Family History, History Class, Uncategorized

On Baking, Butter, and a Shameless Deception


My kitchen is starting to smell like Christmas again!

The bananas sat too long, so banana bread is in the oven. The butter is softening for sugar cookie dough, since I have high hopes that we can get it rolled, cut and frosted this weekend, somewhere between church decorating, Christmas caroling and our children’s special singing services.

Of course, this all has me thinking about family baking traditions and recipes, SO I thought I’d repost last year’s tale of my grandma’s great baking DECEPTION! DSCN2537

December is here, it’s officially Advent, and in my house that means baking season.

My cookbooks are filled with favorite cookie recipes from my mom, grandmas, in-laws, and friends. If I only make the essentials, I’ve got a half a dozen types to whip together in the next four weeks.

It gets a little crazy, and more than a little messy as the kids all pitch in to ‘help,’ but I love the memories wrapped up in the process: Grandma’s handwriting on a recipe card, the cookbook Mom assembled, the flavors of my childhood.

In a small way, dusting off the old recipes makes it feel as if the people who passed them on are part of the holidays.

The annual baking spree takes some preparation, of course. We stock up on all of the essentials. Flour, sugar, cocoa, and eggs are non-negotiable.

When we come to the dairy aisle, my internal debate begins.

Do I spring for the ridiculous amounts of butter my recipes require, or substitute a little bit of thrifty margarine? As a child of dairy country (who was also raised to spend as little as possible) it is a challenging decision.

When I visited my parents in November, we started talking about butter vs. margarine and they reminisced about when the decision was even more challenging – during the years when margarine was CONTRABAND.

Naturally, I had to do a little research.

The tale went back to the advent of margarine as a butter substitute in the late 1800s. It was cheap, and oh-so-spreadable. However, the dairy farmers of the U.S. were not pleased with the competition, and fought tooth and claw against it in the political arena.

They succeeded, to a degree.

The dairy proponents passed laws making colored margarine illegal,  hoping that the natural color of the spread would be unappealing.

The margarine companies countered by selling small packets of yellow dye with their product- just mix it in yourself at home!

Margarine was cheaper to purchase than butter, but tax laws against margarine helped to even the playing field.

Of course, you could avoid these if you could make it across the border into a different state- yes, I’ve run in to stories of margarine smuggling.

When butter became scarce during the Great Depression and the World Wars, margarine gained headway, but the butter proponents wouldn’t let little events like these discourage them.

Minnesota didn’t officially legalize colored margarine until 1963. Wisconsin was the longest holdout- they didn’t legalize it until 1967. (According to this article, it may still be illegal to serve margarine in Wisconsin restaurants without also offering butter.)

We have some of those same stubborn farmers in our ancestry, and dad shared the story of their reaction to the debate. Though the participants in our own little skirmish in the ‘margarine wars’ have been in heaven for many years, I’ll simply call them ‘The Farmer’ and ‘The Farmer’s Wife.’

The Farmer had made up his mind, and wasn’t the sort to change it easily.

Margarine- that imitation stuff- would never pass his lips.

The Farmer’s Wife disagreed. She was an excellent baker, but her passion for bread and cookies was matched by her gift for thrift.

How long the war of wills lasted, I don’t know. All that I know is that, on serving supper one night, the Farmer’s Wife made a quiet substitution.

Would he be able to tell the difference?

I wonder if she had any doubts- if she puttered around the kitchen, avoiding his eyes, or if she sat at the table to face him head on, determined to brazen it out.

Either way, The Farmer’s response says it all.

“That’s darn good butter!”

Image courtesy of “Classic Film” on My husband didn’t find it quite as amusing as I did. 😉

My first batch of cookies is finished baking! Today’s feature: Mom’s Baked Chocolate Covered Cherries. (I’ll share the recipe below, in case anyone is interested.)

As to my dairy aisle choice: I know this recipe calls for margarine… but I found a good deal on butter, and I like the real stuff. (You can take a girl out of dairy country… 🙂 )

Many thanks for visiting!


Baked Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies

1/2 C margarine         1/2 tsp salt

1 C sugar                1/2 C baking cocoa

1 egg                        1/4 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp vanilla   1/4 tsp baking powder

1 1/2 C flour           1/2 tsp salt

36-48 maraschino cherries, drained, juice reserved

Cream butter, sugar, egg and vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mix thoroughly. Shape into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet. Push one cherry halfway into each cookie. When all cookies are shaped and cherries added, make the frosting.


1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 C sweetened condensed milk

1-1 1/2 tsp cherry juice

1/4 tsp salt

Cook the chocolate chips and milk in a sauce pan over low heat until melted. Remove from heat and add salt and cherry juice. Immediately frost the cookies, using about 1/2 tsp frosting to spread over each cherry.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 8-10 minutes until puffy and set.

Store tightly covered.








15 thoughts on “On Baking, Butter, and a Shameless Deception”

  1. Okay, Anne, I gained a pound reading your posts. 🙂 Christmas cookies are on the menu here as well. I already had my first round with Peggy. Our daughter and daughter-in-law are up next. I think it’s all butter. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Butter was one of the things that made my grandmother’s house much more aromatic, tasty and memorable than my own home, where we never saw a pat of the real stuff. When I was first married I bought both butter and margarine, but trying to decide when it didn’t matter enough to use the ingredient that was superior in every way — well, I always decided that it did matter, and after the margarine sat around for months or years, I threw it out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I think it’s a good choice 😉 I still debate in the grocery aisle- thrift vs. taste! I’m making a few batches of toffee for teacher gifts this week, so I’m hoping to hit the bulk store so at least the butter purchases are a little less massive… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was enjoying that. Love the idea that “It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas” (thank you, Perry, we’ll let you know). And your notion that dusting off the old recipes makes it feel as if the people who passed them on are part of the holidays is simply wonderful. Then you had to spoil it by suggesting that it’s in some way amusing to deceive the old man, the poor old hubby. I am shaken by the revelation of this side of your character, Anne… But I did learn about the margarine wars 🙂 I had no idea! And, in case I don’t get round to it later, a very Merry Christmas to you, Mr C and all the little Cs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m deeply sorry for the disappointment, Mike- I will try to better myself, really!
      I’m glad you enjoyed other parts- I’ve had a couple of people come up to me since posting with sordid tales of family margarine smuggling 😀
      Thanks so much, and a Merry Christmas to you and yours!


  4. Team butter here too! I love to go to our Amish community and by their fresh butter! Your cookies look wonderful! Great story and I learned a lot about margarine and more reasons why I don’t use it.😉

    Liked by 1 person

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