In celebration of Peanut Butter Day, January 24th.
Even my mother’s feet showed distress as she pitti-pitti-patted down the stairs, “Poor Georgina! I’ve put her into a terrible mess and don’t know how to get her out!” she threw over her shoulder as she headed for the kitchen, and retrieved – of course — her jar of peanuts. My mother couldn’t survive without peanuts, whether she was writing a children’s story or not. Read her sad – to- happy account of what happened on the ship taking us back home as exchange prisoners from a Japanese internment camp in China, while she was on the brink of giving birth. (The Chinese Ginger Jars, by Myra Scovel. Available online new or second hand.)
I, like my mother, find solace in peanuts. I’ve always loved them. As a teenager during my school days in India when things got tough, or dreary, or (for me most frequently) the absolutely ghastly definitely end of the world and I will DIE, I would take a walk through the bazaar hearing the scoop-scoop-scoop of husked peanuts being roasted in sand over a charcoal brazier right there on the streets. The scent would draw me to them. A newspaper bag would be filled with their warmth, and I would delight in the rough husk, the sound as they cracked open, revealing large red-skinned beans (they are not nuts) perfectly roasted, and ooo! so delicious! Life was almost worth living again.
Arriving in England as a bride, the “Jungle Fresh” peanuts were naked, damp like the weather, and held none of the exotic-ness of those in the newspaper bags in India. And why call them “Jungle” fresh? A peanut never saw a jungle in its life, having grown underground in long rows of bushes in the heat of Georgia. Or somewhere else in the world, like China.
Which brings me to peanut butter – sometimes greeted with a sneer and curled lip by the non cogniscenti. (I pity them, I really do.) Or such a sublime love that, not trusting the natives, they would never travel from home without a jar of their favourite spread.
But when it comes to peanut butter no one can extol its virtues like my brother Tom. He inherited so much of Mom’s peanut-loving DNA that he has to hold back on double helpings. Despite the wide varieties available in his home in California (fluffernutter – mixed with marshmallow, striped with grape jelly, mixed with honey and cream, mixed with berries etc.) he sticks to the Traditional. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters:
“Mankind’s two greatest creations in my humble estimation are (1) the bed and (2) peanut butter. Indeed, George Washington Carver, the agronomist who invented so many uses for the peanut should be honoured among the pantheons of great scientists. Move over Einstein, you never gave us a single thing we could eat! I buy the nutty type with no sugar, so you have to mix in the oil which has floated to the top of the jar with the paste of ground peanuts below. Having just had peanut butter on my toast for breakfast, in a fastidious attempt to break my addiction, I’ll not have it on my bagel for lunch. (I try to control my craving to one helping a day.)
“And yes, Judy, peanut oil was used to run vehicles in China since it was more available than gasoline in many areas. Naturally it produced little power but thick black smoke and a bad smell, which I remember because I couldn’t believe that something that tasted so good could stink so horribly! Peanut oil was replaced in most areas by charcoal burners that looked like large water heaters strapped on to the back of buses and trucks whose incomplete combustion of gases was fed into the engine to make the vehicle chug along. Ah, the experiences American kids have missed growing up nowadays!”
Happy Peanut Butter Day!
West African Groundnut Stew
“Do you ever eat peanut butter with meat?” I asked my Ghanaian dentist before he plunged equipment into my mouth. His usually-mute assistant grunted involuntarily. “Yes,” he replied, “I make soup with peanut butter and smoked turkey and my daughters love it. The girls are always asking me to make it for them.”
Here’s a similar taste to that soup, adapted from my crumbling Food Aid Cookbook (1986) edited by Delia Smith. It’s a dawdle to fling together into a slow cooker before you dash out to enjoy your day. Also works well on a stove top or in a very slow oven.
Make this in a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid. I used a slow cooker, The meat needs to cook in its own juices. Saute 2 chopped onions until tender. Place in the casserole/slow cooker. De-seed 3 mild chillis and chop finely. Mix with 6 tablespoons smooth peanut butter 1 inch (2.5 cm) grated fresh ginger or 1 heaped teaspoon dried ginger, a pinch of mixed herbs, 1 lb sliced carrots, and a 14 oz tin (can) of chopped tomatoes. Mix well. Place 1 lb (450 gms) cubed beef in the pot. Add the tomato-carrot-peanut butter mixture. Once again, mix well. Cover, and cook very slowly for 1 ½ hours (4 – 6 hours in lowest setting of a slow cooker). If you don’t peek and release steam, there will be enough moisture to keep everything well juicy and the flavours will “hold hands”.
Serve with rice steamed with a drained can of black-eyed peas. (I think we used coconut rice in these photos.)