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April 2021

Peanut Butter

I’ve been asked how I choose the topic for a monthly blog.  Sometimes the season will point to a topic. Other times a regional event, interesting bit of history, or colorful personality. And occasionally, the topic seems to choose itself. Such was the case this month.

I was going to make a grocery store run, and asked my wife if she needed anything. She mentioned a few items, then as an after thought said, “Oh, and swing by the bakery section…  surprise me with a nice cookie.” Well, just as I got there, the baker was restocking a bin with fresh from the oven, and they smelled so good, huge peanut butter cookies. A few night later, I awoke in the middle of the night to a major hunger attack. I got out of bed and shuffled to the kitchen pantry to snag a snack. I switched on the pantry light, and right there, eye level, was a big jar of Skippy’s peanut butter. I swear it was pulsing “Eat me!” I did. Lots of it. Next morning a decided to browse through a copy of Smithsonian magazine, that wonderful compendium of all things American, as I sipped my morning coffee. It was the Jan./Feb. 2021 edition. And guess what the lead article was about? Yep, peanut butter. Actually, the article was entitled “GOING NUTS.” When the stars, or in this case, peanuts, align like that, you’d better write about them.

My history with these tasty goobers goes way back. By my estimate I must have eaten close to a thousand peanut butter sandwiches between grades one through eight.  That fell right in line with the Smithsonian article stated that American kids on average exceed 1500 peanut and jelly sandwiches eaten by the time they finish high school.

As for this kid, most mornings my mom sent me off to elementary school with a piece of fruit and a peanut butter sandwich. On rare occasion, as her limited budget allowed, and I think mistakenly figuring she was giving me a treat, she’d substitute a liverwurst sandwich instead. YUCK! I usually tried to trade this off to some other kid, usually one who wore glasses and couldn’t see well, or one with cold sniffles, so olfactory impeded, though even there I usually had to sweeten the trade with my banana, apple, and even my pint of milk. If I was lucky, I got peanut butter.

Even today, peanut butter can save the day. Did you know that it has been used as a diagnostic for Covid-19? Truly. A common symptom of those infected, is that at least temporarily many lose their sense of taste and smell. In a three month New Haven, Conn. study, health care workers were screened by Yale psychologist and neuroscientist, Dale Small, and asked to identify a strong odor. The scent of peanut butter was used as it is so common and recognizable, found in over 80 % of U.S. households. Every single person unable to detect the smell of peanut butter in the test, when then tested for Covid, tested positive. Does it make you want to run to the kitchen, unscrew that jar, and take a whiff? Wouldn’t work for me though. Having virtually been weaned on peanut butter, and enjoyed it to excess for 3/4ths. of a century, I can close my eyes and conjure up the scent of peanut butter just thinking about it. Maybe it's part of my mestizo genes, as Mayan and Aztec civilizations were enjoying a paste made of peanuts as early as 950 B.C.

Bringing it way north, and more current, a Canadian named Marcellus Edson, was granted patent # 306727 in 1884, for milling peanuts to a liquid state, then making a candy of it. In the U.S., Dr. John Kellogg (yep, the cereal guy), was granted patent # 580787 for converting the legumes (peanuts aren’t nuts) to the spread that became so common here. Dr. Kellogg was a Seventh-Day Adventist, and endorsed a plant-based diet for the patients he treated at his Battle Creek Sanatarium. He promoted peanut or almond butter as a healthy alternative to meat, which he saw as a “digestive irritant and, worse, a sinful sexual stimulant.” I don’t know about that, but I do know because I researched it, that Americans consume around 700 million pounds of peanut butter every year. That rounds out at about 2 lbs, per person, and rounds me out about that much more per year as well, an expanding testament to the 850 peanuts it takes to make an 18 oz. jar of scrumptious creamy Skippy’s or Jiff’s. I rationalize my over-indulgence scientifically, my aging body is depleted of and craves Vitamin B3 & B9, and peanuts high dietary fiber.

In truth though, I should probably explore more some of peanut butter’s other multiple uses. George Washington Carver identified over a 100 of them. Did you know peanut butter is a non-caustic way to remove sticky chewing gum from clothes and hair? It also can be used as a leather cleaner, a lubricant, and gents, “creamy” can double both in a sandwich or as a shaving cream. My three sisters used it as a facial. I was traumatized the first time I walked in on that horror as a kid. But it no longer bothers me. Can’t see it without my glasses. And can’t remember where I left them. Oh well, I don’t need them to find the peanut butter. My wife Camille is bugging me to get another pair though, so I can find the meat.


Anthony de la Torre
Sun City Grand resident

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