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.

31 thoughts on “Oleo Olio

  1. BrainRants says:

    I knew from the blog title alone this was your post because only you could pull off that word combo. My Thunderbird, very sadly, labels every subscription notice as “Archon’s Den,” even that douche hotspur’s. Sorry, not my fault.

    Anyway, you’re right about the magic of packaging. I’d add that if you hunt carefully, you can find peanut butter these days that you have to alternate between right- and upside-down to work the oil into… in glass jars no less. I only use that because no added bullshit like fructose or ass-tose.

    Keep on blogging, my friend.


  2. BrainRants says:

    PS – why the fuck are you up so goddamn late?


    • Archon's Den says:

      I told you after we met, almost two years ago. I’m retired. Standard shift is from noon to 4 AM. Better reruns of Casablanca than The View. All posts go up after midnight, to become “the next day.” I’m an hour later than you, but bed is still an hour away. Kill a Coors for me. 😆


  3. BrainRants says:

    I’ve killed nearly 15 tonight. Good on you.


  4. 1jaded1 says:

    Margarine is evil, no matter what the packaging!


  5. hermithaven says:

    My my A remarkable writing Here I had thought that margarine had been developed by the Germans during World War !! to lubricate tank treads I seeI that I was in error but still it would be a better use of the product


  6. I remember the 9 x 13 x 3, I think my mother only bought it a few times, especially since back then most only had one fridge, so in a large family it is taking up valuable space. I buy margarine for my daughter, only because she can’t eat butter, else it wouldn’t be in my fridge, I’m not a fan. Oh and my butter, I store it on the counter old school – in a butter ball.


  7. Jim Wheeler says:

    Back in the day, butter was a staple. Same would apply to oleo, nee oleomargarine. The word is not moribund, but the context is:

    staple noun a main or important element of something, esp. of a diet

    If you were to ask young people today about staples today I suspect you will get a lot of blank looks. Or, more likely, a question about why you might want to eat little bits of wire. 🙂


    • Archon's Den says:

      Canada has an office supply chain named Staples, selling stationery, computers/printers, etc., everything you absolutely need to run a business. I’ll bet there are those who think it started with only the little ka-chunk, ka-chunk paper-joiners. 😕


  8. hermithaven says:

    I am struck by “the occasional emotion ” Could you be so kind as to enlighten my thick head


    • Archon's Den says:

      Easily misread as “emotion”, the word is actually “EmotiCon.” They’re those little yellow faces often dropped at the end of a comment, such as the one following my reply. There’s small smile, big smile, question, wink, and a couple that move, LOL (laughing), and eye-roll, as well as others. They are achieved by entering various combinations of punctuation marks. I could send you the file if you’re interested. 😆


  9. benzeknees says:

    We stayed with butter for a very long time because it was delivered by our door-to-door milkman. By the time we switched to margarine it was already yellow. We used to buy margarine in those big flat containers when I was first married to Kelvin too & we still used them as storage containers for leftover turkey, etc.


    • Archon's Den says:

      The wife eats nothing but butter. I use it only where I can enjoy the taste, such as a slice of toasted rye. Buried in my Dagwood sandwiches, I can’t tell the difference, and it’s a lot cheaper. We also use it in whipped potatoes, cheese sauces, etc.

      Aren’t those containers handy??! We also use them for leftovers like turkey, but they’re getting old and brittle, just like the wife and I. I hope we both last a little longer. Tupperware was ubiquitous, but expensive. Nowadays Rubbermaid and Zip-Lok are easy, and cheaper. 🙂


  10. Um … wasn’t the Tylenol BS in my beloved hometown of Chicago? Or is that just my senility talking? 😉
    A lot of food dye is mental trickery. If stuff doesn’t look the way we THINK it should, we won’t buy it or eat it. Our local large-scale “boutique” cheese place, Pearl Valley cheese, turns out a lot of stuff that’s just a shade off white. After they do all their voodoo, THEN they dye the stuff a proper shade of yellow. Whatever in the heck a “proper” shade is….
    And for a total non sequitir, “olio” in Italian means oil. “Gasolio”
    means diesel. “Benzina” is actually gasoline. So if you’re ever visiting Frank’s home country, be careful you don’t end up with 10W30 on your muffins! 😀


    • Archon's Den says:

      You’re absolutely right about the Tylenol murders. They were in the beautiful city of Chicago. It was my senility talking. You don’t have a monopoly on it you know. 🙂

      The wife’s allergies to dairy products grow less severe as she ages, but her allergies to food dyes, especially the reds, grows worse. She eats yogurt, lactose-free (read more expensive) sour cream, and a few white cheeses, some goat-milk. The double whammy of milk and dyes in my beloved cheddar would kill me, because it causes her joint pain, irritable bowel, inflamed bladder and behavioral changes beyond even those caused by the above. 👿


  11. […] I wrote about it, because I slipped it into several posts, because I even had a post titled “Oleo Olio”, I felt that I should set the record straight, and honor a local almost-hero.  The following is a […]


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