San Diego. We thought we would enjoy shirt-sleeve weather all winter.. Ha! Joke on us. In December the temperature went down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That house had no heating. We went to market and bought two space heaters, one for the kitchen and one for the living room.

At the local panapoleon (everything store) we bought butter by the cube. In Iraklion ‘s market we bought the world’s best yogurt, made of sheep’s milk.

Son Steve had crammed on the Greek language. When we reached  Greece. we could read the signs on the buses and know where in that big city each bus would take us. We expected to fit right in on Crete. Surprise! Cretans don’t speak Greek. They speak a dialect, “Kriticos”.”Kriti” means “goat”..

On the mountain behind our village we found marjoram, oregano,,sage, and thyme free for the picking.  I doubt the butter we bought was made from sheep’s milk; tt tasted like American butter.. The bread was wholegrain brown bread, called psomi mavro. Unlike the baguettes in France, Psomi mavro  does not go stale overnight.  Psomi=bread. Mavro=black (dark).

In our village, Chersonissis, There was a bakery. We met women bring trays of unbaked homemade bread to the bakery to be cooked along with the bread that Nikos the Baker made. to sell.  Our Cretan neighbors ate simply and healthily. The butcher shop was only open on Thursdays. Other days the people of Chersonissos ate fish,, beans, snall octopi caught in ancient jars identical to the Roman jars we saw in the museum at Iraklion. For vegetables there were tiny wild artichokes, wild greens, and  farm-ripened tomatoes. Oranges grew wild in the guillies. You could eat very well without spending much money..

You could gourmetize butter with those wild herbs, the same herbs we buy dried and sold in little bottles You might like to try some of these herbed butters. Start with 1 stick of butter, softened enough to cream our chosen herbs into it.

Thyme and Tarragon Butter: 1/2 cup soft butter, 1/4 teaspoon Thyme, 1/2 teaspoon tarragon

Oregano Butter: 1/2 cup soft butter,, 1 teaspoon oregano

Dill and Garlic Butter: 1/2/ cup soft butter, 1 small garlic clove peeled and minced, 1 Tablespoon dill weed.

Chive Butter: 1/2 cup soft butter,, 1 Tablespoon minced chives or green onion top.