Living in a cramped maroon room with an exquisite view of the brickwork on the neighbouring building outside my window taught me much about life during my graduate days in Ithaca, New York. My octogenarian landlady downstairs, gave the same piano piece to all her students, and ate fried potatoes for supper everyday.
Occasionally I’d join her in her dim Victorian living room. She told me a story I haven’t forgotten: “One day, when I was in primary school, we were all called into the lunch hall and told to sit down. It wasn’t meal time, but there we sat, the whole school in silence. Then we were each given our first-ever taste of peanut butter on bread. I loved it immediately. I found out later that the Government, apparently, wanted to know if children liked the taste, as peanuts were going to be another source of nutrition during the War”.
Peanuts date back to the Aztecs. But in the United States, they were made famous by George Washington Carver, a botanist who went from slavery to university professor for his studies preventing soil depletion. Peanuts were one of the crops he introduced.
My own memories start in China days. As an eight year old I can recall sitting on a high stool in the kitchen, in the silent hot afternoons. No sound but the hum of the fridge, an alarming new addition to a missionary’s home (imagine having electricity all the time so that you could run a fridge!) and Ah Yang, our Cantonese cook, bending over a meat grinder clamped firmly to the edge of the table, grinding roasted peanuts over and over again until they were smooth enough to spread. I can still see her long black braid falling over her shoulder as she stooped to operate the crank. If I waited long enough, I got to lick the meat grinder, still warm from all her effort.
The weather today is nothing like those sultry afternoons in Canton. I’m writing to you on a Sunday. That’s a misnomer. There’s no sun at all. Instead, we are treated to an ominous murky greyness that illuminates the mud and sleety rain that drizzles miserably into the collar of any soul who ventures outside. Better to stay indoors, light a fire, put feet in slippers and make
Peanut Butter Cookies
Mix together ½ cup (4 ozs, 110 gms) white sugar, ½ cup (4 ozs 110 gms) brown sugar, and ½ cup (4 ½ ozs 130 gms) peanut butter *. Add 1 ¼ cups (5 ozs, 155 gms) plain flour, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ¾ teaspoon soda bicarbonate (baking soda), and ¼ teaspoon salt. When thoroughly combined, roll into small balls and place 3 inches apart on a baking sheet.
Press criss-crosses into the tops of the cookies with a fork dipped in flour. Bake in a moderate oven 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Yield: about 36 cookies.
*If you want to replicate the peanut butter that Ah Yang made, choose one without sugar or palm oil.