Here at Butter Pat, we love a good story.

The kind that stick in our craw, that leave us leaning back in our chairs, or slapping our knees. That we listen to intently over cocktails, or tell with gusto around the campfire and dinner table. More often than not, they’re the long, rambling, roundabout ones that make us slow down and stay awhile. The “huh, who knews,” the “get the hell out of heres,” the “well, I’ll be damneds…”

Some people refer to them as yarns, tall tales, even folklore or legends, but as faithful devotees to man’s best friend, we prefer to affectionately call them “shaggy dogs.”

We’ve got plenty of them. (Take our company name, for instance—it has nothing to do with cooking, but we’ll save that for another time.) The history of cast iron has a whole litter of them, too. And we figure, if you have a pan on your stove, let alone if you’re reading this, you’re bound to be someone who has at least a few of your own.

The origin of the “shaggy-dog story” is a shaggy dog in and of itself, with the phrase stemming out of its own long-winded story that starred, you guessed it, a scruffy canine, with the rest of the details remaining somewhat of a mystery to this day.

Sure, these sorts of stories have been around since the dawn of mankind, with cavemen likely sitting around a fire, sharing grumblings about the day’s hunting mishaps or some hand-me-down narrative about how the Wooly Mammoth came to have such a hairy coat—not that unlike our own fowling and fishing trips today. We like to think of them as a universal way for us to not feel so alone out there. A means of finding identity and community, if not humor, in the humdrum of our daily lives.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, shaggy-dog stories are said to have stemmed out of England or Scotland, but much like cast iron, they also have deep American roots, with the first known reference printed in Esquire magazine in the late 1930s. “The majority of any given group of people are probably all too sane,” wrote writer J.C. Furnas in the first of a series of essays on the loquacious style of storytelling. “One of the more sporting ways of finding out which ones are not is to try shaggy-dog stories on them.”

We don’t know about you, but we welcome a little bit of insanity, though we prefer to call it curiosity, enthusiasm, or even joy. Cooking, at the end of the day, is all about innovation—crazy ideas that actually turned out to be good ones. We like to think Butter Pat was born that way.

So for that, we introduce to you our new feature: The Shaggy Dog. In the name of curiosity. In the pursuit of good ideas. In celebration of how they came to be in the first place. And all that happened along the way. We’ll give a hat-tip in there, too, to seeing things through to the end. 

We’ll be using these pages to delve into everything from seasoning techniques and our favorite cast-iron suppers through the history and art form of this ancient craft. To ruminate on purpose, and practice, and sense of place, with the occasional hoot about our own actual shaggy dogs thrown in for good measure. We think you’ll be able to relate.

And we’ll do our best to get to the point. 

February 12, 2019 — Dennis Powell