By KIM POINDEXTER
In both my nuclear and extended families, peanut butter has always been a serious issue. Everyone loves it, and everyone harbors extreme brand loyalty. Many battles have been fought in the Peanut Butter Wars, the duration of which makes the Cold War seem like a brief backyard scuffle over a croquet game.
I am not a soldier in this perpetual campaign, because I do not like raw peanut butter. At family reunions, I’ve heard my mother insulted in whispers by relatives who suggest I might not be a “real” Poindexter, since I don’t like peanut butter straight out of the jar. (I like peanut butter cookies, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.)
My father eats peanut butter on everything. If he were stuck in the middle of the Sahara desert and a dried piece of camel dung were the only potentially edible item available other than a dollop of peanut butter, I suspect he’d break the dung into two pieces, plop on the PB, hold his nose, and live to see another day.
Grandma Poindexter was a diehard peanut butter fan, and she was just as opinionated as her eldest son when it came to branding. “Branding” is a buzz word, in the newspaper industry and everywhere else. If you successfully “brand” your product, you can ensure customer loyalty. I can think of no finer example of brand loyalty than in the peanut butter industry.
Grandma Poindexter was a staunch Peter Pan buff. She often said, “I’ve ALWAYS bought Peter Pan,” which may have been true, since that particular PB debuted in 1920 as “E.K. Pond” just a couple of years before she was born, and was renamed Peter Pan in 1928.
When I was a child, I actually ate PPPB on what all my cousins, my siblings and I called “Grandma’s Toast.” This was a piece of white bread, buttered on one side and sizzled on the griddle. The toasted side was slathered with peanut butter and jelly (usually grape) and folded in two. At some point, to the disgust of others in the family, I began to prefer “Grandma’s Toast” without the PB.
My father threw over Peter Pan for Jif, which according to Wikipedia, hit the shelves in 1958. The affair lasted until the crunchy variety was introduced, at which point the “creamy” got the boot. My dad was known as somewhat of a skinflint, and he encouraged the buying of what we kids called “cheapie brands,” except when it came to PB. My mother once made the mistake when I was about 8 of trying to skimp on PB. I remember my father’s reaction when he reached for the jar: “Hey, I told you NEVER to buy that off-brand peanut butter!” I don’t know what the “off-brand” was; as far as he was concerned, anything but Jif was an “off-brand.”
Sniping over PB sometimes erupted when we visited my grandparents. My dad could never resist commenting on my grandmother’s penchant for Peter Pan. Once he said, “Mother, I don’t know why you keep buying Peter Pan; it tastes like crap.” My grandmother’s mouth formed a perfect “O,” and she looked around and said to everyone else, “I'll swan! Did you hear what he said?” I was never sure whether she was more offended by the use of the word “crap,” or the assault on her beloved Peter Pan.
In our house, Jif reigned supreme, and it was kind of like Super Glue; you could use it on anything. On the rare occasion when we had ice cream (usually a “cheapie brand” vanilla), we kids would drizzle our scoops with Hershey’s chocolate sauce (always from the can, never the plastic bottle); our dad smeared Jif on his ice cream. For the rest of us, it was margarine and Griffin’s syrup for waffles; for my dad’s stack, Jif had to be caked into the crevices.
PB&J was the preferred sandwich for my father, but he also accepted other pairings. A favorite was PB and mayo. I’ve also seen him consume PB and mustard, PB and ketchup, and on one occasion, PB and the juice remaining in a jar of maraschino cherries I’d used to make a cake. I suspect he would have dunked carrot sticks, french fries, meatballs or hot wings in Jif.
A prerequisite for marrying into our family is a love for PB. My husband fit the bill, but no doubt his status is diminished by his preference for Skippy. He will eat Peter Pan if that’s all he can get his hands on, but he hates Jif. I’m not sure my father knows this. Like most in my family (excluding myself and my cousin Tracy, another apparent oddity), my husband will eat PB from the jar with a spoon, and so will my son, who will “skim” the surface of the PB smooth to hide the magnitude of his consumption. (He professes a preference for the "Natural" Skippy.)
The other day, I posted a question on my brother’s Facebook wall about PB to see where his loyalties lay. Before he could answer, my cousin Stacy jumped into the fray, speaking rapturously of PB, proclaiming “an affinity for Smuckers Natural,” and labeling an addiction to PB as “second only to crack.” She confessed to sometimes spreading PB on warm toast, letting the PB melt, then scraping it off the with knife, licking the knife, and reapplying the PB, "with a new knife, of course."
When my brother weighed in, it was to profess his continued loyalty to Jif, though he was pretty much confined to Skippy or a local brand when he lived in Oxford. Now he’s in Singapore and can get whatever he wants. (He admitted to being "out of the habit" of eating it, which seems obvious; my sister Lisa told me he recently informed her he had bought a pair of size 28 jeans, and he just turned 48!)
Disliking raw PB isn’t a bad thing, because you’re not tempted to eat it straight from the jar with a spoon. A few years ago, I told a friend about my distaste for PB, and she said, “Oh, you’re lucky. Peanut butter is the main reason I’m fat.” Of course, this conversation was over the phone, and she hadn’t seen me in years. It’s not hard to find a fattening substitute for peanut butter. Now, take ice cream, for instance...
Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press, and she buys (but doesn’t eat) Skippy.