If it were up to me, the person who invented peanut butter would have been awarded the Nobel Prize. I have eaten and loved the stuff just about as long as I can remember. Hell, I think that I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches most days for lunch from kindergarten through eighth grade and possibly even longer. There is always a generous supply on hand in the House by the Parkway.
Perhaps the Swedes might find it difficult to find a category that would apply to the invention of peanut butter, but remember that these are the same folks who awarded the Peace Prize to Jimmy Carter and Yasser Arafat. I can tell you that peanut butter has brought me a helluva lot more peace than either of those two asshats ever has.
Still, it might be difficult to sort out just who gets credit for “inventing” peanut butter. It all started in about 1890 when a St. Louis doctor asked a local food processor to grind up peanuts for his patients who needed protein, but who lacked the robust dentition necessary to chew a steak. Then, in 1895, the Kellogg brothers (one of them of cereal fame) got into the act by managing to get a patent for “The Process of Preparing Nut Meal,” which resulted in what was described as “a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter.”
Although the Kelloggs might technically have dibs on the Prize, their process provided for the steaming, rather than the roasting of the peanuts before grinding. Peanut butter, as we know it today, was first introduced by C.H. Sumner at the Universal Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis, where he sold a bunch of it as his concession stand.
Things have changed quite a bit over the last 99 years. Now, peanut butter is in the kitchens of more than 75% of the nation’s households. In fact, the average American household consumes 6 lbs of peanut butter per year. That works out to about 570 million pounds of peanut butter per year, which is enough to cover the floor of the Grand Canyon. Americans spend approximately $800 million per year on peanut butter.
OK. The history lesson is over. Now, let me tell you the real deal on peanut butter.
I have often been asked, “Yo, Jimbo, if you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only have one of your favorite foods, what would it be?” Pizza? Maybe. Tacos? (I learned to make them from a Southern Californian.) Maybe. A Jersey Sub (known to some of you, for God knows what reason, as a “hogie” or a “grinder” or a Po’ Boy”). Maybe. But, given a couple minutes of thought, the answer has got to be peanut butter.
While pizza, tacos, and subs may be wonderful, they are not versatile. By contrast, peanut butter is a gourmet treat on damned near anything. And, I’ve eaten it on damned near everything. Here’s a sampling (with a recommendation or two):
Squishy Wonder Bread (kids like this the best)
Hard rolls (Some call these “Kaiser rolls.” What the hell is that about?)
Rye bread (not the fakey stuff wrapped in cellophane, but the real Jersey/New York Jewish or Russian rye.) Having good teeth is important here.
Biscuits (excellent when hot)
English muffins (The peanut butter floods into the nooks and crannies.)
Whole wheat (when fiber is a concern.)
Hot dog and hamburger rolls (when there is no other kind of bread in the house, these will do.)
Ritz crackers (Acidman has written lovingly of this taste treat.)
Nabisco Saltines (Before you know it, a whole sleeve of crackers is gone.)
Triscuts (Be still my heart.)
Cheeze-Its (a little tricky to handle, but great in a pinch.)
Wasa Crackers (sort of “healthy” fiber-rich crackers.) – Excellent.
Graham crackers (absolutely.)
On other things
Rice cakes (for the calorie conscious.)
Bananas (sliced longitudinally or smear as you eat.)
Apples (also good with raisons sprinkled on top)
Celery (I admit it.)
Jelly donuts (You know you’re in trouble.)
Chocolate covered donuts (Deep, deep trouble – clearly the sign of a PB Junkie)
On just a spoon or knife – for the true purist.
What to drink with peanut butter?
Milk (On balance, probably the beverage of choice.)
Coffee (Particularly good with a PB breakfast.)
Tea (Good late at night.)
Soda (“pop” or “tonic” for those of you who don’t know what a soda is) – Excellent.
Beer (I’ve done it in a pinch, but until now, I have not admitted it.)
A word about jelly.
I’m for it. There is, of course, the old standby – grape. However, I have come to appreciate other flavors such as: apple, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, black cherry, current (red and black), apricot, pineapple and peach.
What brand of peanut butter?
Skippy. I’ve tried others, including the fancy-schmancy, healthy ones that you have to stir before eating. Nope. Skippy is the one – the only one.
When can one eat peanut butter?
In between any of the above
In the wee hours of the morning, when you need something to absorb the alcohol.
Finally, one of the particularly great things about peanut butter is that it is a genuine American food. Other countries are catching on, but they have a way to go. When I spent six weeks in Switzerland several years ago, I began to suffer peanut butter withdrawal. I scoured the local “supermarket” in Basel and ultimately found a jar of Swiss “Erdnussbutter.” It was goddamned pedestrian compared to a jar of Skippy, but for me, it was like finding the Holy Grail.
So, if you find yourself feeling down on the U.S.A., I suggest that you get yourself a big glass of milk, a chocolate covered donut, a knife, and a jar of Skippy. It will remind you how great it is to be an American.
Oh, and one more thing. There is no way that I could write this much about peanut butter without providing this link. Go ahead. Click it. You know you want to.