Tomatoes, potatoes, cocoa beans and chilies are among the food plants indigenous to the Americas that have been thoroughly appropriated by other parts of the world, to the point where they seem integral to certain nations’ cuisine or history: think of Italian food with tomato sauce. Think of Belgium without chocolate. Think of Ireland with a potato blight and crushing famine. Think of Indian food without the searing hot bite of a really potent chili pepper or two.
Peanuts, not so much. Plenty of the world has never taken to peanuts or peanut butter or any number of peanut-flavored things. As Chanson notes, the French find peanut butter pretty damn vile, and as I remember from my time in the UK a couple of decades ago, the British didn’t much care for it either.
The Chinese and their neighbors, however, managed to dig peanuts and their by-products and do some pretty great things with them, as anyone who has enjoyed spring rolls or noodles with peanut sauce will know. I prefer peanuts in savory food to any sort of peanut-y dessert.
Frankly the thing I like best about peanut butter is its history. In elementary school I read this fabulous biography of George Washington Carver, explaining how he convinced all these farmers to plant soil-enriching peanuts instead of just soil-depleting cotton as part of his crop rotation program. Once the peanuts were harvested, the farmers came to George and said, “OK, what do we do with these peanuts? ‘Cause there’s no demand for them at all.”
And George looked at them for a moment, then said, “I’ll be right back,” went into his lab and invented about 50 million uses for peanuts, one of which was peanut butter. (Does anyone besides me still have very fond memories of hearing Eddie Murphy describe how “George Washington Carver died penniless and insane, still trying to play a phonograph record with a peanut” as part of a "Black History Minute" on Saturday Night Live?)
Anyway.... I’m not nuts about peanuts. They’re OK, but I prefer other nuts, real nuts. (Peanuts, after all, are actually legumes, as you probably learned in fifth grade.) Pecans are my favorite nuts for baking--I like them in cookies and pies and cakes and streusel or whatever. There are pecan trees all over my hometown of Thatcher, Arizona--the church I went to as a child was in the midst of a pecan grove--and I would regularly pick a pecan off the ground, crack it and eat the fresh nut meat.... No nut tastes as good to me as a fresh pecan I’ve just cracked. I like walnuts and macadamia nuts for cooking too. I also enjoy roasted and salted almonds, cashews and pistachios. (I especially like cracking pistachios and sucking all the salt off the shell.) If all the other, better nuts are gone from the nut mix, I’ll eat Brazil nuts. I don’t like hazelnuts for some reasons.
I didn’t really like peanut butter when I was little because it tasted too peanut-y and the texture was weird and it wasn’t sweet enough, so my mother’s solution was to mix it with honey, which made it pretty damn good. I really liked spreading that mixture on saltines. Yum! Honey’s much better with peanut butter than jam.
And in general I like it even less now that I’m grown. Nine times out of ten, I’ll pass up any sweet that is peanut or peanut-butter flavored, but there’s always that tenth time....
OK, this is still running long, and I have more to say before I get around to sharing the cookie recipe. But I promise, I’ll post it soon.