December 11th, 2012 at 1:00 pm
Books like Creamy and Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Food, by Jon Krampner, seem to invite a reviewer to insert their own opinion.
The aptly named Steve Almond interviewed Krampner for The Nervous Breakdown and identifies himself “who eats a tremendous amount of peanut butter,” In admiration of the book and its author, Almond writes, “I’ve never met Jon Krampner, which is lucky for him because if I ever did meet him I might very well kiss him on the mouth.”
Likewise, in his review for The New Yorker‘s blog Page-Turner, Jon Michaud declares himself “a Skippy Man.” He too, though in a less demonstrative way, praises Creamy and Crunchy, calling it “an enjoyable and informative new history of peanut butter.”
In his review, Michaud also recounts some of the history of peanut butter from its beginnings as a health food to the very wealthy to the rise of the “Big Three” (Skippy, Jif, and Peter Pan) to its recent surge in popularity during the recession, “Cheap and nutritious, [peanut butter] the perfect food for hard times.”
In the following excerpt, Michaud recounts the early days of peanut butter and how it became an “all-American food”:
Peanut butter, the everyman staple, which contains neither butter nor nuts (peanuts are legumes), originated as a health food of the upper classes. First created for sanitariums like John Harvey Kellogg’s Western Health Reform Institute, it satisfied the need for a protein-rich food that did not have to be chewed. Wealthy guests at those institutions popularized it among the well-heeled. But there were economic pressures to expand peanut-butter consumption more democratically. Once the boll weevil devastated cotton cultivation at the turn of the century, Southern farmers were encouraged by George Washington Carver and others to adopt the peanut as a replacement crop. A burgeoning market for peanut butter substantially increased demand for their harvests. While both Kellogg and Carver have been touted as “the father of peanut butter,” Krampner makes a case for George Bayle, a St. Louis businessman who, in 1894, became the first to produce and sell it as a snack food. Peanut butter was featured in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and soon thereafter Beech-Nut and Heinz introduced it nationally. By 1907, thirty-four million pounds of peanut butter were produced, up from two million in 1899.