ODE TO A CONDIMENT

Standard

From the trusty crock you teach
how cold a winter’s morning
or how warm a summer’s day might be.
Oh not in thermometric numbers by degree
but by your suave substantial answer
to the knife tip’s touch,
by your complexion and your spreadability.

At your most noble, taken new
from finest milk and churned
to a consistency all of your own,
epitome of softness and a cache
of flavor—you’re unsalted, sweet,
delicately of the pasture: dandelion,
clover or alfalfa, onion grass…

I love yourself
by any means conveyed—
a raft of toast, a lobster tail,
an artichoke sautéed—even my cat
demands a tiny pat of you each day.
But best of all, pièce de resistance,
those days when I bake bread

I break a hunk
warm, before the loaf is sliced,
and slather you all over it.
Then you are paradise.
.
.
ODE TO A CODIMENT
.
Originally posted August, 2013

94 responses »

  1. Great poem. Great reading. The epitome of “homefulness”. You have the skill to turn the everyday into something wondrous. (And no wonder I threw out the margarine a few years back).

    • I guess we can both remember the days of margarine….actually, I go far back enough to remember when it was first introduced. It was a kind of white stuff, like lard, and I recall seeing my grandmother kneading it in a plastic bag with a special color tablet that made it yellow so it would appear to be like butter. Yuk!! Then there were all the health nuts and medical gurus of mid to late twentieth century who insisted margarine was better for your heart and arteries. (The same ones who banned eggs.) It turns out that the less fooled-around-with foods are the best. I’m glad to see the demise of all those theories in favor of the natural stuff people have been eating for eons. Thanks, Bruce

  2. Of course this reminds me of my own “Ode on a Grecian Can Opener,” for which I was awarded the Palme d’Or in the Kitchen Gadgetry category. The competition was tough. I was nearly edged out by a Ballad to a Lemon Zester. Cynthia, you are the undisputed mayonnaise/churned butter queen though. No finer poem has been written on the subject.

    • I was aware of your soon to be published seminal work on the ontological significance of kitchen appliances, but not that you had already won the Palme d’Or for small gadgets. Congratulations! Now that you are part of the elite inner circle I know I could prevail upon you to put in a good word for me as queen of butter odes, ( not mayonnaise, of course, as I am not French). However, I am of the same mind as those WordPressers who eschew awards, so that won’t be advisable. The good intentions and good wishes, of course, are always deeply appreciated.

      • Well, you are practically French, and I took the liberty of extending your passion for that luteous lump of fat (so delicious on croissants) to mayonnaise, the apotheosis of condiments (according to my ontological research–I often digress), in order to a new exhort from you, without the use of ecclesiastical tricks, a new poem.

        • Indeed. You read my mind. But I am still in search of the best commercial mayo, given how much trouble it is to make my own at home….probably a futile search. I keep reading the tiny print of ingredients on the jars, but there’s always an item or two that does not meet with my approval, not to mention that most brands don’t even bother to separate eggs and use only the yolks…And on the subject of being practically French, you are about half right, though the genes made it this far via Canada. My favorite definition of mayonnaise is by Ambrose Bierce in “The Devil’s Dictionary” : ” mayonnaise…a sauce that serves the French in place of a national religion.” For sure a contender for the apotheosis of condiments.

          • I too am an accomplished label reader. But, frankly speaking, I never buy anything unless orichalcum is listed as one of the top ingredients–it’s so good for the blood. I’m sure you feel the same way. But the secret of a good mayonnaise is to understand centrifugal force. Anyone having worked in a nuclear power plant should be up to the task.

            A good mayonnaise must also contain nettles, as urtication of the body is essential to counter the paralysis that results from the plethora of social media options available today. Incidentally, last time is said ecclesiastical ‘tricks’ when I meant to say ‘means.’ A small point, really. But a dollop of mayonnaise before committing to press the send button would have averted the embarrassment.

            • I had not heard of orichalcum, but my research now tells me I probably don’t want any of it in my mayonnaise. The nettles, though, might be a good choice since I suffer greatly from what was once more charmingly called rheumatism. Mayonnaise made with stinging nettles could actually be applied directly as a poultice to offending joints. Flogging with nettles could be a good rubefacient and anti-inflammatory. Being careful, of course, not to gum up the laptop in the process, I could spend hours flogging while blogging.

              • Again, we seem to have drifted, however slightly, from the topic in hand, the glorification of butter through the good offices of poetry, that incorrigible fiend–but not so much that anyone would notice, I think. There’s always something vulgar about discussing something forthrightly. Discussing a flat tire, for instance, in terms of the nail that punctured the rubber or of a malfunctioning hydraulic jack is wrongheaded. Best to stuff the featherbed of discussion (I’m speaking metaphorically) with oblique terms that have no direct bearing on the subject matter. I’m certain that you agree. And with this, and butter, and mayonnaise—we are three for three. Poets, after all, surely think alike. Now if you could just find another poet to validate these ideas, you’d be all set. I myself am a charlatan by trade—those sonnets were beginner’s luck.

                • I have it on good etymological authority that the word “charlatan” derives from the Italian “ciarlatano”–“one who babbles.” Synonyms in English are mountebank, quack, magician and confidence man.
                  I think magician fits you best and doubt you are a confidence man, though when it comes to your seeming to harbor a poetic soul, I have great confidence that you do.

  3. Delightful, Cynthia. I’ll try to taste the onion grass…and perhaps buy some fresh bread. I have to be honest, I’ve actually never categorized butter along with all the other “condiments”: relish, ketchup, mayo, etc. It has always stood on its own, I think.

  4. This one resonated with a happy voice that made me smile. Isn’t it great that we can derive pleasure from something so simple? I have been told that the pleasure of consuming fats surpasses that of sweetness. Think about it, all our favorite candies and desserts contain lots of butter; and that slab of warm new bread slathered in butter is paradise – you did it again!

    • True about those candies and desserts. I imagine too much of these good things would have an adverse effect, but in moderation they are the greatest of pleasures, and, as you say, such simple things! Thanks Jane.

  5. If the cows ate onion grass, mmmm, that butter would be good with sea salt rolled in. I remember drinking milk when the cows had got into something pungent. This poem made me remember that, as well as the cream on top! Delicious!

    • I haven’t thought about that cream on top of the milk for a long time; and now I can see that recollected image of how it popped the caps and rose out of the glass bottles delivered to the porch in a frigid Maine winter. Onion grass pungency and sea salt sounds nice…drawn as a dip for lobster.. yum!

  6. ME TOO !!! And even though my GP reckons my cholesterol level says I must eat margarine, I won’t. I continue on consuming my Lurpak Lite – which I know is partly oil, but at least largely butter.
    Oh, how I wish I could provide you, the poet, with a suave substantial answer to this wondrous ode, Cynthia – but all I can do is agree from the heart, with joy.

  7. Mmmm. Butter on freshly baked bread. I can almost taste it – you are quite the evocative poet, Cynthia.

    One day, too many years ago to mention, we made butter by pouring cream into a jar, adding a marble and shaking it an awful lot. I’ve never had butter like it since. Maybe it’s time to relive that childhood memory. We could make the butter while the bread is baking. 🙂

  8. One of my very favourites from your book Cynthia! And now, having read it again, I am definitely having new potatoes (Jersey Royals of course), for dinner smothered in far too many pats! 😊.
    Wonderful poem but then they always are! xx

  9. You make butter sound like the bad boy of condiments! So desirable. So bad. So sensual.
    “…your suave substantial answer
    to the knife tip’s touch,
    by your complexion and your spreadability.”

  10. I’m of the generation that grew up when margarine was simply the default option. But butter just tastes better, doesn’t it? Aside from its weird taste, something else irks me about margarine – it breaks one of the few reliable spelling rules in English: that a ‘g’ is always hard before an ‘a’ or an ‘o’. I can’t believe it’s not ‘margerine’!
    The first stanza took a second reading for me to appreciate – like butter itself, I had to leave the poem out a while before it worked for me. You make a nice subtle point (in a nice subtle poem). Butter does all sorts of things, while margarine only does the one. It reminded me of a G.K. Chesterton essay in which he extolled the use of old tools with multiple functions, and disparaged modern gadgets and their specialization. He didn’t live to see margarine, I don’t think, but I’ve no doubt what he would have thought of it.

    • Now that’s reasoning after my own proclivities: to be irked by a grocery product because it violates a rule of proper English spelling or diction. Your own spelling of margerine (thanks, but no thanks, auto correct) is one I will use from now on. You never know when these small rebellions might catch on, or spark a conversation about language.

      I suspect you surmise rightly about what Chesterton would think. He would have fun, too, with a product like ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter.’ Puts me in mind of an episode of TV’s “Vicar of Dibley” wherein the ditsy female sexton announces one day that she’s discovered a fabulous new product called ‘I can’t believe it’s not I can’t believe it’s not butter!’

      • The margerine revolution starts here! Of course, the other option for the die-hard language pedant woukd be to pronounce the word with a hard ‘g’, but that’s almost as silly as ‘I can’t believe I can’t believe it’s not butter!’

  11. An ode to butter–I love it, Cynthia! And yes, never stint on the butter! When I visit my family in Ireland, I always smuggle some Irish butter back home with me. It’s as yellow as buttercups, and tastes like rich cream. Slainte.

    • That’s lovely, Melissa. I have been reading the autobiography of Janet Frame, a New Zealander, and enjoyed a passage about her craving “real” butter from New Zealand. I also recall a trip to Europe in my early thirties when I was amazed by the different taste of butter in France, and in Austria. I guess butter is very much a part of our roots; some of my roots are Irish, but I haven’t yet tasted the butter you describe…something to look forward to! Sláinte!

  12. Nothing quite like a craggy loaf warm from the bakery with a good slap of real butter on it. A mouth-watering poem, Cynthia. You’ve taken me back to happy childhood hols in the Cornish fishing village of Portscatho…

    Cheers,

    Paul

      • Hi Cynthia, yes, I enjoy public readings, aware of course that I’m following the ancient oral tradition of the Celtic bards. Gosh, they’re hard work though! My head’s in a spin at the moment with so many coming up, including a major festival in Scotland and a two-hour radio slot. Not that I’m complaining…

        Cheers,

        Paul

  13. Love the tribute to the substance that you never used by name, but you cleverly lead us to its identity … and to think in Iowa they put it on a stick, batter it, and fry it.

  14. Cynthia your post never showed in my Reader – I’m unfollowing and re-following to see if the situation corrects itself. Talk about a poem right to my soul, nothing more delicious than a slice (chunk) of warm homemade bread slathered with butter, wow I’m right with you. As a matter of fact I was just talking to my husband about baking some bread, but it’s still a tad too hot for a hot oven, but on the other hand your words are causing me to long for that one delicious slice. Okay here is what I can do, cook some lobster and either have the wonderful sweet knuckle meat or claw meat dunked in warm sweet butter, or have my husband make one of his famous buttered lobster rolls.

    Oh yes, I did enjoy the moment – thank you Cynthia!!

    • Glad you finally found this one, Mary, because I know you’re a bread baker and a lobster lover, and those are two of the best excuses in the world to enjoy plenty of butter! We’re having one of the few, brief, heat waves that come at this time of year—dog days—so I can sympathize with your high heat, though I doubt it’s the real muggy kind we get around here. Oh well, soon it will be soup and bread weather, and crazy with colored leaves….my favorite. Thanks, as always, for tracking me down!

  15. Finally, an ode to the under-appreciated butter. Trust you to think of it. Many an unappetising childhood meal has been made tasty with generous application. However, never heard of it being referred to as a condiment. It was, well, just butter. Live and learn I guess 🙂

    • Just butter, yes, somehow always around and available….you’re right, it really does stand alone in a way, though most cookery sources refer to it as a condiment….maybe it’s the condiment of condiments! Thanks for stopping by to read, Ankur

  16. Delicious and authentic. “even my cat
    demands a tiny pat of you each day” – I love this line for its play on words and because my sister-in-law’s cat gets just the same. 🙂

    • Thanks for noticing the play on words….I didn’t notice it myself until I re-read it after I wrote it!
      I’m guessing the butter doesn’t do the cat any harm…thanks for stopping by, bb 🙂

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