Peggy Keener: The sticky pact between PB and me

Published 7:55 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

So, here’s the deal. I love peanut butter. I mean seriously, I really, really do! For starters, it’s always dependably delicious. But more importantly, it has always been there. Indeed it is one of the few foods that has reliably accompanied me throughout my entire life.

Along the way it has, of course, had its deviating moments—new renditions popping up on the old theme. But none of them has ever diminished or destroyed the original product in any way.

This is not to say that I don’t have the freedom to renovate PB as I wish. Heck, you or anyone else can remold it ad infinitum. For example, I have developed two versions of my own. Whereas in the past eating PB was as simple as twisting off the cover and I was in like Flynn, I nowadays methodically concoct.

Email newsletter signup

I start off by searching out the crunchiest peanut butter on the store shelf, preferably without sugar. Accompanying this I also buy a large jar of salted peanuts. These, with my Chinese cleaver, I chop into shards. (Caution: chiseling to smithereens is overkill.) So, when the peanut chunks are reduced to about sunflower-seed-size, I add them to the jar. Then the stirring begins—a challenging task otherwise known as the Armstrong Method. Accomplishing this is not done in a jiffy (pun on brand name intended). It takes time and patience until the blend is closely akin to wet cement.

I grant you that such a mixture makes for a lumpy sandwich. But, keep in mind it is those very lumps that make the sandwich so special. Directions: on one slice of bread trowel on the peanut butter. On the other slather on a ridiculously unreasonable layer of butter. If lettuce is available, use it. Then eat like a king knowing with assurance that no monarch down through the ages has ever eaten more wondrously than you are right at that moment.

But, I’m not finished. There is also my other rendition. In addition to the above described mish-mash, I slurry in a liberal pouring of honey. Just like that, it is ratcheted into the divine category. Keep in mind there is only one way—and one way only—to eat it. With a spoon. Straight from the jar. If you crave sweets (but avoid candy because it’s candy), try this. It will satisfy your saccharine lust and give you a surge of welcoming ooomph. And while reminding yourself that both nuts and honey are nutritious, sit back and guiltlessly revel.

It goes without saying that the old standard PB and J version steadfastly remains popular. According to the Saturday Evening Post, we Americans consume nearly 3,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in our lifetimes. (If you are age three, double than number.) Stacked on top of each other, these sandwiches would rise to the eyeballs of the Statue of Liberty. But, hold on. You don’t have to be a kid to love them. The average adult eats three PB and J’s a month!

Sales of Uncrustables (those frozen pre-made sandwiches whose crimped edges hold their gooey insides inside), topped $650,000 last year. One has to wonder if such a figure—like a slap alongside the head—would have made Jimmy Carter forget about the presidency and stick with peanut farming?

Who knew that most of the world beyond our borders does not eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? I know! I know! It’s inconceivable!! But then, I suppose, that would explain why only we Americans have slurred, sticky speech, contented smiles on our faces and fat bottoms.

Of course by now you know that the peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. It’s a legume—a fruit or seed of a plant. It was originally domesticated in pre-Columbian South America. From there it surfed around the world on the first wave of globalization. By the 18th Century it was cultivated in the American south, not for human consumption, but primarily for animal feed. Then in about the middle of the 19th Century, peanuts were discovered to be cheap and full of calories—and fit for humans! Overnight they became a staple of the Civil War-era diet.

A St. Louis businessman, George Bayle, is credited with the invention of peanut butter in 1894. As important as that was, though, Bayle was not the real PB champ. That title goes to the inventor of cornflakes, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a devoted fan of the …. enema! In 1895, he introduced his prepared nut meal as a gentle-on-the-bowels, protein-rich health food.

Dr. Bayle was also a devotee of Fletcherism, a diet fad that involved chewing one’s food to mush in order to aid in digestion. He doled out his easy-on-the-stomach peanut mixture to the patients at his Battle Creek Sanitarium. Undoubtedly some of you may argue that Dr. George Washington Carver was the discoverer of the peanut. Although he found 300 new uses for it, none of them was for the initial creating of peanut butter.

In no time, peanut butter was perceived to be a miracle food. By the early part of the 20th Century, recipes abounded touting its deliciousness and nutritiousness.

By 1907, there was an increased production of 34 million pounds, a jump up of 2 million from the previous eight years. Then during the 1980’s and 90’s, peanut butter sales took a concerted dip largely because of health warnings. Fat calories were the culprit. Adding to this was the number of children who had peanut allergies. Many school districts even began banning all tree nuts from their lunch programs.

But, regardless of these strong considerations, PB and J never seriously waned. Once again sales increased especially during the cash-strapped days of 2007-2009 when peanut butter was again touted for its cheap and rich protein properties. Moreover, the pandemic boosted sales further with children at home making their own snacks and lunches.

No question about it. Americans love their peanut butter. Of course it’s because of the pleasurable taste, but wouldn’t we all agree that quite possibly the strongest ingredient is…. nostalgia? Indeed, for many of us it was the first meal we ever made for ourselves.

And aren’t we lucky that the word “legume” didn’t stick? Like who wants to eat a legume and jelly sandwich?