Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A small thing, with big rewards


With items that go on sale, on a fairly regular basis, I can make a guess at whether or not my supply will last until the next time. But with items which go on sale less frequently, I find I have to be more exacting in my estimations of how long my supply will last. The following has been an effective method for me.

I was rummaging through the freezer a week ago and discovered that I was down to 12 pounds of butter. The next big sale period for butter will be Easter week, most likely. It could go on sale before then, but it could also not.

Butter is an expensive ingredient. Buying a lot of it at the regular price can pinch that budget more than I like. But, if I can estimate how long my supply will last, given our current rate of consumption, I can make changes to our use, now, while those changes could have the biggest impact.  This would extend my supply for extra several weeks, and so I could wait for the next big butter sale.

While standing out in the garage, I made a guess in my head that we were currently going through 1 pound per week, the 5 of us. With one pound per week, our 12 pounds would last for 3 months. I use butter in baking, added to skillets, to enrich soups, and for table use. One pound per week sounds about right. But what if we use more than 1 pound per week? I could be off significantly, and not know any better. So it was best to find out exactly how much we are currently using in a week.

When I brought out the most recent pound of butter, I marked the label with that day's date. It was January 19th. Today is the 27th and we have 1/8 pound left (half a stick). As it turns out, we are currently going through 1 pound every 8 or 9 days. My current supply, if used at this current rate, should last 3.4 months, a little better prognosis than I'd guessed.

Knowing this, I also have an opportunity to make this butter last even longer, by choosing recipes which call for less butter, by using saved fat from cooking meat, by using vegetable oil in place of butter more often, by making soft butter spread by adding vegetable oil and by choosing fat alternatives when baking, such as applesauce, mashed bananas, and pureed pumpkin.

(Bonus -- knowing how long each pound lasts, I also now know how much to buy, the next time I find a great sale.)


I mark packages with the date, as I open them, for other items in the house. When I've wanted to know which brand of shampoo was a better deal (as some can be more watery than others), I've marked the lids of the bottles with the date of open. I've done this with laundry detergent and bathroom tissue, too, to determine best value for our use.

It's just a small thing and requires very little time and effort. But marking the package with the opening date gives me more accurate information for my planning and purchasing.


FYI, the package of butter up at the top is what butter looks like when bought at Cash & Carry. One pound is wrapped in a single large sheet of waxed paper. I make "sticks" of butter for the butter dish by cutting each pound into quarters, lengthwise. My "sticks" are longer and more narrow than prepackaged sticks of butter, but I like that. I think we use less butter when the sticks are long and narrow.

37 comments:

Cat said...

My butter comes like that as well. We go through it fairly quickly so I don't break it down into sticks. We buy a case of Rumiano from Azure about every 3-4 months (case is 15 lbs), then supplement with cheaper Aldi butter for baking and uses where the butter is more cooked (my personal feeling is that some of the extra nutrition from the pastured butter is lost during cooking so why not save that money and use the "good" stuff for topping potatoes, toast, and so forth?).

One stretch I've found is using organic palm shortening (huge tub, 5 lbs I believe) is only about $11, so cheaper than even the cheapest butter here, yet it tastes good in many instances such as cornbread, half and half with butter in some cookies, and so forth. We also save the bacon drippings but I hoard those carefully to use in green beans and fried summer squash. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm almost scared to say this but I rarely use butter. I have also cut my baking and now I only bake sweets once or twice a month. I rarely eat breads and toast with butter also. I suppose that is a good thing. We did have a loaf of bread warmed up in the oven with a partial stick of butter to go with dinner on Sunday but I think a pound or two of butter (stashed in the freezer) lasted since last Easter.

I saw a recipe once that someone was making hamburger BBQ. It called for a stick of butter, then added the ground beef and onion. She then drained all the drippings off and discarded that. I thought that was such a waste of a stick of butter. Does that really add anything to the recipe, do you think? I guess I'm more conscious of the waste and how much that cost me. I might try to find a couple more pounds just for that "little extra special" time when we want that on bread during a special meal.

Alice

Lili said...

Hi Cat,
Is palm shortening not hydrogenated? Where do you buy that?

I got a good deal on butter at Cash & Carry, a year ago. I bought a 30 lb case last winter (what I'm just finishing up now) for $1.67/lb. I'm waiting for another great sale like that again. Their current price is $3.49/lb. Regular grocery stores are carrying butter for about $2.99/lb right now.

Kathryn K. said...

I probably have around 12 lbs of butter in my freezer too, but given that I don't do a lot of baking and we're a family of three, a pound lasts us a while. I was just wondering the other day if I should buy any butter the next time I see it on sale, so this is a timely tip - thanks!

And just curious on your particular logistics - do you keep the butter label in the freezer (even if all the butter has been transferred to a dish) until you open the next package?

Lili said...

Hi Alice,
I've seen recipes where you make a hamburger patty with a chunk of butter trapped inside the meat. I've always thought it must just melt and drip away. But it probably leaves behind the flavor of the butter. I couldn't imagine adding more fat to a burger. I do remember a time when people put butter on top of cooked steak. I could never imagine doing that, either!

Wow! 1 to 2 pounds lasting since last Easter! That's amazing!

Lili said...

Hi Kathryn,
The butter wrapper is now in the fridge. I tear off parts of the paper to grease baking pans/sheets, so it's handy. By the time I open the next pound, most of this wrapper will be gone, except a corner with the date written on it.

Something I'm curious about -- where do others keep the butter that's in use? In the cooler months, we keep it on the counter in a covered dish. In summer we keep it in the fridge.

Kathryn K. said...

Lili - Thanks for the details! We keep our butter in a covered butter dish on the counter (learned this method from my husband's family, my family used margarine) winter or summer. So sometimes the butter can be a touch hard in winter and a bit overly soft in summer but I actually kind of like how it's another way to gauge the temperature in the house.

We recently started using a 2nd butter dish - when the current stick is getting low, we put the new stick in the 2nd dish so the butter can soften while we're finishing up the previous stick and then we can wash dish #1 after it's empty.

Anonymous said...

We bought a lot of butter last year, and use it primarily for making my dad"s mashed potatoes, which is a staple in his diet. For us, we use coconut oil on our toast and coffee, and olive oil to saute or stir fry. I love coconut oil/honey/cinnamon on homemade bread toast, which tastes almost as good as a cinnamon pastry. I try to find healthier alternatives to "bad_foods". And I don't mind eating the same foods over and over. That should save time and money. Figured I should save where I can.

Thanks for the reminder about writing dates on when products are put in service...My husband started doing this for qtips oddly....We go thru those pretty fast, so I set my buy price at 1/2 cent each. I think I should do this on more products because you can't use purchase records to figure usage rate if you stock up a lot....I guess you can do inventories but writing down a simple date is so much easier.

YHF

Cat said...

No, it's not. Just double checked the container to be sure. I order it from Azure Standard, which is far from me but up in your state. We get a freight delivery in a local parking lot once a month and pay only 8% freight as opposed to paying shipping if ordered personally instead of on the group order.

Kris said...

Good idea! I tend to use butter sporadically--more during the Christmas season, due to more baked goods at that time, and less the rest of the year. We only use butter at the table during meals when we have company.

momsav said...

I love this! We use a lot of butter; i don't buy margarine at all. I do mark meat prices on packages, now i'll mark butter and probably everything else. So simple!

TG said...

I keep my butter as do you. Time to bring up another butter dish. I found a nice pottery one at a church rummage sale ( the best and cheapest place to look for things I find)and was going to gift it to one of my kids when they move out. Think I'll start using it and keep looking for them.

TG said...

Glad to know someone else judges the individual costs( monetarily and time wise) for when to purchase.

TG said...

I have never seen butter at the Cash and Carry price. Only in 1pound blocks where I am.

Lili said...

Cat, I was looking at Azure's site. It looks like that freight drop option is available in several spots in the US. Good to know!

Lili said...

Teresa, I am hoping it will go on sale below $2/lb at Cash & Carry, but I haven't seen anything like that since last winter.

live and learn said...

My mother was the queen of dating. She dated everything so there was never any question on long something lasted. We don't use a lot of butter, so while I do stock up on a sale, I don't keep much in reserve.

Lili said...

Hi YHF,
I know. This is the easiest way to gauge how long a unit of something lasts. Takes 2 seconds to note a date on something. It's also a great way to "remember" when you opened that package of cold cuts, or can of tuna/salmon, if those don't get eaten quickly. Saves a tummy ache, later!

Lili said...

Hi Kris,
I do use much more butter between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then again right around Easter (we have 4 spring birthdays, always somewhere near Easter). I know you've mentioned that you tend to use oil more in baking than butter. I do the same for muffins and breads, and use butter in cookies and cakes. Using oil in some baking really does stretch how long a pound of butter will last for us.

In our house, the butter is in a dish on the kitchen counter, next our kitchen table, so it does get used often enough at meals (like on potatoes and waffles).

Lili said...

Hi momsav,
We don't use margarine, either. I grew up using margarine, but made the switch to butter a while back, mostly to avoid hydrogenated fats. But I also like the taste of butter, now.

It is a simple way to track how long things last. I have a Sharpie pen, tucked in the corner on the kitchen counter. Primarily this pen is for marking containers going into the freezer, but comes in handy for things like marking packages, too!

Lili said...

Hi live and learn,
is that right? Your mom sounds like the quintessential homemaker! I bet she knew everything that was needed to know, about running a kitchen.

I think you've said that you don't really care for baking much. And with your boys out of the house, you and Ward probably don't use all that much butter. Makes sense.

Belinda said...

I like the way you figured out how much you were using. That is a great idea. I am still using the butter I bought on sale during Christmas time. I have a smaller stash than you in my freezer. I do like you and stretch it out. When I make garlic bread I add olive oil and stretch it out. It tastes good too. Great post!

Lili said...

Hi Belinda,
Olive oil would make a good fat to mix with butter, I'd think, or even just use a garlic-olive oil blend. In a pinch I've just used vegetable oil, salt, garlic and parsley from the garden (when I have it growing) to spoon over the bread before toasting. No one in my family even knew there was no butter !! But olive oil would be even more delicious!

Matt Macduff Family said...

I'll admit it. I'm a butter hoarder. I have close to fifty pounds in my freezer right now. I haven't bought butter since the Fred Meyer Founder's Day this past fall. That's a record for me for duration between butter buys. It just didn't go on sale the way I expected before the holidays, so I didn't buy any. I'm guessing our family goes between 2 & 3 pounds/ wk. I'll have to try your system to see what our real consumption is.

Kris said...

Out of curiosity, I purchased solid coconut oil to use for baking. I like the taste, but it's a hassle to bring it to a liquid state--the nice thing about butter is that you can cut off the amount you want and melt it in the microwave, but I can't do that with the coconut oil--I have to melt, then measure.

I'm smiling about your comment to momsav about how you keep a Sharpie in your kitchen. I have had to hide my Sharpie and my masking tape (for labeling packages) from my kids, who are constantly "borrowing" them for projects and forgetting to return them.

Precious People Preschool said...

Great reminder about dating foods. Had not thought about t.p. and so on. I will start doing that too. also use a grease pencil(china marker) to label things that go into the
frig. That way no guessing on when to put in the freezer. I also use a sharpie for butter and open dates on almond milk. I wish butter was that price here. I got it for $2.99 a pound during holiday sales. I think dairy is a little higher here. Thank you for the idea for keeping track of none food items.
Blessings,
Patti

Anonymous said...

I just love butter! I have to limit foods like bread and potatoes for myself because I'll eat more of them as an excuse to get more butter into my mouth.

I use a butter bell for in-use butter. I keep it sitting on the counter in plain view so I remember to change the water regularly. I used to just keep some on a saucer covered by a teacup, but I don't like the color and flavor changes that develop when my kitchen heats up, and since I live alone I don't really go through it that quickly. The bell works for me unless it's midsummer and I turn off the air during the day - then it just goes straight into the fridge.

Ushuaia

NAN said...

Butter was just on sale here for $2.00 a pound and I bought 2. I rarely use butter unless I'm baking and I've cut down on that. I can't think of anything I use butter for any more (besides baking) except making a cream sauce and you can use oil! I'm wondering what everyone uses their butter for? I don't even put it on popcorn. Maybe a lot of rolls/bread? I'll just take a little honey.

Cat said...

I know Aldi was $1.89 last winter, but this year is $2.69. I want to say it may have been $2.49 briefly right before the holidays but am not certain of that. So it definitely seems like this is a widespread higher price.

Cat said...

I know Aldi was $1.89 last winter, but this year is $2.69. I want to say it may have been $2.49 briefly right before the holidays but am not certain of that. So it definitely seems like this is a widespread higher price.

Lili said...

Hi Melissa,
50 pounds sounds like a lot, but with your big family, it doesn't last as long as it would for an average-size family. It sounds like you have enough butter to last about 4-5 months?

I had so much butter on hand, last fall that I didn't stock up with the FM Founder's day sale. I'm hoping for a good sale this Easter, to get restocked.

have a great day, Melissa!

Lili said...

Hi Patti,
$2.99 a pound does sound steep for a sale price. I'm not sure we would use as much butter, if that's what I had to pay. I do admit, that price I paid last winter was a spectacular price. It'll be difficult to find that again, any time soon. I'm hoping for $2 per pound this year.

Dating the opening of non-food items really helps me gauge how much to buy, especially important for shopping at stores that I only visit once per month.

Lili said...

Hi Ushuaia,
I've seen butter bells before, just haven't known anyone who used one, until now. So, it keeps the butter at a stable temperature, due to cooling from the water? In summer, our kitchen is too warm to keep butter out of the fridge. That could be very helpful!

There are some foods that I really like the flavor of butter on, like popcorn. But I don't like the butter melted on the popcorn, I like small chunks of butter on cold popcorn -- it's more buttery, but course, not at all good for me, so I don't do that very often! And I do love butter on waffles and pancakes, more so than syrup! Butter just has that great flavor and creaminess that is irresistible.

Have a great day, Ushuaia!

Lili said...

Hi NAN,
Oh, I can think of a lot of things that I could put butter on!!

Seriously, though, when my one daughter was needing to gain weight, butter was very helpful in adding a few extra calories to her portions of everything, while not adding calories to the rest of our meals. During those months, we went through a lot of butter. Now, my husband really likes butter. He could stand to gain a couple of pounds, so that's fine. we have French bread and butter with dinner a couple of nights per week, and toast with butter several mornings per week. And I bake frequently. The fruit and nut bars that I made this week called for 1/2 cup of butter. I could experiment with using half oil/half butter in that recipe. But I prefer the flavor of butter in baking, over oil. And I use a lot of butter when making mashed potatoes. I can't eat potatoes that have milk in them. And soy milk and almond milk make the potatoes taste off to me, so I use primarily butter, and a lot of it when I plan on freezing the mashed potatoes. 2 weeks ago when I was making a lot of mashed potatoes for the freezer (t use up the potatoes that were going soft), I went through a lot of butter!

So that's where a lot of my butter use comes in.

Yum, honey on bread/biscuits, I can get behind that!
Have a great day, NAN!

Anonymous said...

Yes and no... it helps, but it's not perfect. For example, I live in a high rise and have a small kitchen with no windows which heats right up when either the oven or a stove burner is on. You can imagine how butter can go off quickly, especially in the summer. I find the butter bell protects butter from these temporary heat extremes in both winter and summer. Summers here (southern Ontario) can get hot and humid and although I use air conditioning, butter left on the counter will start to change flavor in a couple of days. It's fine if I use the bell. I do have to be mindful and keep it from direct sunlight and appliances that heat up. In the summer I'll change the water twice a day and make sure it's ice cold. In the winter, it can be changed every couple of days.

It seems people either love them or hate them! I've read comments from people complaining that their butter falls out of the bell when it's warm, that it gets moldy, that the butter gets wet. From what I understand, mold is only an issue if you introduce another food to the butter, like toast crumbs. I always use a butter knife. I've never had the butter fall out of the bell, and as for the butter being wet, it's just a couple of drops of water sitting on top of the butter. Doesn't bother me at all!

If your kitchen stays over 80F in the summer then the bell might not work for you, as butter will start to melt and it might slide out. Then again, if the bell is heavy and the water is cold and changed frequently, it might be perfect. If you're interested maybe you could improvise one and see if it works for you? A pottery or thick china teacup, stuffed partway with softened butter (taking care not to leave big air pockets), upended in a ceramic or pyrex bowl half or 3/4 full of water, with a plate over the whole thing would give you an idea of how soft the butter stays and how much water gets on it, and whether or not you find it a hassle to change the water. Just remember to tilt the cup as you insert/remove it from the water and don't pull it straight up to minimize splashing.

I'm intrigued at the thought of little butter chunks on cold popcorn. That sounds really, really good. How do you add the butter? Do you freeze it and grate it over the popcorn? And I agree about pancakes and waffles - no syrup needed if butter is available! :)

Ushuaia

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I just wrote an essay on butter. Sorry about that! I should probably try to get out more. :)

Ushuaia

Lili said...

Thank you for all of this information, Ushuaia. I've wondered how well they work.
For butter chunks on popcorn, I just use a knife to put little bits of soft butter throughout my bowl of cool popcorn . I find I get more butter flavor than pouring melted butter over the popped corn. Of course, probably not so healthy to be eating butter on a regular basis, like this, so I only do this occasionally.

Have a great weekend, Ushuaia!