Peanut Butter: Fit for a King
It’s no doubt the primal food, the first culinary obsession for many of us, remains a lifetime comfort for some. What began as a simple sandwich filling is today a popular ingredient in treats sweet and savory.
Of course, first came the peanut, originating in South America and carried around the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers and traders. Peanuts are known by many other names—goober peas, pindars, ground nuts, pig nuts and monkey nuts—but they are actually a legume that grows in the ground rather than a nut that grows on a tree.
They were already popular in Asia and Africa when African slaves introduced them into the American diet. At first, they were looked down upon, and thought of as a poverty substitute for pecans and walnuts. When starvation swept the South during the Civil War, boiled peanuts became the salvation for many. A song still popular today—”Goober Peas”—accurately describes what southern life was like toward the end of the rebellion.
Peanuts remained an oddity for the rest of the country until 1895 when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg had his second big idea (his first, conceived with brother Will, was the cornflake). Kellogg, a health guru of his day, decided to steam, grind and puree peanuts to produce a nutritious paste. In 1903, Dr. Ambrose Straub, a St. Louis physician patented the first peanut-butter-making machine. By 1912, tins of Golden Tint, Old Reliable and many other brands found their way into pantries nationwide.
Joseph L. Rosefield figured out how to solve what was then perceived as the product’s biggest flaw—separation during storage. He added hydrogenated vegetable oils resulting in a creamy smooth peanut butter. In 1923, he patented the process and licensed its use to the E. K. Pond Company of Chicago to make Peter Pan Peanut Butter. Rosefield, quickly figured out he’d missed an opportunity and introduced his own brand, Skippy. Obviously, they became two of the three best known names in peanut butter. However, it’s Jif, introduced by Proctor & Game in 1958 (and purchased by The J.M. Smucker Co. in 2001) that holds bragging rights as the country’s number one seller.
By U.S. law, 10% of peanut butter’s ingredients can be something other than peanuts: salt, sugar, corn sweeteners, emulsifiers and stabilizers. With the contemporary concern over food additives, especially trans fat (hydrogenated vegetable oils), many products labeled “all natural” and touted as reduced in fat, sugar and sodium increasingly dominate the marketplace. Even the original oil-on-the-top peanut butter has made a comeback for what it doesn’t have.
Despite peanut butter’s popularity, for much of its history it was synonymous with bread and jelly. Of course there have been many attempts to improve on this combination, substituting honey, bacon, pickles and tomatoes (just to name a few) for the jelly. Most of us know that Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich was a combination of peanut butter and bananas grilled on white bread. However, as a culinary curiosity it pales next to Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s sandwich of choice: peanut butter married with baloney, cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and ketchup.
Eventually cooks began to think outside the jar, and today peanut butter shows up in all sorts of things—cookies, cakes, candy, ice cream, sauces and dips—and who knows what’s to come? Here are a few ways to celebrate the joy of peanut butter locally.
There are many good reasons to drive to The Buckhorn Supper Club in Milton, but none more so than its decadent peanut butter pie. Creamy smooth and topped with a layer of chocolate, it’s as addictive and satisfying as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Satays—skewered and grilled strips of meat—originated in Indonesia, so it’s a no-brainer to seek them out at Bandung. Forgoing the accompanying sweet dipping sauce made from peanut butter would be as unthinkable as French fries without ketchup.
I have no doubt that Elvis would sing the praises of the banana pecan cupcakes with chocolate peanut butter frosting baked daily at Daisy Café & Cupcakery. (“Thank you. Thank you very much.”)
If you are channeling your inner Hubert Humprey, head to AJ Bombers, the famous Milwaukee burgerteria that has set up shop here. The quarter-pound Barrie Burger comes topped with American cheese and a dollop of crunchy peanut butter.
As much as it is for steaks, Smoky’s has long been a destination for its ice cream after dinner drinks. One of the more unique offerings is the peanut butter cup martini.
Sassy Cow is a local farmstead dairy justly proud of its ice cream. It not only uses quality ingredients but strives to create imaginative new flavors, including flavors of the month, but a classic is the peanut butter fudge.
Thai Chicken Pizza
8 ounces pizza dough
Peanut Butter Sauce:
3½ tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons brewed tea
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoon Thai red chili paste
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 teaspoons honey
½ pound chicken breast, cut into ¼-inch strips
Salt and coarsely crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
½ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
1½ tablespoons green onions
1 carrot, shredded
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Preheat oven 500 degrees.
Combine the peanut butter sauce ingredients in a blender. Process until smooth and set aside. In the meantime, season chicken strips with salt and red pepper. Sauté the strips in olive oil over moderately high heat until done—about 7 minutes.
Coat the cooked chicken strips with 2 tablespoons of the reserved peanut butter sauce. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Punch the dough down, roll out into a 15 to 16-inch flat circle. Brush with the sesame seed oil, then spread the peanut butter sauce over the dough. Distribute the grated cheese over the sauce. Arrange the chicken strips over the cheese and sprinkle with the green onions. Place the pizza in the preheated oven (preferably on top of a preheated pizza stone). Bake until the crust is crispy and cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove pizza from the oven and sprinkle with carrot and cilantro and serve hot.