Yesterday I participated in a live online chat with Kathleen Purvis, the food editor of the Charlotte Observer (a link to her blog, I’ll Bite, can be found on the menu on the left). Most participants asked questions pertaining to seasonal items, such as zucchini or peaches, or about local restaurants. A participant named John asked the best question of the day:
Is margarine safe to eat straight from the tub? Or is there some sort of special preparation you use? I like to wrap margarine in butter before serving. Is that recommended?
Ms. Purvis, I, and, presumably, the rest of the participants were not prepared for a question of this caliber. In the case of John’s question, the whole is definitely not greater than the sum of its parts. Each part is a beguiling question all its own. Therefore, I’ve decided to break down the whole and attempt to answer or, at least, offer my thoughts on each part.
Is margarine safe to eat straight from the tub? Margarine has been around for over 130 years. While it hasn’t been available the entire time in tub form, I, and most of you, grew up eating margarine straight from the tub, most notably on toast. When my niece was about 3, I saw her eating a spoonful of a thick yellowish substance, but couldn’t make out what it was. When I asked what she was eating, she replied, “Butter” (I wouldn’t expect a 3-year old to say “Margarine”). Rather than trying to convince a 3-year old that eating a spoonful of margarine may not be the healthiest option, I instead asked my mother why she’d given it to her in the first place. Her answer? “That’s what she wanted.” My niece recently graduated from high school relatively unscathed and without dying a horrible margarine-induced death. I am aware of arguments on both sides regarding the safety and health factors of eating margarine. Trans fats, no trans fats. The argument is basically whether or not to eat it at all. I have yet to hear an argument regarding the tub.
Is there some sort of special preparation you use? I wish John had elaborated on this point. I’m not familiar with a “special preparation”. Maybe melt it and then chill it to get it back to its hardened state? Sprinkle it with lard? Luckily, John does have an idea.
I like to wrap margarine in butter before serving. Again, John really could’ve elaborated on this one. This is, in fact, my favorite part of the question. I surveyed a couple people to see if they could figure out how John was accomplishing Butter-Wrapped Margarine. LA’s partner Joe and I both theorize that perhaps he softens a stick of butter, then wraps it around a chilled stick of margarine. My mother thinks he might soften the butter and just spread it on the margarine. Either way, I’d love to be in the kitchen with John when he’s wrapping his margarine. I’d also like to see how his guests react to this delight. Joe pointed out that John’s special preparation really does put you on the fast track for a massive coronary. Really though, more than knowing how he wraps the margarine, I'd like to know why.
Is that recommended? No. While I wouldn’t necessarily dissuade someone with John’s tenacity from wrapping margarine with butter, I cannot recommend or even endorse this solution. If you can really call it a solution. I would love to ask John where this suggestion came from in the first place. Is it an old family tradition? Did he hear about it on one of the morning TV shows that are always frightening my mother with how ubiquitous and relatively innocuous household products will kill or, at the very least, maim you?
John, if you’re reading this, please answer my questions, as I have answered yours. I eagerly await your response. Until then, I will be eating my margarine directly from the tub, as I am just too lazy to figure out how to go about wrapping it. Fingers crossed that it’s safe!
P.S. In case you're wondering, Ms. Purvis's response to John's question was "Why would margarine not be safe from the tub? I don't think it needs preparation. It's margarine."