[Sca-cooks] Drummond on Butter

Doc edoard at medievalcookery.com
Wed Jun 25 09:58:54 PDT 2008

So I finally get home and open the copy of Drummond, and here's what  
he has to say on the topic (presented in its entirety):


    "Butter was much more extensively used for cooking than as a table  
food.  It was recommended for growing pains in children and for  

    <<Sweete-butter wholesome is as some haue taught,
    To cleanse and purge some paines that inward be.[2]>>

    <<Now butter with a leaf of sage is good to purge the blood.[3]>>

[2] The School of Salernum, translated by Sir John Harington, 1608.
[3] The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Act IV, Scene v, Francis  
Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625)


    "The rancid state of the greater part that was sold would account  
for its reputation as a strong laxative.

    "It was usually made early in summer and 'May Butter' was regarded  
not only as the best but as the most wholesome. '... yet would I wish  
that such as have children to bring up, would not bee without May  
Butter in their houses'.[1]  There is some confusion about the term  
'May Butter', for it is sometimes used of butter made at that time of  
the year, and sometimes of a curious product resembling the Indian / 

    <<It is to bee made chiefly in May, or in the heate of the yeare, by  
setting Butter new made without salt, so much as you list in a  
platter, open to the Sunne in faire weather for certain daies, untill  
it bee sufficiently clarified, and altered in colour, which wil be in  
twelve or fourteene daies, if it be faire Sunne shining.[2]>>

    "Such treatment would cause all the natural pigment (carotene) and  
the associated vitamin A to be destroyed by oxidation.  A good deal  
of rancidity would also occur.  It is difficult, therefore, to  
understand why such a product, all its vitamin A content gone and  
reeking of rancidity, should have been so highly recommended.   
Exposure to the sun's rays would tend to increase the amount of  
vitamin D present and it is possible that the beneficial effect of   
'May Butter', discovered empirically, was due to its antirachitic  
properties.  This may explain why it was sometimes used in the spring  
to relieve pain in the joints."

[1]&[2] The Haven of Health, Thomas Cogan, 1584


As with a lot of "The Englishman and His Food", Drummond here has  
mixed some useful information with conjecture and unsubstantiated  

Assertions made without substantiation:
1.  Butter was used medicinally for growing pains
2.  Most butter sold was rancid
3.  Butter left out for 12-14 days would have "a good deal of rancidity"
    (I don't say this isn't true, but I intend to find out)
4.  Rancid butter has a laxative effect
    (I don't say this isn't true, and I'm not sure I want to find out)
5.  "May Butter" was used in the spring to relieve pain in the joints
6.  Rickets was a problem in the middle ages
7.  "May Butter" was used in the middle ages for its antirachitic  
8.  "May Butter" has antirachitic properties

I think the assertion that bothers me the most is #2, since it is so  
reminiscent of the Moldy-Meat-Myth.  They've got butter being sold,  
but they hold onto it until it's rancid before selling it?  The  
butter's rancid, but nevertheless they use a lot of it?  Feh!

- Doc


More information about the Sca-cooks mailing list