Oleo Olio

I never know where the next inspiration for a post will come from, especially my “Remember When” stories.  I am old enough, and was born in a small enough town, far enough off the beaten path, that I remember how things were, long before most of my readers were born.  I occasionally write about The Good Old Days, hopefully interesting and amusing a few good folk….

….So, the other day I wanted to put some margarine on a piece of toast.  I laid my left hand over the plastic tub, casually ran my thumb under the edge of the lid, and it popped right off.  We take packaging so much for granted, and have become so used to it.  Those lids can’t be taken off by grasping them firmly, and pulling straight.  The harder you grasp, the tighter they seal.  For as soft and fragile as they are, they would have had our ancestors of even a hundred years ago, looking for an axe or saw.

When the lid came off the first time, it was a two-handed, thumbs-working-in-opposite-directions move, because there was a sheet of plastic welded to the rim of the tub.  Squeeze bottles of salad dressing have plastic, heat-sealed over the lid, but even after you use a crowbar or flame thrower to remove that, you still have to twist off the cap.  Beneath that is yet another layer of plastic and cardboard that has to be removed.

When I was a lad….yeah, yeah, we know, grandpa – peanut butter came in too-easily-broken, glass jars.  You twisted off the cap, and dug into the peanut butter.  Actually, you probably got a knife and stirred it, because the non-homogenized stuff separated like milk, with the oil on top.  Nowadays, there’s another little cardboard and Mylar manhole cover under the cap – all these because some fool in Chicago wanted to get away with poisoning his wife with tainted Tylenol.  Back then, the boxes and bottles in the stores just opened up.  The cops caught him though.

Anyway, back to the margarine!  You thought you could distract me, eh??  Margarine was developed in the 1800s, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution.  Some years ago, when the elimination of CFCs was the cause du jour, I saw a woman on television who declaimed that, “If we could develop margarine, as a safe alternative to butter, we can develop a safe alternative to CFCs.”  The only problem with that is that it’s not true.  It wasn’t developed as a safe anything!

The first “margarine” was beef tallow, mixed with something like Worcestershire Sauce, horrible to eat, but it provided sufficient calories to prevent mine, mill and factory workers from fainting from hunger.  It gave the industrial barons the maximum labor for the minimum cost, sweethearts those guys.  History also has shown that the saturated fats in early margarine were as dangerous to health as butter, so the busy-body bitch was wrong, twice.

Here in Canada, the Milk Marketing Board, which was one small step less powerful than the American NRA, almost strangled margarine in its infancy.  They got a law passed that said margarine could not be marketed if it looked like butter, in every Province except Quebec, where they march to the tune of their own beret-wearing, red-wine-soaked piper.

They tried to market Marg in colors ranging from Kool-Aid orange, to cranberry red, but mostly just white.  I remember, as a kid, getting pound blocks of fish-belly-white stuff in cardboard boxes, indistinguishable from lard, except there was included a small paper envelope.  You tore the envelope open, sprinkled the colored powder on the block and stirred like hell in a bowl, till you got the familiar yellow.

Blue Bonnet came out with a plastic bag, similar to bagged milk.  On the inside of one of the flat sides was a little plastic ampule of liquid colorant.  You pinched it to burst it internally, then kneaded and mixed, kneaded and mixed, till it turned that golden buttery yellow.

I don’t know why we didn’t just eat the damned stuff white.  I guess this is where the self-psychology kicks in again.  I know I probably lose more calories and weight from body-heat loss in the summer than the winter.  In the winter, when it’s snowy and blowy outside, I wear underwear, socks, flannel track-pants, heavy tee-shirt and slippers – and the furnace has the house at 73 F.  In the summer, when it’s bright and sunny, I wear underwear, maybe socks, perhaps shorts, possibly a threadbare shirt, and slippers only if I have to go outside or down to the concrete basement floor – and the A/C has the house to 72 F.

In the mid-80s, the consuming public finally pried Milk’s thumbs off Margarine’s throat, and at last we could buy it in yellow.  The little frogs in Quebec had been making it like that for years, and they wanted to market it to the rest of Canada.

Initially, one pound tubs were not worth their while.  It was shipped in plastic bulk containers, like glass or metal baking dishes, 8 X 12 X 2 – five-pound trays, or 9 X 13 X3 – ten-pounders, with tight-fitting, snap-down flat lids.  (Sizes in inches for the metric crowd.  Americans, feel free to ignore the inevitable, and the rest of the world.)  Spatula or spoon it out into a serving dish.  Once empty and washed, they were handy nesting storage containers.  Years later, the wife and I still use them to protect those lovely Christmas cookies.

Soon, other Canadian, and American suppliers provided the easily-opened one-pound tubs, and I could have toast and margarine and peanut butter at the flick of a thumb.  And I will burn off those calories, because I’m sitting here typing this, wearing only a smile.

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