The Peanut Butter Cookie 2018

Peanuts

During this anniversary of the assassination, a condemnatory critique has come to the fore in our cultural conversations. This well-documented argument concludes that the image of Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. presented today is a sanitized version of the real life and times of the reverend, especially his last years, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. The legislation was present but the racism, the poverty, and the disparities in opportunity were still deeply embedded in the United States. He was fighting as hard as ever, with every growing headwind against his movement and his goals.

“They pay us peanuts,” many Americans on poverty wages say. The cliché is old, even dated now. Few realize that this statement is rooted in American slavery. Peanuts are intimately bound to the black slaves of the United States, including the commercial success of tan, highly nutritious kernels.

Peanuts reached the United States by a circuitous route. The peanut we know today is a hybrid of two plants that originated in South America, at least 3500 years ago. The record is scant, but kernels have been found with mummies on South American continent.

The European explorers discovered peanuts in the 1500’s and brought them back to Europe. From Europe, the peanut was distributed to Africa and to Asia. The peanut became a staple crop in parts of Africa.

In the 1700’s, the peanut makes its debut in North America as another commodity accompanying the slave trade. As slaves were loaded on ships, so were peanuts. North American farmers did not know how to grow or tend the peanut crops though, although they were interested in investing in them. They relied on their African slaves, who were already familiar with the peanut, to manage the crops. At this time, the peanut crops were considered appropriate for feeding livestock and slaves. Peanuts were slave food.

Peanuts rose in stature with the Civil War for military reasons. As the Union soldiers make their way through the South, they encountered peanuts as a snack and as a staple, appreciating the taste and the health benefits. Enjoying their new nut, the soldiers brought peanuts back to the northern states, incorporating them in their diet. Decades later, P.T. Barnum adds roasted peanuts to his circus show to boost his profit margin.

Peanut butter emerged more than once during the 1800’s. but gained a stronger hold in the American diet late in the century. A St. Louis doctor concocted a peanut spread recipe for his elderly patients who no longer had enough teeth to chew meat. He recognized that the nut was a good source of protein, which could be gummed.

Peanut butter produced by the large conglomerates today is a sweeten gooey concoction of what the slaves ate and the good doctor invented. Peanut butter was pureed roasted peanuts with nothing added. Today, we pay extra for the pure product while the adulterated one is less expensive.

One commentator called the presentation of Dr. King in today’s history books and holidays “cotton candy.” I have used the same term for years to describe many peanut butters on the grocery shelves, which is the origin of this essay. Food and images of a civil rights leader and minister are not the same phenomena and should not be equated with the same gravity. Nonetheless, the same sanitizing of the slave origins and the following historical chapters of purging the repercussions of that slavery do run in parallel.

Many of the best tasting dishes today began in poverty. The peanut, however, does not come from poverty alone, but from American slavery as well. Enjoy your peanuts; these nuts carry much history with them.

 

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES (gluten free)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Ingredients:

½ cup sifted coconut flour
¼ cup rice flour
1 cup natural peanut butter
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
¼ cup peanut oil
½ teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

1. Mix together peanut butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, peanut oil and salt. Stir in peanuts and coconut and rice flours.

2. Drop by the spoonful 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheet. Bake for about 14 minutes.

3. Cool slightly and remove from cookie sheet to racks.

Lessons From Granola #6

RE: The Other Ingredients and Dollars

Notes

  1. Vanilla is very expensive when purchasing the small bottles at the grocery store, best price I found was $7 for 4oz (118 ml) at Korger or $5.50 for 2oz at Publix (59 ml). Vanilla is the most expensive ingredient of the recipe when purchasing in the grocery store. I use approximately one liter a year, which would be $59 at Kroger or $93 at Publix. In contrast, vanilla Beans cost $2.99 or $3.99 a bean at my usual spice store but I can also purchase them on Amazon, 5 beans for $8. A liter of inexpensive vodka cost $8. Add three beans to one liter of vodka and hide the bottle in a cabinet for 9 months. The product is full-fledged, delicious vanilla extract. Doing the math, I make vanilla for $17-20 a year.
  2. Raw nuts and fruits, even dried beans and peas, are also difficult products to track for purity. The Ball Corporation has put out a product since the 1970’s called Fruit Fresh© that is a preservative that retail consumers can purchase in powder form. Fruit Fresh is advertised as a product that keeps foods from turning brown. Food manufacturers and farm wholesalers have access to a liquid form and other competing products. MSG is an excellent preservative and adds flavor to factory farmed products that are often deficient in flavonoids. Sulfites are also common in these sprays. The big strawberries that are popular at this time are often sprayed with a product that gives flavor and sweetness to the fruit while increasing their shelf life. In my experience these chemicals do not wash off in water.
  1. Molasses, boiled sugarcane, comes in two basic categories, blackstrap molasses and molasses. Each of the two categories will have two choices: sulphured and unsulphured. Blackstrap is more caramelized and tends towards bitter while regular molasses may be blended with other syrups. Sulphured is a manufactured product in which Sulphur Dioxide is added. Don’t breathe the stuff. The best bet is unsulphured Blackstrap, which is also recommended by the American Heart Association.
  2. Do NOT purchase spices at the grocery store. Herbs and spices lose their taste within one year. Every item for purchase in this section of the grocery store is old and already devoid of full flavor. If there is not a spice store near your location, order online for a better product and almost always a better price. Amazon.com is not the best retailer for spices and herbs because they carry the same grocery store brands. Look here, here, or even here (larger quantities) for an idea of what you can stock in your house.

Bon Appetit!

I hope you have enjoyed this research project into a commonly considered healthy food. Please consider a few takeaways:

  1. Reading labels is not enough. Each ingredient may deserve a label of its own contents. Caveat Emptor!
  2. Pure is not necessarily better but purity establishes a baseline from which an informed consumer can make choices of what to eat.
  3. Food manufacturers are sensitive to complaints. If enough consumers complain and force the comments into the media cycles, they will change formulations.
  4. Food is not a zero-sum game, where the consumer must always trade off one priority to gain another.
  5. When it comes to creating quality foods that are healthy, money is not the most significant barrier. Preparation time is the most consuming component.