Monday, April 21, 2008

Controlling Your Peanut Butter

George Washington Carver was an agricultural inventor, distinguished Tuskegee professor, and trailblazing American who rose from slavery to the heights of scientific achievement.

And so I mean no disrespect when I say that what may be his most lasting achievement is that thing we slather between two pieces of bread for what is one of the world’s best sandwiches. That thing that transforms an unassuming stalk of celery into a deliciously insect-laden log. That thing that so comically gets stuck on the roof of a doggie’s mouth.

Oh yes, the quintessential American schmear: peanut butter (with apologies to cream cheese.)

In 1916, Mr. Carver published what is likely the first recipe for peanut butter, just one of more than 100 peanut recipes included in How To Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption. The recipe, titled "Puree of Peanuts Number Two (Extra Fine)," was part of Carver's efforts to "expand the market for the legume," as Molly O'Neill writes in American Food Writing. And did he ever.

To quote the Skippy website, "nobody consumes as much peanut butter as Americans." Damn straight, and no one puts us in a corner either. Seventy-five percent of our households bought a jar last year. On average, we each eat 3 pounds per annum. Not to give you sticky brown nightmares, but that's 8,000 calories and 685 grams of fat.

I feel like I ate half my quota since I made peanut butter last week. It's been all PB, all the time. It's one of the reasons why I've been AWOL -- apologies for not posting in more than two weeks. You see, I can barely reach past my PBB (peanut butter belly) to type this. Once again, Bill Watterson, creator of "Calvin and Hobbes," has totally nailed it: "If you can't control you peanut butter," he said, "you can't control your life."

Mr. Carver's recipe is way more complicated than it needs to be these days: he roasts then shells then grinds then adds salt/sugar/boiling water then boils over very low heat for 8 to 10 hours. His end-product is much denser than the sort of thing we're used to: it's chilled and sliced, eaten hot or cold, and sometimes "rolled in bread crumbs or cracker dust and fried a chicken brown" -- an "excellent substitute for meat." (Not unlike nutloaf, a contemporary recipe.)

I just don't have the time to contend with that particular recipe, not when making peanut butter is as easy as:

  1. Dump roasted, shelled peanuts in a food processor
  2. Press "Go"

But I did want to make myself suffer a bit in honor of Mr. Carver, so I ordered raw peanuts from Virginia (which I wrote about for a new food site I'm contributing to, Ffffood -- check it out!). I roasted and shelled them myself (with help from Jane), a pointless endeavor that took much longer than I expected. First they must be shelled, then roasted very briefly to loosen their skins, then their papery jackets must be removed. Some of those buggers just won't budge. It's not as bad as removing your own skin, but it's close.

I adapted this modern PB recipe, which is "for kids." Indeed, organizing a peanut-butter-making activity for kids is probably the only reason to make it. You don't save yourself any money and you certainly don't save any time. But it is a lot of fun -- so long as you say a silent thank you to Mr. Carver while you purchase pre-roasted, pre-shelled peanuts and blithely press "go" on your food processor.

Crunchy Peanut Butter

2 pounds raw peanuts, in the shell (or make it easy on yourself: buy them roasted, possibly even shelled – in which case, you’ll need 4 cups!)
2 ½ tablespoons peanut oil

  1. Shell the peanuts. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange peanuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool for a few moments and then rub off the skins with your fingers. For those peanuts that won’t easily give off their skins, roast for another 3 to 5 minutes and try again.
  2. Arrange shelled and skinned peanuts on the baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Toss and redistribute peanuts twice so they’ll cook evenly.
  3. Let the peanuts cool. Reserve about ¾ cup of peanuts. Combine the rest of the peanuts and the peanut oil in the bowl of a food processor and process on high for 2 – 3 minutes, until smooth. Add the reserved peanuts and pulse 6 – 10 times, until the peanut chunks are evenly distributed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: About 3 cups.


Cristian said...


I'm french and i love your blog...

I have a blog about fastfood, it's different but...

Dave, 'LunaPierCook' said...

Your ... what? Your "peanut butter belly"?? Compared you most of us, you ain't got no belly! Go eat more peanut butter until something happens. Then you can complain. ;-)

My favorite peanut butter recipe: Go to store. Buy peanut butter. Use as desired.

Of course, if I can buy or are given some handmade peanut butter, it's definitely for the better!

Nora Leah Sherman said...

Christian: fast food, slow food, it's all rich fodder for communion and communication. I'm so thrilled someone's reading me from across the sea! I checked out your blog -- it looks so interesting and varied, I wish I spoke French (Google translator is merde, that much I know!)
And Dave: you got me on the PBB. I have a ways to go... good thing there's still a half a tub of PB in the fridge!

Cristian said...

:D nora, merde is so french !