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The Strange and Wonderful World of Peanut Butter

by William I. Lengeman III

It is high time that we stopped underestimating the power of peanut butter. Many of us still view it as greasy kid's stuff, suitable for nothing more exotic than a standard issue PB&J (Skippy or Jif and Welch's grape jelly, on Wonder bread). But, if the truth be told, peanut butter can be put to quite a wide variety of uses, some quite imaginative and some that - dare I say it - should never have been imagined at all. But more about that in a moment.

Peanut butter is the great American food - as if you hadn't noticed. It was created here, a little over a century ago, and is still eaten in quantities that no other country in the world can even begin to match. But nowadays you actually might find peanut butter anywhere in the world from India (in Mumbai's Indigo Deli, for instance, where PB&Js are on the menu) to Uzbekistan (where peanut farmers in the southern part of the country introduced their homegrown version of the spread in early 2005).

But when it comes to dreaming up new and unusual (unnatural?) uses for peanut butter, you're really going to have to stick with the Yanks. If you don't believe it, here are just a few examples of some creative uses for the spread that were born in the USA:

Guber Burger
If you ever find yourself in the vicinity of Sedalia, Missouri, you might want to mosey on over to the Wheel Inn Drive-Inn, home of the famed Guber Burger. This mix of chopped beef, peanut butter and assorted and sundry other ingredients is a creation so magnificent that it earned itself a position of honor in George Motz's documentary Hamburger America, along with such delights as deep-fried burgers, steamed burgers and even a "butter burger".
Your humble author has not had the opportunity to visit, but by all accounts the Wheel Inn Drive-Inn is a decidedly old school kind of place, a kind of place that still has carhops and a kind of place that sees no need to bother with such newfangled contrivances as Web sites, thank you very much.

Peanut Butter Steak
Forrest Tucker made his mark on television comedy as Sgt. O'Rourke in the Sixties sitcom F Troop. But his other great contribution to humankind - Forrest Tucker's Peanut Butter Steak - should, by no means, be overlooked.
Tucker's "recipe" appears in The All-American Cowboy Grill: Sizzlin' Recipes from the World's Greatest Cowboys. The book, if you must know, was penned by a trio that comprises a Nashville newspaper editor, the founder of the Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watcher's Club and the daughter of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. It also features recipes from the likes of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne, among others.
What's the secret to a top-notch peanut butter steak? Well, it ain't exactly rocket science, friends. Take a tenderized rib-eye steak, seasoned with pepper, liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce, apply a tablespoon of peanut butter and get thee to a grill.

Empty Jar of Peanut Butter

Peanut Butter & Jelly Pizza
We can hardly claim pizza as a great American foodstuff, but we've embraced it with a passion that surpasses much of our native cuisine. So it was probably predestined that one day someone would devise a Peanut Butter & Jelly Pizza. That place - and there may be others - is East of Chicago Pizza, an outfit that's grown to more than 140 locations in Ohio, Indiana, Virginia and Florida over the last decade and a half.
And that's strawberry jelly, in case you were wondering.

Deep-fried Peanut Butter Cups
It's a peculiar quality of Americans, though probably not unique to us, that we're obsessed with deep-frying things, many of which really have no business being deep-fried. Exhibit A (though it's probably more like exhibit R or exhibit Y) is the deep-fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, which is bathed in funnel cake batter before it hits the oil.
This treat is said to be quite a hit at the Indiana State Fair. Which should probably come as no surprise, given the tendency of vendors at such events to commit these ghastly culinary crimes against humanity.

Peanut Butter Beer
Peanut butter and beer - it's a pair of ingredients that go together like...well, like mustard and ice cream. I suppose I shouldn't knock it until I've tried it, but the truth is, even as much as I like peanut butter, I don't much want to try it.
Not that the chance is likely to ever present itself. So far as I know, the only known outbreak of peanut butter beer came via some members of the New York City Homebrewers Guild, as reported a while back in the Village Voice. Of course, if we go on the assumption that disturbed minds think alike, there may very well be other peanut butter brews out there lying in wait for us.

Peanut Butter and Bacon Truffles
Peanut butter and bacon's not really as flaky a combination as you might think. People have been mixing the two for almost as long as we've had peanut butter. As for peanut butter and bacon truffles, Saveur magazine featured this mix of peanut butter, bacon, sugar and chocolate in a 2005 issue.
If you've absolutely gotta have the recipe, you can also look it up in Not Afraid of Flavor: Recipes from Magnolia Grill, by Ben and Karen Barker. That's the Magnolia Grill, in Durham, North Carolina, if you were wondering.

PB & Haute Cuisine
If you thought that peanut butter and the hoity-toity type stuff couldn't possibly coexist, guess again. Chicago's famed Alinea is renowned for serving what was once described, at the Too Many Chefs Web site, as "a single grape, still attached to the stem, wrapped in a small bit of toasted brioche that encased what I can only assume was peanut butter." This complex contraption/treat is further described as "a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in miniature, only made with no jelly, just a single perfect grape."

So much for that greasy kid's stuff.

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