Is peanut butter an all-American food? That is one question John Krampner answers in this wonderful history of a food product Americans take for granted. Those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have frequently been associated with, what was once, the less-than sophisticated American palate. Times and tastes have changed, but for most of us the love affair with this readily available comfort food has not. The plant and the spread have their origins elsewhere and came here on a boat just like other newcomers. Here is what Krampner says, "But for all the importance of peanuts to American foodways in general and peanut butter in particular, they aren’t native to the United States. They originated in South America and arrived here obliquely." The cultivation of peanuts goes back close to 4,000 years based on findings in an archaeological site in Peru. The peanut butter part also has its origins in South America where it was ground into a sticky paste with cocoa added. However there is something uniquely American about peanut butter says Leslie Wagner of the Southern Peanut Growers, and it is that we use it as a spread in addition to using it in other culinary ways. Over 100 years ago peanut butter, along with hamburgers, hot dogs and ice cream cones, was introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and so began its journey as an all-American food.
The story of the plant and the butter are presented, along with interesting historical information about the following: peanuts are not indigenous to North America but had a long circuitous route: Spaniards took peanuts from South America across the Pacific to Malaya, then to China; the Portuguese took the plants east from Brazil to Africa, then India; and from Africa, the peanuts came to America on slave ships; there are varieties of peanuts which can be used to make certain types of butters with distinctive tastes and appeal; in parts of the world peanuts can be crushed for oil (China); and in other parts of Asia and Africa peanuts are used as part of a base for soups and stews. And in many underdeveloped countries, ". . . peanut-butter-based pastes, know as ready-to-use-therapeutic foods (RUTFs) consist of peanut butter with milk and sugar powders, a bit of vegetable oil, enriched with vitamins and minerals." The best known is Plumpy’Nut; information about past and present advertising campaigns; PR gimmicks such as the manufacture of special containers; facts on crop damage due to mold or pestilence; other interesting facts are that the regional consumption and style of the spread also varies: Dan Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission states, ". . . midwesterners, on average, eat the most and they like it on the salty side; southerners prefer a sweeter version; and New Englanders want it sweet, but not as sweet as southerners." Although we think it is ours alone, Canadians out-consume us; there are recipes scattered throughout including a version of the famous sandwich loved by Elvis Presley; and an appendix with a "Peanut Butter Time Line" for its history in America, 1894-2011.
There is even more information in this entertaining and informative book which is highly recommended for pure enjoyment and for assignments.