fall, legumes, lessons learned, sandwiches, school, settlement cookbook

A tale of two peanut butters

This weekend the weather turned. It’s been hot and muggy all week, the air dense with rain. And now the heat has burned off and it actually feels like fall. Supposedly it won’t last, but after Saturday, we’ll take it.

Even though summer is my favorite season, there are loads of things I like about fall. The crisp leaves, the way the air feels fresh and brisk, cooking with apples and pumpkins, going to harvest festivals. I love getting ready for school (which is probably why I became a teacher), picking out new notebooks and pens and binders. That back-to-school trip to Office Max or Staples, where the shelves are full of notebooks and the air is crisp with possibility…sigh.
I’m a huge nerd.
This year things are quite different for me as a teacher, since I’m working part-time as a humanities teacher at a Montessori school. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot to get used to about this new set-up. Aside from a few bumps, it’s been going smoothly, but I’m still trying to figure out the most important thing: lunch.
When do I eat it? Do I eat it in the classroom with the children? Do I wait until I go home? If I don’t get out of the building until 12:30, and I don’t get home until 1:15, will I be dying of hunger? What should I make? What’s portable and easy to heat up when there’s a line of children waiting to use the microwave?
As you can see, it’s a topic fraught with anxiety.
At my previous school, teachers ate separately from students and had time to heat up their food and chat with each other. At this school, teachers eat in the classroom with their students and manage to down a few bites in between kids asking where the forks and knives are, if they can go outside and play because they finished their lunches in five minutes, etc. A very different experience. So far I’ve been sticking to salads, but I’m itching to try something new. Exotic sandwiches? Maybe soup?
Lo and behold, The “Settlement” Cook Book had just what I needed: a whole chapter on sandwiches for luncheon. You’d typically make these recipes for an afternoon picnic or an informal luncheon with your closest lady friends. I flipped through the chapter, looking for something that sounded promising. And then I found it: “Peanut paste for sandwiches.”

The 1903 equivalent of peanut butter! A classic school lunch! Even the recipe was easy: after crushing half a cup of peanuts (with your modern food processor), you mix in a cup of boiling water, some cornstarch, and let the whole mixture thicken for 8 minutes, after which you season it with poultry spices. Aside from the poultry spices, it seemed pretty straightforward.
Little did I know. I’m not sure what kind of peanuts Mrs. Kander used when she wrote the recipe, but those crushed peanuts did not thicken into a paste until I’d added a tablespoon of cornstarch and boiled the heck out of it for half an hour. So by the time I sat down to lunch, my expectations weren’t too high. I decided to compare the peanut paste with Jif Natural peanut butter from our pantry, rounding out the whole meal with some lingonberry jam (thank you, Ikea) and carrots. Like I said, a classic school lunch. With a twist.

And the twist is this: peanut paste tastes pretty much like you crushed up some peanuts and mixed them with water. It’s less appetizing than whole shelled peanuts, and the poultry spices make it more savory than sweet. I found myself nibbling on my Jif peanut butter and jelly sandwich in between every bite of the peanut paste one. While this recipe isn’t one of my major failures, it’s a disappointment.

I’ll stick with Jif.

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