FLORENCE GILKESON: Peanut Butter Crisis Hits Me Personally
At times, we all feel trapped by circumstances beyond our control.
With the nation stuck in a sinking economy, wiping out retirement funds and stalling development, along comes another tragedy: peanut butter.
In contrast to the economy, health-care needs, wars and political unrest around the world, peanut butter may seem insignificant. But it's not.
For one thing, there is probably no single food better equipped to help us out in times of economic woes than peanut butter. It is inexpensive and a good source of protein. In most households, peanut butter is a staple -- always available for after-school snacks and bedtime snacks, lunchboxes and suppers on the run.
Peanuts have problems too. Peanut butter is fattening. And some people are seriously allergic to anything containing peanuts. More recently, dieticians have found other quarrels with peanuts and peanut products.
When the going gets tough and no one has money, peanut butter is a windfall to the non-allergic. My favorite is peanut butter and jelly on any kind of bread. (I've been steering clear of mentioning particular bread varieties ever since I stirred up controversy about the making of tomato sandwiches.) Another preference is peanut butter with bananas or other fruits. I've even heard of a peanut butter and onion combination.
The latest affront to peanut butter lovers is the salmonella scare. Although the contaminated peanut butter mixture produced by one manufacturing company was limited in use, the severity of the outbreak of salmonella was such that sales of peanut butter plummeted.
As was the case with the E coli-tainted spinach a few years ago, it will eventually make its way back into popularity. Peanuts and peanut butter are just another victim in a series of serious food scares.
As our population continues to grow, along with our dependence on foods produced outside our own community, I fear that we face more such scares in the years ahead.
This peanut butter business hit me personally.
My father raised peanuts on our farm in northeastern North Carolina. It was not his main crop, but it was a good source of additional income in years when rainy weather did not drown the peanuts during the harvest season. Daddy grew peanuts to supplement his tobacco income. It helped him to pay off debts and provided a little extra money for special things.
When harvest time arrived, the huge baling machine would arrive on the farm. It gulped down the plants, spit out the peanuts in one direction and pressed the foliage into bales of peanut hay. The bales were added to livestock feed.
But it was the peanuts themselves that were the cause for excitement. It meant a fresh supply for the coming season. My mother would
deep-fry and salt the plumpest ones, and the result, I assure you, was simply scrumptious. I remember my husband's broad grin when she packaged those peanuts and handed them to him.
Already, I can envision the food police out there cranking up to scold me for even mentioning this rich treat, coated in salt and soaked in oil. That's not the only way to enjoy peanuts. Some folks like them packed whole in brine. They're also good roasted without salt. And I have always liked them raw.
The peanut may be lowly, but it has a distinguished history in the South. A native of Latin America and South America, it is really more native to this country than our beloved apple pie.
It is, of course, not a nut at all. The peanut is a member of the pea family and grows underground as the seed root of the plant. Older family members used to laugh about the city visitor who kept looking up in the oak trees for peanuts. He did this, according to family lore, after poking fun at the country bumpkins.
We owe much of our peanut pleasure to George Washington Carver, the brilliant scientist so intrigued by this underground treat that he is said to have discovered some 300 uses for the peanut. Among those uses was peanut butter.
Were this dedicated African American living today, he would be looking for ways to convert peanuts into the kind of energy that fuels engines and heats homes.
A friend who accompanied college students to a foreign country for one of those study abroad programs told me that the young people soon grew weary of the native food.
She commented that anyone with a peanut butter sandwich franchise could have made a fortune.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story