Norman Van Aken's A Word On Food
8:00 am
Sat August 24, 2013

Peanut Butter, I'm Nuts For The Stuff

If you’re like most people, you can be transported to a dream state when eating peanut butter.

If you’re like me, the dream is a long one and involves various forms, stages of life, battles with a sibling over who got the last spoonful, issues of textures and the divination of the knife’s scrapings on the clawed bottom of an empty jar.

I can be standing in my professional kitchen with food many would dream of eating all about me and if my wife Janet tells me over the phone she is eating peanut butter on crackers with jam it makes me wistful and wanting. Of course I know that the jam is homemade strawberry jam she made herself with a killer recipe she perfected with almost none of my help, but that’s another Word On Food!

Stoner Food

Vending machines held peanut butter and cracker constructions when I was a little child and visiting Miami Beach with my parents in the 1950’s. I knew from that time on that I would eventually live here. The peanut butter was, no doubt, a major contributing factor. For an eight-year streak in the 1960’s, the bag lunch I brought to my midwestern grade school invariably contained a peanut butter and jelly sandwich

It was the ‘stoner food’ of my post adolescent years. And it’s the comfort food of whatever this phase is called I’m in now!

Historical Origins

The peanut plant probably originated in Peru or Brazil. No fossil records prove this, but people in South America made pottery in the shape of peanuts or decorated jars with peanuts as far back as 3,500 years ago.

The Incas were the first to make something akin to what we know as peanut butter today. They made it into a paste as early as 950 B.C. The peanut crop emigrated from there back to Africa by way of early explorers and then traveled to Spain, ultimately to be traded with the American colonies. Kind of a roundabout way to go ‘farm to table’ but we still see plenty of that twisted logic taking place today!

Peanut crops were first commercially grown in Virginia and in North Carolina by the mid 1800’s. Of course we learned in grade school (after our peanut butter and jelly sandwich lunch if we were lucky) that George Washington Carver discovered 300 uses for peanuts! It went way beyond peanut butter for that brilliant agricultural chemist: he also made paper, ink and various oils out of peanuts down at his lab in Tuskegee. But he never patented peanut butter because he believed that ‘all food products were gifts from God.’

My theory is that he was high on peanut butter when he made that rule for himself. Others were less benevolent and patented away!

Global Appeal

Peanut butter is made all around the world today. The allure of Indonesian satays relies on peanut butter. There are Mexican moles made with chicken stock, chilies and creamy peanut butter.

China and the United States are the leading exporters. In Holland peanut butter is called pindakass, which translates as ‘peanut cheese.’ This was due to the fact that the term ‘butter’ was protected. Warning! Menu writing is a very tricky business. I would never have fallen under the charms of a “Peanut Cheese and Jelly Sandwich” back in grade school days!

Now I would be lying if I were to say I am the “peanut butter champ” in our family. My younger sister Bet holds that title. She adores peanut butter.

I’d say she is almost nuts about it. 

RECIPE

This is the very basic recipe. You can riff in many ways on this. You like spice and smoke try a bit of chipotles en adobo. If you like a hint of Asian flavors add a few drops of dark roasted sesame oil and/or soy sauce. The list goes on!

Yield: 1 Cup

2 Cups dry roasted peanuts

1½ Tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil

Kosher salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Put 1-Cup of the peanuts into the jar of a blender.

Cover jar and blend peanuts at medium speed for about 10 seconds.

Turn off blender and remove lid. Scrape sides of blender.

Add oil to peanuts. Add some salt. Cover blender and blend peanut mixture until smooth.

Scrape peanut mixture into a mixing bowl. Repeat with remaining cup of peanuts.

Combine both batches of peanut butter and taste.

Adjust salt if desired.

Cover the jar and refrigerate. 

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