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  • Writer's pictureCarole Conn

No Butter in the Buttery

I'd love to have a "buttery". I just like the word. When I think of a buttery I think of old shelves in old paint filled with firkins, bowls, bottles, pantry boxes, and dried gourds, herbs, flowers. And butter - crocks with butter in them and butter prints pressed onto them. It's a place where I can arrange all my country kitchen antiques without the practical problems of actually needing the space for cans of tomato sauce.

I don' t have space for that. I have a nice pantry, but it is filled with all the practical stuff you need in a kitchen. But I really want a buttery.

I'm not sure that was even a place in early American kitchens. Maybe we made it up, like "keeping room". We didn't really make up the term "keeping room", it just wasn't the kitchen with the big fireplace that we think of today. It was the family's "best" room, where they entertained, the front parlor.

And how does the butter stay cold in an unrefrigerated buttery? Won't it melt? Get too soft? Except in winter, when the whole house was cold in the 18th century. Well, I found out that butteries have nothing to do with butter. Originally, they never kept butter in butteries. There were butteries in old England. According to Wikipedia, the buttery was a service room in a medieval house where butts, barrels or bottles of liquor were stored and then served by the BUTler. The original butler was the guy in charge of the buttery. It had nothing to do with butter.

Frances Phipps, the once doyenne of all things antiquarian in New England, wrote a great book called Colonial Kitchens, Their Furnishings and Their Gardens, published in 1972. ( I just checked, and Amazon has them used for $6.75 - well worth it). That's where I learned that everyone in the antiques world, myself included, was mis-using the words "keeping room". In it, she lists the inventory of a guy who died in Wethersfield CT in 1693, and he had a buttery! So I guess we didn't make it up. In his buttery (they called it "ye buttery") he had: 3 bushells of meal, 3 spinning wheels, 4 meal sives (sieves), a churn, an old table, an old cask, bees and a hive (really?) and 2 half bushels. So it was what we'd call a junk room. I bet it didn't look pretty.

My buttery would be pretty. Not practical, but pretty. By pretty, I mean primitively beautiful - the pretty that those of us who love all things country, and early, and worn, would call pretty.

Pretty like these. I found these photos on Pinterest. There are three really good boards: The Buttery, by Amy Eshelman, and Buttery/Pantry, by Robin Lewis, and Butt'ry by DM. You can see them at

The photo with the boxes came from the book Fragments by Jill Peterson. Have you seen it? It's great. I look at it over and over, like everything Jill Peterson does. You can get it on Amazon for $28.00.

I'd be interested in knowing who of you have a buttery and how you use it. Do you actually use it or is it just for display? Maybe I could convert the downstairs bathroom. I really want a buttery.



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