The Butter Churn

Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Buttered Rum Day

Jan 17

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Eat butter first, and eat it last, and live till a hundred years be past."

~ Old Dutch proverb

oday, butter's popularity as a healthful food may wax and wane, but most people believe "butter makes everything better!" Hot buttered rum (traditionally made with rum, butter, hot water cider, sweetener, and spices) is a popular drink dating back to colonial days in the United States who considered this mix a medicinal strengthener. However, butter was not always so prized. With their easy access to olive oil, Mediterranean cultures had no need for this alternative fat source in their warmer climes, and considered many dairy food producing cultures as inferior. In fact, during a visit to conquered Britain, Julius Caesar was appalled by how much milk the peasant northerners consumed. Strabo, a philosopher, geographer, and historian of Ancient Rome, disparaged the Celts for effectively being "milk-swilling barbarians." The Romans often commented on the inferiority of other cultures, and they took excessive milk drinking and butter eating as evidence of barbarism! Butter was seen as mostly as useful ointment for burns, but not considered a suitable food. A play by the Greek comic poet Anaxandrides refers to Thracians as "butter-eaters," a common insult at this time. Even the English, whose model for imperialism was taken from that of the Romans, sneered at what they thought was the overuse of butter by the Irish. Fynes Moryson, secretary to the viceroy, who spent much time in Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth I, reported that the Irish “swallow whole lumps of filthy butter.” Pass the butter, I say! 🧈 🧈 🧈 🐄

The Butter Churn

Evidence for the use of butter dates back as early as 2000 BC, and there is even mention of it in biblical works.

In the Mediterranean climate, unclarified butter spoils quickly - unlike cheese, it is not a practical method of preserving the nutrients of milk. The ancient Greeks and Romans seemed to have considered butter a food fit more for the northern barbarians. A play by the Greek comic poet Anaxandrides refers to Thracians as boutyrophagoi, "butter-eaters". In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder calls butter "the most delicate of food among barbarous nations", and goes on to describe its medicinal properties.


In the European tradition, the butter churn was primarily a device used by women, and the churning of butter was an essential responsibility along with other household chores.

In earlier traditions of butter making, nomadic cultures placed milk in skin bags and produced butter either by shaking the bag manually, or possibly by attaching the bag to a pack animal, and producing butter simply through the movement of the animal.

For a classic hot buttered rum, click "The Butterchurn" by Valentine Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904) and scroll down for a video of the dance performed by the Tay Dancers.

The Butter Churn
The Butter Churn

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