Thursday, November 16, 2006
Peanut Butter of Late 1890s: Substitute for Dairy Butter?
By ROGER M. GRACE
“If you like peanuts,” host Art Baker assured viewers of “You Asked for It” in the 1950s, “you’ll like Skippy’s.”
In those days, as now, it would generally follow that one would or wouldn’t like peanut butter based the receptivity of the individual’s taste buds to the flavor of peanuts.
Such wasn’t always necessarily so, however. Early ads for peanut butter suggest that at least some versions of this new substance—said to have been invented in 1890 by a St. Louis doctor, whose name is unknown—were closer to what is now sold as peanut oil than to the puree of roasted peanuts which we know as “peanut butter.” The creation appears to have been seen by some producers as a rival for dairy butter.
This is from the Nov. 16, 1897 edition of the Gettysburg (Penn.) Compiler:
“A new article, known as peanut butter is said to be on the market. It is made from the oil of the peanut, and has the flavor of the nut. Like all other products of similar kind, the consumers must be educated to accept it. It is not injurious, and is considered beneficial to some, but it will not take the place of butter from cream very soon.”
One week later, the Weekly Fort Wayne (Ind.) Sentinel observed:
“A NEW use for peanuts is developing as the peanut butter industry becomes better understood. This product of the peanut answers in the place of ordinary butter for table use and is said to be excellent for shortening purposes and for gravies, sauces, etc. In point of purity it is superior to the best dairy butter. It is well designed for the use of vegetarians who strenuously object to anything animal. There is already a considerable demand for this butter substitute and it is very probable there will be an enlarged market for the nuts.”
That newspaper noted on April 13, 1899 that peanut butter production was “being carried on a commercial scale in Kokomo,” and if the product emanating from that Indiana city were all it was cracked up to be, “the raising of peanuts will speedily spring into an industry of first importance,” with the future of oleomargarine imperiled.
The notion that peanut butter would be a rival to dairy butter persisted into the early 20th Century. The Fitchburg (Mass.) Daily Sentinel on Feb. 14, 1906 carried an ad for a local establishment that sold Forster’s-brand peanut butter. It bore the heading, “Peanut Butter vs. Dairy Butter,” and began:
“Dairy butter contains 15 per cent water. Peanut butter is all actual food. Water is good, but 30c a pound is too much to pay for it.
“Dairy butter is pure animal fat and water. Peanut butter is pure vegetable fat and vegetable protein—contains as much protein as beef steak.
“The price is less—the food value greater.”
On the other hand, there are indications that “peanut butter” in the early days also connoted a product that did resemble that which is known today.
By the mid-1890s, the Kellogg Brothers of Battle Creek, Mich., began marketing a peanut butter. Although the company concentrated its attention in the years ahead on cereals, particularly toasted corn flakes, the peanut butter remained on the market at least through World War I. The brothers received a patent on their process in 1895 which described “a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter.” The peanuts they used were steamed.
A news item in the Nebraska State Journal on April 2, 1898, referred to a lunch counter at a mission providing a “patty of peanut butter” on graham bread.
One C.A. Thompson, in advertising his goods in the May 2, 1898 issue of the Daily Gazette in Janesville, Wisc., offered to sell glasses filled with peanut butter for 15-cents each, predicting: “Peanut Butter is bound to become permanently known.” In an Aug. 20 ad that year, Thompson billed peanut butter as “the great delicacy.”
A June 3, 1898 ad in the Fitchburg (Mass.) Daily Sentinel described peanut butter as “[a]ll the rage.”
Another ad in that newspaper the previous April 26 announced: “Just Arrived. NEWEST THING OUT. GERMAN PEANUT.” Whether a company in Berlin was importing peanuts from South Carolina, mashing them and putting the oily paste in jars and exporting them to Wisconsin, or whether a man named Fritz in Fitchburg was making the stuff, is left to the imagination.
I’ll get back to peanut butter in two weeks. Next week, a guest column will appear by TV personality Lloyd Thaxton. It tells of a Thanksgiving program he staged on a Toledo, Ohio TV station in 1952 which he says was TV’s first reality show.
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