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Every Tuesday at 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m., Tom Harte shares a few thoughts on food and shares recipes. A founder of “My Daddy’s Cheesecake,” a bakery/café in Cape Girardeau, a food columnist for The Southeast Missourian, and a cookbook author, he also blends his passion for food with his passion for classical music in his daily program, The Caffe Concerto.

A Harte Appetite: Irish Butter

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flickr user Nick Saltmarsh (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
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Jack Conaway was cutting peat for fuel in the Emlagh bog in County Meath, Ireland, back in 2016 when he made a stinking discovery.  Buried twelve feet underground was a twenty-two pound lump of butter estimated to be about 2,000 years old.

The surprising thing about this finding is that it is not all that surprising.  Hundreds of specimens of so-called “bog butter” have been located across the Emerald Isle.  I’ve even seen one.

It’s on display at the Butter Museum in Cork, Ireland, near the old Butter Exchange, in its heyday the largest exporter of butter in the world.  The museum houses all kinds of exhibits which testify to the important role of butter in the economy of Ireland and the lives of its people.

You cannot spend any time at all at the museum without realizing that butter is woven into practically every aspect of Irish life.  As Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman’s, one of America’s best specialty food stores, puts it, “Butter is in the culture, in the countryside, in the kitchen, in the culinary schools, in the economy.”

Butter is to the Irish what olive oil is to the Italians.  They cook almost everything with it and though they might occasionally be cowed into using a butter substitute like margarine, they would never think of insulting guests by offering it to them lest it bring shame upon the house.  For them butter is the essence of hospitality.

As I wandered through the Cork Butter Museum contemplating all this, it occurred to me that if you’re in the mood for Irish food, Irish butter should be part of the equation—not potatoes which are an import from Peru, or soda bread which goes back only to the 19th century, or corned beef and cabbage, which is actually an American creation.

No, if you want to prepare an authentic Irish meal you must have Irish butter.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Irish Butter Cake

Calling this concoction “buttery” would be an understatement as the cake is not only made with butter but drenched in butter sauce after baking.  The recipe is adapted from Hayley Parker’s dessert blog.

3 cups flour
2 and ¾ cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 and 1/3 cups butter, divided
5 teaspoons vanilla, divided
4 eggs
3 tablespoons water

Cream together 1 cup of the butter and 2 cups of the sugar.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Add 1 tablespoon of the vanilla, salt, baking powder and soda and combine.  Alternately add flour and buttermilk and combine to make a thick batter.  Pour into greased and floured tube pan and bake at 325 degrees for an hour, or until tester inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine remaining ¾ cup sugar, remaining 1/3 cup butter, remaining 2 teaspoons vanilla, and water and heat until just starting to simmer.  Poke deep holes over surface of cake and pour butter sauce over top.  Cool completely, remove from pan, and dust with powdered sugar.

Tom Harte is a retired faculty member from Southeast Missouri State University where he was an award-winning teacher, a nationally recognized debate coach, and chair of the department of Speech Communication and Theatre.
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