Non-fiction, 11/2/08

Everyone’s got a favorite food. A relished recipe, perhaps, passed down and perfected with practice. An edible guilty pleasure. The dish you simply cannot live without. These vittles, so vital to our survival, are the flashes of brilliance in an otherwise monotonous lifetime of grubbing. Some of us cling to comfort foods laden with nostalgia; others prefer the exotic, the extravagant, or even the enigmatic. (This includes boiled tripe and jellied pork blood, Mom.) But I, being the discerning gourmand that I am, have eschewed the trappings of traditional fare for something far simpler: peanut butter.

What follows is an ode to the delightfully rich, sometimes salty, exquisitely crunchy and/or sensationally smooth qualities of peanut butter. If you are allergic to peanuts, I’ll advise you to stop here and peruse something else; proceeding onward would only heighten your jealousy of the peanut-eating populace. My condolences, friend.

The understated grandeur of peanut butter dates back centuries. For starters, kudos to the Aztecs, who cultivated Arachis duranensis, a wild ancestor of today’s peanut plant, in the 1400s and were the first to grind its pulses into a thick, hearty paste. Later, in 1884, Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Quebec developed a heated press that crushed peanuts to a “consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment.” Other inventors and entrepreneurs would improve upon this design and commercialize it, marketing the product variously as nut-butter, nutmeal, or peanut butter. (Interestingly, peanuts are not nuts at all but legumes, closely related to beans and peas. For some reason, though, having a bean-paste sandwich doesn’t hold quite the same appeal. )

If you’ve made it this far, you know already that peanut butter is utterly amazing. Packed with protein and fiber, it is perhaps the only condiment that also qualifies as a meal. Unlike jam or sauerkraut or Hollandaise sauce, peanut butter stands on its own. Could you survive off ketchup packets and mayonnaise alone? That’s debatable. But with judicious rations of peanut butter, you would not only survive—I daresay you’d be thriving.

Not only does peanut butter fill you up, it tastes divine—like glutinous globules from heaven. And it’s cheap! If the lean years of college have taught me anything, it is this: I can afford peanut butter, peanut butter is all I need, and peanut butter is versatile. Infinitely versatile, in fact. Through rigorous experimentation I’ve found that the addition of peanut butter to nearly any meal results in a dramatic spike in palatability. This is scientific fact, mind you. Morning oatmeal too bland? Give it a dollop of PB (that’s peeb, naturally). Stir-fry not stirring your taste buds? You know the drill. The same applies to celery, pancakes, apples, bananas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tortillas, peaches, graham crackers, and spinach, to name but a few of the foods made magnificent by peanut butter. The possibilities are thrillingly endless.

All this, of course, pales in comparison to the pièce de résistance: the unadorned, unadulterated spoonful of PB, preferably heaping and right-out-of-the-refrigerator cold. For the uninitiated, this is tantamount to pouring glue in your mouth and attempting to make a meal of it. You chew for what feels like five minutes straight, making little progress as your jaw muscles quickly fatigue and clench up. Soon you try swallowing, for fear that your trachea will become helplessly clogged otherwise. This begins to worry you. You find yourself mentally running through the steps of a solo Heimlich maneuver. Finally, after an eternity of lip-smacking rumination and near-asphyxiation, you choke it down. Some will inevitably ask, Is it worth it? I can’t say for certain. Probably not.

So here’s the wisdom I wish to impart on you, as I devour a spinach-PB sandwich: the next time you get a hankering for peanut butter, don’t immediately reach for the bread and raspberry preserves. Check the vegetable drawer for anything worthy of dipping, or make a bowl of oatmeal. Broaden your peanut butter palate.

Remember, PB only makes food better. Scientific fact.


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