I love peanut butter. I mean really love peanut butter. Sandwiches, cookies, with chocolate frosting on a spoon floating adrift in a dinghy (I ramble), at midnight, in the morning, comfort food, health food, kid food, adult food, sweet, savory…. my head is spinning. Well, not really. But the versatility and popularity of peanut butter begs the question (to some at least) what are its origins and what is it? Let’s start with the peanut. What is a peanut? According to Harold McGee, a peanut is actually not a nut at all but the seed of a leguminous bush indigenous to South America. Not until the early 20th century did Southern American farmers grow peanuts in place of cotton. More importantly, the invention of peanut butter is thought to have originated in St. Louis, Missouri or Battle Creek, Michigan in 1890… ten years before the peanut became heavily planted!
Now I must beg another question…how is peanut butter produced? According to my friend, Mr. McGee, peanuts are heated to an internal temperature of 300 degrees F to develop flavor and then blanched in hot water to remove skins. Next, the peanuts are ground with approximately 2% salt and up to 6% sugar. The oil will separate naturally from the butter yet many commercial brands will add a hydrogenated shortening to prevent this separation. The natural will always separate. I’d stick with natural.
What are different applications and uses for peanut butter? We most know it as a delectable sandwich spread. In fact, one of my most favorite cafes in NYC, Peanut Butter and Company, serve up such sandwiches as the “White Chocolate Wonderful”- white chocolate peanut butter, orange marmalade and thinly sliced almonds. The Elvis, a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich with honey and bacon is also a favorite. A best friend from Lincoln, Nebraska, has her much loved concoction, peanut butter and pickle! I haven’t quite come around to that one yet. Maybe one day.
Peanut butter is also used in many Thai and Chinese noodle dishes, Indonesian dipping sauces, West African stews, cakes, cookies, Feast! homemade peanut butter balls, and my favorite…soups. Since the holiday season is upon us, I must include one of my favorite family holiday recipes: Virginia Peanut Soup.
At Feast, we sell The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg’s all-natural peanut butters…one of the most delicious I have ever tasted. Please read below and hopefully enjoy this rich creamy soup during the cold, festive nights of December or throughout the bleak winter months to follow. I sure will….along with the Feast! peanut butter balls or a traditional peanut butter and jelly sandwich…or maybe in a Thai curry or just on a spoon as a midnight snack.
Virginia Peanut Soup
2 tbsp. Feast! Hand rolled unsalted butter
1 tbsp. Feast! Italian extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 tbsp. Wade’s Mill all-purpose flour
1qt. More Than Gourmet chicken stock
1 c. The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg creamy peanut butter
¼ cup Lewes Dairy heavy cream
2 tsp. hot sauce
½ tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tbsp. Feast! Virginia peanuts, roughly chopped
Heat butter and olive oil in a 4 qt. sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and celery, stirring until tender but not brown, about 5-10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in flour. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes. Slowly whisk in heated stock, whisking to avoid any clumps. Simmer, stirring often until soup begins to thicken, about 30 minutes. Whisk in peanut butter, heavy cream and hot sauce. Add lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with Feast! Virginia peanuts.