On peanuts

This is my favorite snack food of all time. Ever since I was little and could shell my own, I’ve loved to eat salted, roasted peanuts in the shell. If you go to a baseball game, you must buy a bag of peanuts. I mean, it makes a mess, but who cares, right? There is something quintessentially American about the peanut that other cultures maybe don’t understand. You see peanuts whenever you go–except on airplanes where you used to see them all the time until peanut allergies drove peanuts underground. I know people with peanut allergies, and they are nothing to fool with–fatal even–but I still like to crack open a freshly roasted peanut, fool with the shells, drop half of everything, and finally get an actual peanut up to my mouth. The texture and taste are a perfect combination of sweet and salty that soothes the taste buds and lights up the pleasure center of the brain. Peanuts are used in so many dishes, places, forms, and situations that they are ubiquitous snack that few turn down. When you combine peanuts, sugar, and chocolate you are approaching a divine combination that will carry your taste buds to a sublime level of ecstasy. Yet I love the simple, but extravagant, peanut butter cookie, slightly warm and still soft, just out of the oven. Peanut butter cups–special name brand–are works of pure genius. Yet in spite of my love affair with peanuts, I am not a huge fan of peanut butter, as in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which stick in my throat. The taste buds become overwhelmed, and the weird texture of peanut butter is rather unpleasant and problematic. This seemingly unsolvable paradox has haunted me my whole life: I do not like the peanut butter sandwich, not in box, not with a fox, not anywhere. Don’t give me a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch. I won’t eat it. Yet if you give me a little baggy with a peanut-based trail mix in it, something I can sit and pick at, I couldn’t be happier. There is something icky about the unchewable sticky mess that bread makes when mixed with peanut butter–sticks in your teeth, gets caught in the throat, weird to eat in general, and milk will not wash it down. One of the great variations on the salted peanut is the salted and sugared peanut that are sold under the moniker of “beernuts,” peanuts that have been soaked in a sugary caramel before being roasted. Some people put peanuts in sticky, gooey, dessert bars that have lots of corn syrup, chocolate, condensed sweetened milk, granola, almonds, and marshmallow in them. This may be referred to as overkill. Let’s not lose sight of the simple, roasted and salted, peanut, unshelled, sold in simple plastic bags which you can share with your friends. Peanuts are often about sharing and that’s why there are usually two peanuts per shell–it always feels a little weird when you get a solo peanut. Shelling your peanuts is half the fun of eating them. If your technique is good, you won’t crush or shatter the peanut inside the shell, but you have to be careful because they are easy to lose once the shell is open. I know there are those who would boil their peanuts, and I have tried those, but I don’t understand the attraction, an acquired taste perhaps. As a kid I used to eat a candy bar called the “Salted Nut Role,” which was peanuts stuck on to a sugary nougat center–heaven, and the Snickers bar is the pinnacle of candy engineering. That particular company also makes chocolate coated peanuts which was also a stroke of genius. Funny, just another member of the legume family, the peanut is as humble as a plant might be, but its potential, as George Washington Carver pointed out, is almost limitless.