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November 2017

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Creamy and Crunchy, Jon Krampner. An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food

creamycrunchy

When I was young, I borrowed from the library a book by the American author Elizabeth Enright. I often wanted to be like the characters in the books I read, so I begged my mother to buy some peanut butter, previously unknown in our household. A jar of Sun-Pat duly appeared and ISTR that I liked it but no one else did. Many years later, when we were in our vegetarian phase, peanut butter became an important part of our diet and not just in sandwiches. I bought it in huge plastic tubs from the whole food shop and our brand of choice was Whole Earth. I’m no longer a strict vegetarian but I still eat peanut butter at least twice a week and have remained brand loyal. So I was delighted to be offered Creamy and Crunchy by the publishers, Columbia University Press, via NetGalley.

I am overwhelmed by facts about peanuts. I know where most of them are grown (Georgia); which variety is the best and easiest cropper (runners); how they are cultivated (formerly labour intensively, now by machine); how peanuts are turned into peanut butter. Who produced the first recognisable peanut butter? Probably John Harvey Kellogg, who saw it as a health food. The world’s oldest peanut butter brand is actually an Australian one, called Sanitarium. I even know why peanut growers revere the boll weevil: as the beastie wiped out cotton crops in the South, farmers turned to peanuts as an alternative cash crop. There’s a splendid monument to the boll weevil: ‘Probably the only Greek Revival–style statue in the United States dedicated to a pestilential insect, it was built by the citizens of Enterprise in 1919 to thank the boll weevil for laying waste to southern cotton’.

Some of the problems of early peanut butter production were texture (too sticky), separation (oil rose to the top) and preservation (it had to be refrigerated). The answer was hydrogenation. It stabilises the product by preventing oil separation and prolongs shelf life but is less ‘natural’ and has led to health scares. Consumers tend not to worry about it and the most popular US brands, Jif, Skippy and Peter Pan are all hydrogenated. Peanut butter has failed to conquer the world (‘People in Europe just don’t like peanut butter’, says one source) but has a widespread distribution. Canadians eat even more peanut butter than Americans do. The Dutch eat a lot but they call it peanut cheese, Pindakaas, to protect their butter producers. It’s eaten in Germany, through the influence of US troops stationed there and is used in Far Eastern cuisines, for instance in satay sauce. I’m disappointed to find that here in the UK we don’t merit a mention!

Opinions have changed over the years as to whether or not peanut butter is good for you. Too much (see Elvis) can probably kill you and peanut allergies are increasing in the developed world. There are documented deaths caused by salmonella contamination at production plants. The author is scathing about the deregulated George W years which allowed manufacturers to get away with killing people. It is possible to suffer from Arachibutyrophobia, ‘the ten-dollar word for the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth’. In the 1960s Frank Ford began producing a natural peanut butter, Deaf Smith (sounds like a band!), which was in tune with the rising counter culture. Produced at Arrowhead mills, ‘Deaf Smith was also the first organic peanut butter and may have been the first to use unblanched peanuts’ It later became known as ‘Arrowhead Mills Organic Valencia, then Arrowhead Mills Organic Creamy.’

The most promising use of peanut butter as a health food is the development of a therapeutic peanut paste known as Plumpy’nut . This is a combination of peanut paste, dried milk, vitamins and minerals, which can prevent malnutrition in third world countries. It keeps well, is easy to use and contains all necessary nutrients. It was invented by a French scientist who declined to make money out of it, but it is becoming big business. For regular consumers, manufacturers are constantly diversifying to produce variations on the staple product: chocolate, banana, jelly, marshmallow, are just some of the flavours available. These products have to be called ‘peanut spreads’ and are of course despised by purists. Today there’s a trend towards artisanal production, using old machinery.

Creamy and Crunchy is a long, thoroughly researched and amusing book, with all sources and references cited. I think it could have done with some tightening up as there is some repetition. I read it on the Kindle, so I can’t reproduce any of the fascinating illustrations, which is a shame; I'd love to show you the boll weevil monument. There are recipes, too, including the author’s own, The Simon and Garfunkel bagel sandwich. The ingredients include parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. No mention of our family favourite, peanut butter and Marmite. I recommend the book to all peanut butter lovers. Me, I daren’t even look at a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup; just too irresistible.

wholeearthpb

Peanut butter: yes or no?

Yes
10(90.9%)
No
1(9.1%)
Never tried it
0(0.0%)

Comments

Oh, I really want to read this!

ISTR Whole Earth jars used to say 'Oil separation is natural, just stir it back in', so I guess they steered clear of the evil hydrogenation?

And, like you, I demanded a spread I'd read about in a book: 'pink fish paste', as seen in My Naughty Little Sister. Hated it!
I'm sure you'd like the book.

Oh, childhood label reading! Cette sauce de haute qualité ... my first French. There isn't any separation nowadays, so hmm. Also, I checked the label for peanut content and it says 92%. In the States they've been fighting for 95% if it's to be called peanut butter.

Salmon?

Probably? I like it now!
I used to get peanut butter in parcels for m Canada - no idea now who the people were
Whole Earth is so much tastier than Sun-Pat
Our Canadian relatives use to send magazines but not peanut butter!

Whole Earth is the best! I used to have crunchy but now I worry about my teeth, so have switched to smooth.
The peanut is an amazing food, and we love peanut butter. I also loved Elizabeth Enright's Melendy family books as a child.
I now know uses for the peanut I had no idea of!

Love the Melendy books, especially The Saturdays. I also have Thimble Summer and the Gone-Away Lake books.
Suma unsalted crunchy is our favourite brand. The young'un is keen on cashew nut butter, but I prefer peanut.
Sounds delicious! I lurve cashews, more than I do peanuts but the spread, not so much.
Mmmmm! It's ages since I've eaten peanut butter, but I used to love it - and I remember that when I too was vegetarian it did seem to be a staple. May have to buy some soon. Or Peanut Butter Cups, even more mmmmm.
Ha ha, I can see you're tempted now.

Peanut Butter

A whole book all about peanut butter! I just love peanut butter, but it has to be crunchy. I like it mixed with Philadelphia cream cheese, and it's delicious in biscuits.

Re: Peanut Butter

I prefer crunchy but for the sake of my teeth I've switched to smooth. I used to make peanut granola, yum, and lots of peanut biscuits. Don't think I've tried it with Philly, must have a go.
For me there is only one pindakaas and that is Calvé - the classic version, not the crunchy one. No added sugar, but I see it only contains 85% peanuts.

As a child I ate loads of peanut butter, because doctors said I was too thin and needed to gain weight, but to no avail.

Peanut butter and Marmite?? Hmm. I can't imagine that combo tastes good. I do like peanut butter and sambal occasionally.
Great to see you back! I think Calvé is mentioned in the book.

Surprising how prejudiced people are against the idea of peanut butter and Marmite :-)

BTW Dreamwidth have changed their logging in system. I've had to open an account (callmemadam) and if you post you need to allow me access so I can comment there.
How odd, I've heard nothing about that (and DW is very good with letting their users know what's going on). Also the FAQ doesn't mention any changes. Maybe you still need to set and confirm your email address?

http://www.dreamwidth.org/support/faqbrowse?faqid=62

That said, I have added your DW account to my access list. BTW, my DW name is lethe1, not lethe (that name belongs to a never updated account), so you might want to correct that. :-)

(Anonymous)

Dreamwidth

You seem to have granted me access, thank you, so we'll see if it works. I've done the same for you, even though I don't write anything there

Re: Dreamwidth

Sorry, that was me, didn't notice I was logged out.

Open ID logins

http://dw-maintenance.dreamwidth.org/52490.html

Told you they were good at letting us know :-)

Re: Open ID logins

Heh! That explains a lot!

(Anonymous)

Thank You

Thank you for your kind words, and accurate reporting, about the book. I have to admit that there is a bit of redundancy in the book, but that's by design -- I assumed people would read it in a modular manner; in other words, Peter Pan people might concentrate on the Peter Pan chapters, Skippy people on the Skippy chapters, etc.

The founder of Skippy licensed his hydrogenation patent to Peter Pan, for example, so that story turns up in both Skippy and PP chapters. But I think there's something I mentioned three times, and honestly, that is a bit too much, so you've got a good point.

Again, thanks for taking the time to read the book, and for your agreeable report.

JK

Re: Thank You

My pleasure! I really enjoyed your book.