Peanut butter

We’re expecting marmite stocks in New Zealand to dwindle due to a factory damaged by the Christchurch earthquake. You could try making your own – by following MsMarmitelover’s recipe here (though modelled on the runnier English marmite).


Or, switch to peanut butter.


Peanut butter on toast
Homemade peanut butter on well-done Vogel’s


Peanuts (not technically a nut, but a legume) were first grown in ancient Peru; the Aztecs used to make a paste from them – so really, they invented peanut butter the first time around. The Oxford Companion to Food calls peanuts one of the “half-dozen most important New World foods” made available to the Old World following Columbus’ 15th Century explorations. The peanut spread rapidly around the rest of the globe.


But the history of modern peanut butter is an all-north American tale. John Harvey Kellogg, the original health nut, promoted peanut paste as a protein suitable for toothless consumers, in 1895.


It wasn’t until the 1920s when production processes improved that consumption really took off in the States, and that was further advanced during WWII when it became a popular protein substitute, according to this article in Slate magazine. The Reese’s Cup, the disc of peanut butter and chocolate, was first sold in 1923.


Peanut butter has been omnipresent in the export of American culture – the peanut butter (and jelly) sandwich as a background prop in a thousand movie and sitcom scenes, peanut butter (and jelly) potently remembered in the extravagance and decline of Elvis. It’s a mouth-sticking paste that carries no class and no snobberies, as at home in a downbeat trailer as it is in the White House kitchen.  US presidents and candidates have a seemingly compulsory affection for peanut butter. In 2009 a salmonella scare at a major peanut processing plant presented Barack Obama with the opportunity for this great quote: “At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter.”


Roasted peanuts
Roasted peanuts


And to think, before peanut butter, peanuts were thought barely a human food – the embodiment of destitution. English writer George Gissing based the peanut-eating character Whelpdale in his novel New Grub Street on his personal experience:

“I always found it rather humiliating,” says Jasper, “that I have been through no serious hardships… Unfortunately I have always had enough to eat.”

“I haven’t,” exclaimed Whelpdale, “I have lived for five days on a few cents of pea-nuts in the States.”

“Pea-nuts! What are they?”

Delighted with the question, Whelpdale then described that undesirable species of food.

That novel was published in 1891.


As we’ve noted, a lot has happened to the humble peanut stateside since then – yet it has never stepped too far above its station, still very much the everyman food in spread form.


How to make peanut butter

Lay 250g of blanched peanuts in a single layer on a baking tray and cover with a tablespoon of peanut oil and a sprinkling of salt. Bake at 180 for about 20-30 minutes, turning the peanuts once or twice for even browning.

Once you’ve let the peanuts cool, blend in a food processor for one minute, which should produce a dry crumb. Add a teaspoon of honey or sugar, another 1-2 tablespoons of peanut oil and salt to taste and blend for another 1-2 minutes, or until it turns into a ball of peanut butter. Keep blending for smoother peanut butter (you may also need a touch more oil).


Where to buy (good) peanut butter in Auckland

Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter out of Nelson is streets above other bought peanut butters, and is available at most supermarkets and food stores such as Nosh.

Also, Whittaker’s are soon to release a peanut butter flavour of their chocolate…


One Comment Add yours

  1. Jill says:

    Who would have believed the humble peanut has come so far ! Very interesting.

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