A shelf at Old Dutch Supermarket in Chatham, Virginia displays two of America's favorite peanut butter brands.
“I only buy Jif,” declares Mary Watson of Danville's Buttercup Doll Hospital when polled about her peanut butter preference. “And it has to be smooth,” she continues. “The other day my husband brought home extra chunky. That's near cause for divorce! Don't screw up my peanut butter! That chunky stuff won't even spread.” Mary also asks, “Why don't restaurants serve peanut butter? It's more popular than jelly, and they don't mind putting out little packs of jelly….”
My husband Henry remembers that when he was growing up his family only bought Peter Pan in order to add to their set of matching glass tumblers in which the product was sold. He prefered chunky. “It didn't stick to the roof of my mouth as much,” he recalls. In a recent New York Times survey Peter Pan won the taste test. Everbody has a favorite, it seems, and four out of five American households have a jar of peanut butter on the shelf.
Hydrogenated peanut butter (the type in which the oil does not separate out and rise to the top) was introduced in 1923. Peter Pan and Skippy are two of the oldest commercial brands still available. Often the big-name peanut butters have sweeteners added (sugar in Peter Pan, and sugar and molasses in Jif).
To purchase 100% natural unhydrogenated peanut butter, which is simply ground peanuts and perhaps a touch of salt, look for the “natural” brands such as Roddenbery's and Smucker's; or go to a health food store where freshly-made peanut butter is available.
Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) originated in South America. From there the legumes were taken to Africa and Asia, and eventually slaves brought the “goober peas” to America. Scientist George Washington Carver developed many ingenious uses for the peanut, but it was not until 1890 that a St. Louis physician began making peanut butter as a “health food” for his patients. By 1900 the bread spread had been introduced commercially. In 1903 Ambrose W. Straub of St. Louis received a patent on a peanut butter machine, and in 1904 peanut butter was available at the St. Louis World's Fair. The public adored the product. Its place as a staple in American pantries was guaranteed.
Available directly from the publisher, and at museums throughout the United States.
Simply Scrumptious Southern Sweets
Soul on Rice: African Influences on American Cooking
Southern Born and BREAD
Copyright © 1990–2003 Patricia B. Mitchell.