Today's Story

This Blog site contains essays selected from my "Today's Story" series of writing exercises.

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Location: Delray Beach, Florida, United States Tom Shawcross was born in St. Louis, MO and now resides in Delray Beach, FL. He is the father of a daughter and a son. His hobbies are writing, travel, and genealogy research. Before his 1995 disk surgery, he liked to run and play tennis. He has never gutted an elk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks

1956 newspaper advertisement for Bonnee Butters, showing the typical cooking attire of that time

Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks

©Thomas W. Shawcross 16 Dec 2011

Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks, made of “finely chopped beef, molded, frozen, sliced and buttered,” were served to my brother Jim and me whenever Mom and Dad had T-bone steaks for their dinner during the mid-1950’s to early 1960’s. Sold in packages of four frozen 2-ounce beef patties, each slice of Bonnee Butters (as we called them at Chateau Shawcross) included the eponymous pat of frozen butter. They were muy delicious, as the French say when they are drunk and confused!

“But Tom!,” you youngsters say, “didn’t people realize back then that butter is high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, and has few vitamins and minerals?” To you I say “apparently not, but who cares – it tasted great!” Back then, pats of butter were routinely slathered on nearly everything we ate that was warm enough to melt butter. I remember admiring pretty yellow orbs of melted butter surrounded by the purple juice from cooked beets. Anyway, the butter used in Bonnee Butters was score 94 butter, which is weapons-grade butter, a higher grade than even the best butter graded by the USDA today (which is score 93 – AA butter).

Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks cost 58 cents a pound in 1956, which was 10 cents a pound more than smoked ham. They were very thin, so they could be cooked to perfection in about two minutes, using an iron skillet on a gas stove.

The Bonnee Frozen Products Company, led by Sam Brown, was in business in from the early 1940's until the early 1960's. Their products (frozen buttered beef steaks, frozen tamales, and frozen cubed steaks) were sold in 38 states and eight foreign countries. For more information, see my wikipedia article at

Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks co-sponsored the St. Louis Hop (a slightly less-famous version of Philadelphia’s American Bandstand, which starred Dick Clark).

Sam Brown (1913-1996)

What was the fabulous flavor secret of Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks? Was it their 94-score butter, which was probably made from sweet cream? I am going to go out on a limb here and say “maybe not.” As a result of the exhausting research I have put into this story, I have learned that the higher the score a butter has, the less “butter” flavor it has! Seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But “flavor” is the basic quality factor in grading butter, and it is determined organoleptically by taste and smell. Surprisingly (to me at least), butter is classified by seventeen flavor characteristics: feed, cooked, acid, aged, bitter, coarse, flat, smothered, storage, malty, musty, neutralizer, scorched, utensil, weed, whey, and old cream. Butter also has eight body characteristics, four color characteristics, and two salt characteristics.

Like me, you may have been surprised to see “whey” listed as a butter flavor characteristic. I had assumed that only Little Miss Muppet (the first documented case of arachnophobia) ate whey, as in “curds and whey,” an unappetizing mixture of coagulated milk and watery cheese by-product. My mom told me that when I was two years old, I wanted her to read to me, but she was busy doing housework, so I started “reading” aloud, and I did ok in the beginning due to having heard the story so many times, but when I got to the page where she was sitting on her tuffet, tucking into a bowl of curds and whey as the bovine provider of her repast stood behind her, looking on, I “read” that page as “Uh oh, girl! Cow!” Giant cows were much scarier to me than itsy-bitsy spiders – I can still “see” in my mind’s eye that image of her and the cow!

Was the butter used in Bonnee Butters the best butter ever made? We may never know. Butter critics favor the butter made in the Brittany region of France as being the best made today. The soil of that region is soft and damp, and the grass that grows there is rich in iodine and beta-carotine (interesting fact – butter’s distinctive yellow color comes from grass-fed cows – winter butter from wheat-fed cows is white), and Brittany region butter may contain very fine particles of the natural sea salt known as Fleur de Sel (literally “flower of salt”), which is harvested only in the town of Guérande, between May and September. Butter was originally salted as a means of preserving it, except in ancient Ireland, where wooden barrels of butter were preserved by burying them in peat bogs. The conventional wisdom was that the longer the butter was aged in the wooden barrels, the better it tasted, and sometimes trees were planted to mark the spot where a barrel of butter had been buried. Recently, a 3000-year old barrel of bog butter was unearthed in Ireland – one can only imagine how good it must taste. Ironically, the French also invented margarine (at the command of Napoleon, who wanted a butter substitute for his traveling troops). When I was a younger boy than I am now, the butter lobbyists had forced margarine manufacturers to sell white margarine (so it would look less appetizing than naturally yellow butter), but the margarine producers got around this law by including small packets of yellow food dye that the consumer could mix into the margarine after purchasing it.

But I digress. The big question here is whatever happened to Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks, and I am still looking for the answer. This is part of the trilogy of unanswered questions I am researching:

1. Whatever happened to the design and construction documents for the Egyptian pyramids?

2. Whatever happened to Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks?

3. Whatever happened to the children’s story of Little Black Sambo?

As it turns out, I have made better progress with question number three. It has been suppressed.

The Story of Little Black Sambo was a children’s book written by Helen Bannerman in Madras, India and published in London in 1899. As described in Wikipedia, in the tale, an Indian boy named Sambo prevails over a group of hungry tigers. The little boy has to give his colourful new clothes, shoes, and umbrella to four tigers so they will not eat him. Sambo recovers the clothes when the jealous, conceited tigers chase each other around a tree until they are reduced to a pool of delicious melted butter. The story was a children's favourite for half a century, but then became controversial due to the use of the word sambo , a racial slur in some countries, and the illustrations, which are reminiscent of "darky iconography."

It is truly unfortunate that the story became associated with racial slurs against African-Americans. As a result of this, the book is no longer available, even though the story itself was about a dark-skinned Tamil Indian, not an African-American, who was actually quite clever and resourceful. I liked this story when I was a boy, because the little boy outwitted the nasty tigers who had robbed him of his fine new clothes and even turned them into butter which his family poured onto a delicious pancake dinner! Little Black Sambo was a role model for all young boys, I thought!

Not only did the original story not contain the demeaning blackface “pickaninny” American racial stereotype illustrations used in the more widely available and less-expensive pirated editions, it did not even mention butter – it had the tigers turn into ghee, which is a clarified butter that is widely-sold in India! I enjoyed some ghee when I was in India in January 2010.

Here is the now-suppressed story Helen Bannerman wrote for her daughters, as it was translated for American readers:

The Story of Little Black Sambo
By Helen Bannerman

PREFACE by John Horner.

There is very little to say about the story of LITTLE BLACK
SAMBO. Once upon a time there was an English lady in India,
where black children abound and tigers are everyday affairs,
who had two little girls. To amuse these little girls she
used now and then to invent stories, for which, being
extremely talented, she also drew and coloured the pictures.
Among these stories LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, which was made up on a
long railway journey, was the favourite; and it has been put
into a DUMPY BOOK, and the pictures copies as exactly as
possible, in the hope that you will like it as much as the two
little girls did.

The Story of Little Black Sambo.

Once upon a time there was a little black boy, and his name
was Little Black Sambo.

And his mother was called Black Mumbo.

And his father was called Black Jumbo.

And Black Mumbo made him a beautiful little Red Coat, and a
pair of beautiful little blue trousers.

And Black Jumbo went to the Bazaar, and bought him a beautiful
Green Umbrella, and a lovely little Pair of Purple Shoes with
Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings.

And then wasn't Little Black Sambo grand?

So he put on all his Fine Clothes, and went out for a walk in
the Jungle. And by and by he met a Tiger. And the Tiger said
to him, "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!" And
Little Black Sambo said, "Oh! Please Mr. Tiger, don't eat me
up, and I'll give you my beautiful little Red Coat." So the
Tiger said, "Very well, I won't eat you this time, but you
must give me your beautiful little Red Coat." So the Tiger
got poor Little Black Sambo's beautiful little Red Coat, and
went away saying, "Now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."

And Little Black Sambo went on, and by and by he met another
Tiger, and it said to him, "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to
eat you up!" And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh! Please Mr.
Tiger, don't eat me up, and I'll give you my beautiful little
Blue Trousers." So the Tiger said, "Very well, I won't eat
you this time, but you must give me your beautiful little Blue
Trousers." So the Tiger got poor Little Black Sambo's
beautiful little Blue Trousers, and went away saying, "Now I'm
the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."

And Little Black Sambo went on, and by and by he met another
Tiger, and it said to him, "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to
eat you up!" And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh! Please Mr.
Tiger, don't eat me up, and I'll give you my beautiful little
Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings."

But the Tiger said, "What use would your shoes be to me? I've
got four feet, and you've got only two; you haven't got enough
shoes for me."

But Little Black Sambo said, "You could wear them on your

"So I could," said the Tiger: "that's a very good idea. Give
them to me, and I won't eat you this time."

So the Tiger got poor Little Black Sambo's beautiful little
Purple Shoes with Crimson Soles and Crimson Linings, and went
away saying, "Now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."

And by and by Little Black Sambo met another Tiger, and it
said to him, "Little Black Sambo, I'm going to eat you up!"
And Little Black Sambo said, "Oh! Please Mr. Tiger, don't eat
me up, and I'll give you my beautiful Green Umbrella." But
the Tiger said, "How can I carry an umbrella, when I need all
my paws for walking with?"

"You could tie a knot on your tail and carry it that way,"
said Little Black Sambo. "So I could," said the Tiger."
Give it to me, and I won't eat you this time." So he got poor
Little Black Sambo's beautiful Green Umbrella, and went away
saying, "Now I'm the grandest Tiger in the Jungle."

And poor Little Black Sambo went away crying, because the
cruel Tigers had taken all his fine clothes.

Presently he heard a horrible noise that sounded like "Gr-r-r-
r-rrrrrr," and it got louder and louder. "Oh! dear!" said
Little Black Sambo, "there are all the Tigers coming back to
eat me up! What shall I do?" So he ran quickly to a palm-
tree, and peeped round it to see what the matter was.

And there he saw all the Tigers fighting, and disputing which
of them was the grandest. And at last they all got so angry
that they jumped up and took off all the fine clothes, and
began to tear each other with their claws, and bite each other
with their great big white teeth.

And they came, rolling and tumbling right to the foot of the
very tree where Little Black Sambo was hiding, but he jumped
quickly in behind the umbrella. And the Tigers all caught
hold of each other's tails, as they wrangled and scrambled,
and so they found themselves in a ring round the tree.

Then, when the Tigers were very wee and very far away, Little
Black Sambo jumped up, and called out, "Oh! Tigers! why have
you taken off all your nice clothes? Don't you want them any
more?" But the Tigers only answered, "Gr-r-rrrr!"

Then Little Black Sambo said, "If you want them, say so, or
I'll take them away." But the Tigers would not let go of each
other's tails, and so they could only say "Gr-r-r-rrrrrr!"

So Little Black Sambo put on all his fine clothes again and
walked off.

And the Tigers were very, very angry, but still they would not
let go of each other's tails. And they were so angry, that
they ran round the tree, trying to eat each other up, and they
ran faster and faster, till they were whirling round so fast
that you couldn't see their legs at all.

And they still ran faster and faster and faster, till they all
just melted away, and there was nothing left but a great big
pool of melted butter (or "ghi," as it is called in India)
round the foot of the tree.

Now Black Jumbo was just coming home from his work, with a
great big brass pot in his arms, and when he saw what was left
of all the Tigers he said, "Oh! what lovely melted butter!
I'll take that home to Black Mumbo for her to cook with."

So he put it all into the great big brass pot, and took it
home to Black Mumbo to cook with.

When Black Mumbo saw the melted butter, wasn't she pleased!
"Now," said she, "we'll all have pancakes for supper!"

So she got flour and eggs and milk and sugar and butter, and
she made a huge big plate of most lovely pancakes. And she
fried them in the melted butter which the Tigers had made, and
they were just as yellow and brown as little Tigers.

And then they all sat down to supper. And Black Mumbo ate
Twenty-seven pancakes, and Black Jumbo ate Fifty-five but
Little Black Sambo ate a Hundred and Sixty-nine, because he
was so hungry.

Indian Ghee

A bit of collateral damage that was the result of the demonization of the original story was the closing of the Sambo’s pancake restaurant chain, which had 1,200 outlets in the US in 1979. The founders, Sam Battistoone and Newell Bohnett, must have thought they were born to create that restaurant chain.


Blogger delia said...

Oh Tom, I love your style of writing, it's so engaging...I remember the Buttered beef those days butter was good for only "quality" margarine is better...too much of anything is bad for you, right?

I can't help you with the lost Pyramid construction papers or the Little Black Sambo book...maybe both will show up without controversy someday.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back in the mid 50's my mother worked at the Sears store at Kingshiway and Easton ave. in St. Louis. Every Monday she worked late. Well my dad made Monday our Bonny Buttered Beef Steak night. I have a craving for them. The next best are 5 or 6 White Castle's.


5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing better than 2 Bonnee Buttered Beef Steaks smothered in Mayo on really fresh white bread with a little salt and pepper

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Barbar Moynihan said...

Culver's butter burgers remind me of Bonnee Butter Beefsteaks!

12:02 AM  

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