Family Recipe Corner: Butter Emails

Photo of a curly-haired child in a long-sleeved striped shirt and black sparkly bow-tie holding a fork and eating a fried egg with runny yolk. stock photo by Kelsey Vogelzang, licensed via Scopio. Do not copy or duplicate.
So this isn’t exactly butter emails, but I couldn’t help but show you this adorable picture of my daughter Hyacinth eating breakfast this morning! And by “my daughter Hyacinth,” I mean this is a stock photo by Kelsey Vogelzang, licensed via Scopio. Do not copy or duplicate.

As a foodie, I adore this time of year! With a touch of cold in the air and leaves beginning to turn soooooo many gorgeous shades of yellow, red, and orange, I am transported back to memories of handpicking emails with Meemaw on her little farm just outside of Middlebury, Connecticut. They’re always at the peak of juiciness (and sweetness!) in early fall, and Meemaw would spend hours in the kitchen teaching me all the lovely different ways to prepare them. These were treasured moments during my girlhood, Meemaw and I gossiping about the other girls at the stables on her back porch while removing the papery outer layers and feeding them to her beloved heritage pigs. You definitely don’t want to eat emails fresh off the bush… unless you’d enjoy a mouthful of bitter husk, anyway! (Uh, can we say ew?)

There are so, so many different dishes where emails take their rightful place at center stage, and their versatility lends them well to both savory and sweet dishes. For the most part, I like them in desserts (I have such a sweet tooth! Guilty as charged!) but my 100% all-time knock-your-socks-off way to cook emails is actually pretty savory! That’s right – I’m talking about butter emails!

Family legend says that our butter email recipe dates all the way back to our ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower. Not knowing much about their recently-discovered home, they had to be shown how to harvest and eat emails by the local Native Americans. Because the recipe was passed down through so many generations, so much of the history of how it came together has been lost to time. But I am still forever grateful that the recipe was eventually written down in the early 20th century and made its way down to me, and of course to the Native Americans who showed my family the way. I look forward to the day that my beautiful daughters Saffron (age 7) and Hyacinth (age 6) are old enough for me to teach them this culinary treasure, and to someday teach their beautiful daughters as well.

Every time my mother or Meemaw decided to add butter emails to the menu, I was sure to be right there by their sides. I loved losing myself in the creamy, salty smell of butter as it melted in the pan, and the rich crackle of the emails as they sautéed in the pan and turned a lovely shade of golden brown. These days, when I make it as an accompaniment to a roasted pork loin from the descendants of one of Meemaw’s treasured heritage pigs or a braised shank from the first of the spring lambs-both from our wonderful friends and affiliates at Daisy Chain Farms-I always harken back to those special moments when it was just us gals giggling together over the sizzles and pops coming from the pan.

Now, I serve it to my hubby Georges and our daughters every week as a special treat during email season. Because it’s such a simple dish, you really should splurge on home-churned butter or, if you don’t have the time, butter from a trusted local dairy. In our home, we swear by the salted butter made by our amazing friends and affiliates at Starlight Starbright Farms. It’s the only butter besides my own that Saffron will eat. If I bring home anything else, she’ll look me in the eye and declare, “Mommy! This tastes like it has too many preservatives! A growing girl like me needs small-batch butter for healthy bones and proper vascular flow, which can never be achieved with store-bought dairy products!”

Appropriately, she said this to me while we were harvesting emails in our very backyard. I planted a bush of my own using seeds from my Meemaw’s harvest, so it’s like she’s always with us even after she’s long since passed. Handpicked emails are always best for this recipe so you get the fullest, freshest flavor. If you don’t have a bush of your own… A.) You should consider it and B.) Pick some at a friend’s or a local email farm. Don’t bother with the commercial or, god forbid, the canned or frozen stuff. Your family and friends deserve the best, and the emails (and walnuts, too) you can buy at any old supermarket are just not up to snuff. I once tried to cook butter emails when my hubby Georges mentioned a craving for it during the off season, and… well… let’s just say it was a disaster. Hyacinth refused to eat it outright, citing concerns that chemicals from the plastics used to store frozen emails may have leeched into the ingredients. Suffice it to say, at least our compost pile ate well that night!

While I mostly cook for my family these days, sometimes my girlfriends and I are able to take time out of our busy routines for a glass of wine (or three!) and a light lunch together. My besties Madison and Ainsley always gush when I bring out a plate of butter emails to accompany our chardonnay chats. Sometimes we get a little naughty and sprinkle them with just a pinch of extra salt if the butter I made that morning isn’t sufficiently salted, but it’s almost never needed. Obviously, since they’re my BFFs, I’ve already shared this recipe with Madison and Ainsley. And I’m proud to say that their hubbies and kids adore the dish, too! How can they not?

Some butter email recipes include ingredients like garlic and leeks, but let’s be real for a second – they aren’t as authentic as my own family’s! Garlic and leeks are way too spicy for my household, so we stick with the classic combo of salted butter and toasted walnuts. Just like my Pilgrim foremothers! I admit, sometimes I fantasize about living their simple lives, with an earthy bounty of fresh ingredients at their disposal at any time of year. Except winter, of course, but naturally there would be plenty of tasty preserves. I just think it would be a precious and cozy lifestyle… until I remember how handy it is to enjoy all of my kitchen accessories handmade by our dear friends and affiliates at Sweet Home Alabama.

Butter emails really are pretty simple to make, even if they taste like they come from an expensive gourmet restaurant. All you need is a good knife, a good cutting board (I recommend the sustainable options crafted by our lovely friends and affiliates at Bamboonatics), and a good nonstick pan. That’s it! Just a simple sauté in butter and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts. It’ll actually take longer to husk the emails than to cook, unless you wrangle a few curious hands in to help! Saffron and Hyacinth are always eager to help Mommy with this all-important step, so it goes by pretty fast for us, but they’re still too little to get close to the stove. We’ve tried to get my hubby (and their Daddy) Georges involved to make it a family affair. Unfortunately, he’s kind of clumsy with the emails and accidentally smushed a few in his attempts. Us ladies have had to ban him from helping with anything involving food! Probably no different than what my mom has to do with my dad and Meemaw had to do with Peepaw. And no doubt what my Pilgrim ancestors had to do with their husbands! Tee hee! (It’s OK, though, my hubby Georges provides for us in other ways – he’s just not allowed in my kitchen anymore!)

This recipe can be adapted for vegans or the lactose intolerant with the equivalent amount of canola or, if you’re feeling a little wild, vegetable oil. I don’t recommend olive, avocado, sesame, or even walnut oil as a replacement, however. They’re entirely too strong and their flavor will overpower the luscious sweetness of peak season emails. I admit, butter emails don’t taste quite the same without butter, so if you’re able to eat it that way then you should. Meemaw used to get cream from the farm next to hers, and we’d shake it in little mason jars while singing The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” together. In fact, it was over one of these little butter-making sessions that I first told her about meeting Georges when we both signed up for a semester abroad in Nice. If you think we enjoyed butter emails at our wedding on Meemaw and Peepaw’s farm… we actually didn’t! Georges and I got married in the spring, so I wasn’t able to introduce him to the simple pleasure of a handful of fresh-picked emails. But he definitely got to try them that fall when we went to visit for Thanksgiving!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, I wonder if any of my Pilgrim ancestors noshed on butter emails at any of their celebrations? I like to think this hearty and heartwarming dished graced their tables during some celebrations with their Native American friends. Just like I hope it will grace yours as well.

buttered emails with toasted walnuts

Butter Emails

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes if you toast the walnuts and husk the emails ahead of time
Cook Time: 15 minutes on medium heat


1 lb. of fresh, handpicked emails, husked
3 tbsps. of fresh, high-quality butter
2 cups of walnuts, toasted


1.) Melt the 3 tbsps. of fresh, high-quality butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat.

2.) Add the emails. You can slice or dice them if you prefer them that way, but when sauteéd whole they get soft enough to cut with your form.

3.) Brown emails on both sides until brown and a little crisp. If you start seeing a little char, remove them immediately and scrape it off. They’ll overcook if you leave them in any longer.

4.) Sprinkle with the toasted walnuts.

5.) Serve to many happy faces and eager tummies!

As they say in France, bon appétit!


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