The Price of Butter

In comparing today’s food prices during an inflationary period, it is also interesting to note that in former times, prices fluctuated.

In England, for example, the price of butter fluctuated very much during the 17th century. Between 1643 and 1652 it was very dear, then declined for 30 years, then rose in price again until the last decade. In 1600, it commanded five pence and one-seventh of a penny a pound. By the end of the century, prices had sunk to still lower figures. The Virginia colonists drank as much cider as did beer. Of course, beer was consumed because the water was impure in England and it was thought that beer was wholesome. Large quantities of cider were frequently the subject of specialties. Peter Marsh of York County (about 1675) entered into a bond to pay James Minge 120 gallons. Cider was also used as payment for rent. Alexander Moore of York County upon his decease bequeathed 20 gallons of raw cider and 100 and 3 of boiled. Richard Moore of the same county kept on hand as many as 14 cider casks. Richard Bennett made about 20 butts of cider annually, while Richard Kinsman compressed the juice from pears for his liquor. These liquors seemed to have been kept in butts, hogsheads and runlets. A great quantity of peach and apple brandy was also manufactured. The Assembly of 1623–1624 recommended to all new comers that they should bring in a supply of malt to be used in brewing liquor, thus making it unnecessary to drink the water of Virginia until the body had become hardened to the climate. Previous to 1625, two brew-houses were in operation in the colony, and the patronage which they received was very liberal. Barley and Indian corn were planted to secure material for brewing. Cider was used as common as beer and in season it was found in the home of every planter. Wild fowls were plentiful in rivers, creeks and bays, and were so numerous in autumn and winter that they were regarded as the least expensive food on the table of the planter. There were large flocks of wild turkeys. The goose, mallard and the canvas-back, the red-head, the plover, and other species of the most highly flavored marine birds were more frequently cooked in the kitchen than domestic poultry. Sheepshead, shad, bream, perch, soles, bass, chub and pike swarmed in the nearest rivers. Source: Records of York County, vol. 1675–1684, p. 63.

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