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Jan 3, 2011 10:12 AM

Butter Bells

Do these things work? How often do you have to change the water and how long will the butter actually stay fresh outside the frig?

Thanks for your help.

Deb W.

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    Three Days for water... The small amount of butter per stick never lasts more than a week, so no issues with spoiling.

    They make nice gifts.

    1. We have used them for over two years without a problem. There have been other threads on this topic and some people responded with complaints, but we have had only good luck with ours.

      They say the water should be changed every three days. We have let ours go longer and it hasn't been a problem. The only time the butter has fallen into the water is if it is too soft when it is first put into the butter bell. We have never had any mold or anything else happen. I think it depends more on what's floating around in the air in your home rather than the ambient temperature of the house. Stuff gets moldy in the refrigerator, so if mold is forming on the butter in the butter bell it's not because it's too warm.

      1. We've been using one for years. I like the Emile Henry vaguely conical shaped one because the wider base and smaller opening keeps the butter from dropping down into the water -- a problem we've had with other models.

        I empty the water and pack the butter cavity with ice cubes each night before I go to sleep. By the morning they've melted and the butter is soft again.

        I pack mine with a quarter pound and we use that for about a week before I remove any remaining butter and wash the whole thing. Never had a bigger problem than the toast crumbs.

        1. debw: Count me as a complainer--yes I have one, and I don't especially like it. IME, it doesn't keep the butter any longer than the paper wrap or a butter tray in the fridge, and changing the water all the time is a pain. If you DON'T change the water regularly, the anerobic bacteria make for one of the worst smells in the world. Forget measuring out of them. And every one I've seen is unstable when open.

          17 Replies
          1. re: kaleokahu

            Your experience has been the opposite of ours. The whole point of these things is so you DON'T have to keep your butter in the refrigerator so it is soft enough to spread. When you lift the butter out to use it, you dump the old water out and put new water in, easy peasy. We've accidentally left the butter out and been gone for a week and there was no bacteria, no mold, no problems. It's never tipped over either.

            1. re: John E.

              All I'm saying is that without habitual water changes (especially if you don't also refrigerate). you're gonna be growing some anerobic bugs. If, as you say, the "whole point" is to be able to not refrigerate your butter, a simple covered butter dish (that accepts a whole 1/4, so you can measure) works as well. Folks like the idea of underwater butter, I guess.

              1. re: kaleokahu

                The idea of underwater butter is awesome. Seriously. I didn't know what these things are for until I read about them a few days ago. I have seen them, but didn't know them. I may just get one in the future, but first I need to get a salt pig.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                  Chem: You can double down and go for underwater salt, too!

                  Hey, I like your style, Chem, so if you see a ne plus ultra saltpig, lemme know?

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    As I posted before, we have had no bugs or mold. There apparently is no bacteria or spores floating around our kitchen. The only time we put our butter bell in the refrigerator is when we go out of town. We have a faucet nearby so the water changes aren't a problem either. If your butter was underwater you were using way too much water.

                    1. re: John E.

                      John E: "If your butter was underwater you were using way too much water." Help me understand... Isn't the idea to put in enough water to submerge the rim of the "bell", and supposedly seal out air? And--other than making a mess on the table--how could you possibly use too much water?

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        On mine, it only needs a scant half inch of water in the base to seal out the air. I've never needed to add enough to make a mess on the table.

                        I've read that if you use unsalted butter, one should add a bit of salt to the water to retard spoilage.

                        1. re: Leepa

                          Leepa: Yes, I bet it doesn't take much water--I only made that mistake the first time I used it. I was just responding to John E.'s statement that I was using 'way too much, and why would too much matter? Thanks.

                          1. re: Leepa

                            That is a good point. I presume the reason for changing water is to keep the water fresh and make sure the bacteria are not growing in the water. Highly salted water will inhibit bacteria growth, so that will increase the duration for changing water.

                          2. re: kaleokahu

                            I was trying to be funny. You mentioned underwater butter. You are correct, only the rim is underwater. You live in Hawaii, right? There must be more stuff in the environment that spoils food. Right now the outdoor temp here is 2 and the kitchen temp is 65.

                            1. re: John E.

                              I think Leepa bought up a good point or two. A salted butter will spoil slower than an unsalt butter. European style butter has less water content and may spoil slower (?). Temperature matters too. Hawaii is probably warmer than where you live.

                              1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                We only buy unsaled butter. I think the temp has less to do with it than available microbes, spores, etc. Since stuff spoils in the refrigerator. You must have been writing your post at the same time I was (re. temp where I live).

                                The only real point I have is that we have had none of the problems some others seem to have experienced.

                              2. re: John E.

                                John E.: Sorry I didn't get your joke. My heart is in Hawai'i, but I live in Seattle.

                                There are many things like the butterbells that appeal to and work for some, others not so much. I recently defended the humble honey spurtle here against the polyethylene squirt bottle, so to each his own.

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  I had to look up that thread. I must have missed the 'spurtle' reference because I had never heard that before. Our honey is in 1 liter plastic Fanta bottles (which get squeezed). My father brought several home on a visit to relatives in Ukraine (a cousin is a beekeeper over there). It's the only honey I can remember having that hasn't crystalized. (We don't eat much honey).

                                  1. re: John E.

                                    Hey, I brought some samagon (homemade vodka) back in a little plastic bottle from Ukraine. No crystals there either....

                                    1. re: smkit

                                      My dad didn't try that but my grandmother did. She brought back 10 liters of potato vodka her brother made. This was 1970. She went back to her home village using her Canadian papers (she first emigrated to Canada in 1922) so she was actually traveling with an illegal passport. She ditched the tour she was on, that means she also ditched her 'watcher' to go home to see her brothers and sisters. Anyway, she got all the way back to Minnesota before they were going to check her suitcase. She said "what do you think a little old lady like me would have in there"? She left all of her clothes with her sisters so her bag was full of booze and other gifts. The customs guy let her through without checking her luggage. The last time I flew they took my toothpaste.

                    2. I have used one for a couple years now and really like it. I don't change the water as much as I should and have only run into problems with it turning rancid a few times, but I use a lot of butter so the butter doesn't sit around that long.

                      I have never had the butter fall into the water or not stick, buy my parents have had that problem with theirs and no longer use it. I think a lot of variables can cause this (a) type of butter (b) where you store it -- is it near a stove? and (c) how warm do you keep your house. Just my troubleshooting thoughts.

                      It is hard for me to imagine a stability issue unless there is a specific design out there that is flawed. The base of mine is about the same size as a coffee cup and is very stable. The top does have a smaller handle that you can use as a short-term 'stand'. Mine has never tipped over, but usually I just put it back in the base.

                      I would also like to add another benefit to the butter bell: your butter doesn't sit in the fridge and absorb odors.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: smkit

                        smkit: Maybe my butter bell is special. It, too, is about as wide as a coffee cup, but when out of the water jar sits on a small rim (the handle?) It tips over easily.

                        "...your butter doesn't sit in the fridge and absorb odors." If you use a lot of butter, yours sits in the fridge absorbing odors until you put some of it in the bell, and then the rest sits there, too. Right?

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          My butter goes directly from freezer to the butter bell. I make my own butter and buy some hand-rolled stuff and freeze it. The good butter goes in the freezer and the cooking sticks are in the fridge.

                          As for the rim, mine is like that too and I also thought it would be unbalanced at first, but there is a sort of counter weight disk that makes it much more stable than I expected. A tea cup with the same height and base would tip much easier because of the center of gravity being higher, but for some reason mine seams very well balanced with that low/cover disk.

                          But then again, maybe it is simply that it exceeded my expectations of balance considering the small base. Regardless, mine has never tipped probably because I put it back in the base directly after using it.

                          1. re: smkit

                            smkit: "My butter goes directly from freezer to the butter bell."

                            Do you portion it out before freezing, so you know you'll be talking out just the right amount to fill the bell? If so, that's a good idea. Thanks.

                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              The butter I personally make is almost exactly the right amount. I bought some vintage wooden butter mold off of eBay and I have my 'fancy rounds' frozen in wax paper and zip bags ready to go. It works perfectly. The other hand-rolled butter is in larger amounts and I just take it out to soften, then cut it and refreeze the rest. I've gotten used to how much I need.

                              1. re: smkit

                                smkit: Cool. That must be really satisfying to make and serve your own like that. I haven't made butter since grade school.

                                Since you're a do-er, have you seen Grace Firth's book "Stillroom Cookery"?

                                1. re: kaleokahu

                                  No I haven't, but will definitely check it out. It looks interesting.

                                  Btw, every other holiday I recuse myself from cooking duty (sort of) and just make bread from scratch (sans mixer) and my own butter. It is amazing how many jaws drop when you whip that up in a few hours.