In time for National Peanut Butter Day, which falls annually on Jan. 24, a market research group south of the border has released the results of a study focused on one of the world’s most popular foodstuffs.
How beloved is peanut butter? For starters, on a scale of one to 10, 94 per cent of respondents gave the spread a rating of six or higher, when asked how important it is to their everyday life. As for the creamy versus crunchy debate, votes were evenly split, 50-50. OK, that’s not quite true. One person said they prefer the sort "with jelly swirls in it."
Closer to home, Amanda Kinden, owner of Oh Doughnuts, a gourmet doughnut shop with two locations in Winnipeg (326 Broadway and 3-1194 Taylor Ave.), isn’t surprised to learn there’s a day on the calendar wholly devoted to peanut butter, given how quickly peanut butter-flavoured confections fly out the door at her place of work.
"Every once in a while we do a doughnut topped with peanut butter, marshmallow glaze and Nutella, which is our version of a fluffernutter cookie. The second we post pictures of it on Instagram, we get tons of messages along the lines of ‘save one for me, I’ll be there in five minutes,’" says Kinden.
Counting on her fingers, she lists peanut butter cookies and cream, peanut butter cup and peanut butter chocolate as other doughnuts on her always-rotating menu that are fashioned with peanut butter.
"And peanut butter and jam. I always forget that one because it’s so basic," she says with a chuckle.
If you go to Nationaltoday.com, a website that regularly charts "holidays" such as National Fettucine Alfredo Day (Feb. 7) and National Gummi Worm Day (July 15), you’ll see a list of activities one can do to celebrate National Peanut Butter Day. But rather than inviting people over to play games — one suggestion is using a peanut instead of a puck during a round of table hockey — it might be more self-satisfying to follow in our footsteps, and hit the streets in search of Winnipeg restaurant dishes lovingly prepared with peanut butter.
Here’s a taste of what we found:
If you want to be the king of rock ‘n’ roll, you have to eat like the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
In the 1970s, the Colorado Mine Company, a restaurant in Denver, made a name for itself when it came up with a sandwich called the Fool’s Gold Loaf. The 8,000-calorie behemoth, which consisted of a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with the contents of one jar of creamy peanut butter, one jar of grape jelly and (burp) an entire pound of bacon, was reportedly Elvis Presley’s favourite sandwich, to the point Presley once flew to Denver from Memphis in the middle of the night to satisfy a sudden craving.
In 2012, two years after Candy Lam and Phil Salazar opened their first Kawaii Crepe location in Osborne Village, the married couple came up with the Elvis, a Japanese-style crepe that comes loaded with a hunka, hunka peanut butter, sliced banana, bacon and honey. Almost immediately, the crepe, which appears on the restaurant’s breakfast menu, was a hit with customers young and old, Lam says.
"Lots of times parents will come in with their kids, who might not know who Elvis is," she says. "It’s fun to listen to them explain what he sounded like — and what he liked to eat — while they’re enjoying their crepes."
The Elvis isn’t the only selection that requires Kawaii Crepe staff to dip into a jar of peanut butter; the Ninja (cilantro, seasoned chicken breast, roasted peanuts and peanut sauce) and the Third Wheel (Nutella, peanut butter and banana) are also popular picks.
By now, serving staff at Corrientes Argentine Pizzeria are used to customers who, after studying the menu, point towards one selection in particular and ask, "Who’s Steve B?"
Here’s the thing; ever since owner and head chef Alfonso Maury got into the restaurant biz, he’s made a point of honouring former co-workers whose talent he appreciated with a namesake dish whenever he changed jobs. In 2012, not long after he left Prairie 360 for Corrientes, he came up with the Steve B pizza, a nod to Steve Beck; they cooked next to each other at Winnipeg’s only revolving restaurant.
"To put it mildly, Steve is a big fan of peanut butter," Maury says, wiping his brow after a busy lunch-hour shift. "At home, he has a closet full of different peanut butters from all over the world. So when I came here, I decided to do a pizza for him that combined peanut butter and bacon, another of his loves."
Maury agrees the concept of peanut butter on a pizza may sound off-putting at first, but once people give it a try, they’re almost always pleasantly surprised.
"My daughter is a big fan of the Steve B, and Steve himself comes in every year on his birthday, usually with his mother, for a peanut butter pizza."
On a weekly basis, Chris Kopp, the executive chef at Prairie Ink, does his best to come up with a new featured soup.
"Soup is extremely popular here, we’re always trying to think of different ones our customers might like, but if there’s one soup we can never take off the menu; it’s our West African peanut soup," he says, seated at a table in his bustling locale, which is located inside McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre.
Kopp began cooking at Prairie Ink six years ago. He was instantly "blown away" by how popular their peanut soup, prepared daily from scratch with a healthy dose of Kraft Smooth Peanut Butter, is.
"People just go crazy for it. We have folks who come in and get 10 cups to go, which they put in their freezer and have for lunch at work every day for the next two weeks," he says. "If you pop in for a bowl it’s $6.75 but there are lots of people willing to spend more than double that — something like $16 — to have it delivered through Skip the Dishes."
Besides peanut soup, Kopp also uses peanut butter in a pair of entrées: marinated chicken skewers served with coconut rice and a peanut sauce as well as peanut butter lamb shanks. Just don’t ask him how everything tastes.
"I grew up extremely poor and ate more than my share of peanut butter sandwiches so no, as much as I appreciate the people who return time and time again for our peanut butter dishes, they’re not something I’ll be digging into, any time soon."
When Paul Clerkin’s business partner Paul McMullan announced in November 2018 that he had come up with a new beer, one flavoured with peanut butter, Clerkin couldn’t quite wrap his head around the concept.
"I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ It was something I really had to be persuaded to go along with, but after we did a small batch — three kegs’ worth — that sold out over the course of a single afternoon, I didn’t have to be persuaded any longer," he says with a chuckle.
Stone Angel Brewery’s Marcellus Peanut Butter Milk Stout is named for Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Quebec-born chemist who was awarded a patent for peanut butter — or "paste of peanuts," as the actual document reads — in 1884. That piece of information is included on the sides of cans for people to study while they’re sipping on their brew.
"Lots of people didn’t know peanut butter was invented by a Canadian, so not only are you enjoying a good-tasting beer, you’re getting educated at the same time," Clerkin says, adding there are customers like him who purse their lips together when they hear the words peanut butter and beer in the same sentence, but get past that quickly when he offers them a sample.
"Very rarely do I give somebody a small taste of the Marcellus and not sell them a pint, immediately after."
Describing himself as a "good Dutch boy," White Star Diner owner Bruce Smedts says ever since he was a kid, he’s been partial to peanut butter and mustard sandwiches, which he describes as tasting a bit like liverwurst. (OK, you didn’t have us at peanut butter and mustard, and you still don’t have us at liverwurst.)
No surprise then, when a customer once asked Smedts, whose homey locale serves in the neighbourhood of 30 different flavours of milkshakes, to make him a shake combining peanut butter and coffee, he was all over it.
"It was supposed to be a one-off, but after taking a spoon off the top and tasting it myself, I added it to the menu permanently. Of the different peanut butter shakes we make, which include peanut butter chocolate and peanut butter caramel, it’s definitely the most popular," he says.
Last year, Smedts experimented with peanut butter on a burger but didn’t get enough feedback ("Everybody was like, ‘thanks but no thanks’") to know whether people found it palatable or not. That doesn’t mean he’s given up trying.
"I did an advertised thing on Facebook recently and somebody responded, saying what they’d really like me to do is a peanut butter and jam grilled sandwich. So I’m going to run that as a breakfast selection in the near future, maybe with some bacon thrown in, for good measure."
Not long after Beth Grubert opened dessert emporium Baked Expectations in 1983, she added a selection of sandwiches to the menu for customers in the mood for something other than cake or pie. One of the first sandwiches she made — good, old-fashioned peanut butter and jam — is still on the menu, today.
"The whole tradition of the PB&J sandwich is that kids get to have comfort food and not get judged for it," Grubert says, who also used to offer a sandwich prepared with peanut butter, bananas, honey and alfalfa sprouts, which she describes as "very granola, very representative of the ‘80s."
For her PB&J, she uses crusty French bread from Gunn’s Bakery on Selkirk Avenue along with smooth peanut butter. Jam is strawberry but if a customer prefers honey, that’s an option, too, she says.
As for the shop’s true bread and butter, Grubert has peanut butter chocolate cheesecake available by the slice.
"That probably came onto our menu a few years in — about 1985 — and has steadily increased in popularity through the years," she says. "We sell three to four whole (peanut butter and chocolate) cheesecakes by the piece per day, on the weekend."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.
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