Happy National Peanut Butter Day!
Indeed, who knew that January 24th was a day set aside to celebrate that delicious, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth concoction that is made from peanuts but isn’t really butter?
I didn’t know this before doing some research, but peanut butter was apparently created in a raw form in 1890 by Dr. John Kellogg (the same Kellogg of the corn flakes company) as a way for patients with no teeth to get their protein. Years later, Dr. George Washington Carver developed a better tasting version of peanut butter, and in 1922 it was commercialized by the Rosefield Packing Company in California. Today, over half of American peanuts are used to make peanut butter.
Growing up in Texas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were consumed by probably 95% of the kids in the elementary school cafeteria. This was, of course, before peanut allergies have apparently become commonplace; it seemed like everyone’s mom packed them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. There were even debates at the table over which type of jam was better with peanut butter (I voted strawberry, while most of my friends said grape), which texture was better (crunchy for me, creamy for others), and which brand was tastier (Skippy for me, even though at home we mainly had Jiffy or Peter Pan). It was a staple in our young diets.
Peanut butter was also a necessity for anyone going through a lean economic time, whether in college or starting out in the professional world. When I first moved to D.C. and spent most of my first paychecks on rent, I lived off of peanut butter sandwiches (without jam–that would have been an extra $5!) for ten days straight. By day eleven, I couldn’t handle it anymore and took about a six month sabbatical from peanut butter.
Nowadays, I don’t eat that much peanut butter, but whenever I travel for extended periods of time I find myself craving the stuff like crazy. When I interned in Rome for a summer, I was introduced to the European equivalent of peanut butter, Nutella, and quickly embarked on a love affair with the chocolate/hazelnut spread. To this day, I love Nutella (although it just doesn’t taste as good when you buy it in the States–it’s creamier in Europe), but there is still a subconscious void when peanut butter isn’t around. As an American, it’s part of our culture. So, to keep my American roots intact, there were days when I made Nutella/peanut butter sandwiches for lunch in Rome (thank goodness for care packages from the parents).
Living in London also brought up peanut butter cravings, mainly on account of the lack of it. I found myself missing Reese’s peanut butter cups, Reese’s pieces, and jars of Skippy, which seemed ridiculous because, as much as I love my home country, let’s face it–the Europeans do chocolate and confectionary sweets better than anyone. So, I tried to enjoy the local sweets but also enjoyed indulging in peanut butter whenever a fellow expat would bring a jar over from a visit home.
During my time in South Korea, I discovered quickly that while Koreans were developing a taste for American sweets, they weren’t crazy about the creamy thickness of peanut butter. Once again I found myself daydreaming about a big peanut butter and jelly sandwich, often while I was enjoying my lunch of kimchi and rice (healthier, to be sure, but certainly not delicious with chocolate).
Now, living in D.C., I admit that I tend to take peanut butter for granted once again. It’s becoming more “hip,” though, and many recipes nowadays incorporate peanut butter into more grown-up dishes. They all sound delicious too–peanut butter pancakes, peanut butter cupcakes, peanut butter cheesecake, and so on. There’s also the classic, tried-and-true American snack of peanut butter on apples.
Peanut butter certainly has its place in American history and culture, and if you ask most kids who grew up in the States, it holds a nostalgic element as well. There’s something comforting, even to this day, about having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I almost feel like I’m back in the school cafeteria, talking with the other kids about the pressing matters of the day (homework, does Joey like Emily, when is recess today, and so forth).
In the end, I guess it does make sense to have a day set aside to honor peanut butter.