Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"May butter" or "grass butter" lambs (or dogs) ... in Holland

Easter is generally the time when "butter lambs" are sold, but butter figures were a May tradition in Holland. In the spring, cows were sent out to eat the new grass, instead of the winter hay. Samples of the fresh - and more yellow - butter were made into shapes and given to loyal customers.

According to books from 1836 and 1859, the fresh May butter was made into the shape of a sheep (lamb) lying down, dog, pyramid, etc. and taken to their regular customers in a "beautiful milk-bowl adorned with grass and flowers" and white cloths.  Lambs of butter had green grass, buttercups or primroses/cowslips flowers stuck in their mouths.

"Many dairymen [in Holland] are accustomed in spring, when the first grass butter is made, to send their regular customers a few little lumps of fresh May or grass butter. These presents generally have a peculiar form, and on the specimens most carefully prepared some animal is moulded, as a sheep lying down, a dog, &c., with a bunch of green grass or buttercups in its mouth. The dairywoman herself usually presents this butter in a beautiful milk-bowl adorned with grass and flowers, covered with glittering white cloths."
Milch Cows and Dairy Farming... by Charles Louis Flint.  NY: 1859

"Butter.—There are three distinct kinds of butter made in Holland: Grass butter, made when the cows are grass; Whey butter, from the whey of sweet milk cheese; and Hay butter, made in winter.

When the cows have been three weeks at grass, the butter is delicious, is made in fanciful shapes of lambs, [or pyramids] or stuck with the flowers of the polyanthus (primrose/cowslip), &c., and sells as high as 44 stivers, 60 to 70 cents, the 17oz. or Dutch pound."
"Dairy Husbandry of Holland” The Southern Agriculturist and Register of Rural Affairs, April 1836

Frenchman Jean-Francois Millet's painting "Peasants bringing home a calf born in the fields" from 1864  (at the Art Institute of Chicago) is interesting since it shows how a calf born out in the field could be easily moved to shelter.

©2016 Patricia Bixler Reber
Researching Food History HOME

1 comment:

  1. I love spring butter .. thanks for the history lesson.