I ran out of peanut butter this morning. Alert the media! There was just enough for a thin schmear across my morning toast. Which, in the grand scheme of things, obviously ranks very, very low on the scale of Things That Are Wrong With The World: somewhere between breaking a nail and having to dig through your cluttered closet for 10 minutes to find your favorite green flip-flops.
But it got me thinking. In my head, as I painstakingly harvested the last bits of peanut butter out of the glass storage container with a butter knife: “Do I have any peanuts? Damn. No. OK, must get to the market. I’ve got a 3 o’clock telecon, so I should go early. Need to avoid the school bus traffic nightmare in Ridgefield anyway. But I need to get this analysis finished. And I have to write up the giveaway post for Kate’s book. And I still don’t have anywhere to stay in Brazil. And, don’t forget: the girls are coming this weekend and you haven’t cooked a thing. Oh, and you need to email them to confirm. And clean the loft. And the bathroom. And…..”
And on and on it goes: the litany of Things To Do, the constant chorus of voices in our heads that remind us of the stuff we haven’t done – yet seem to be remarkably silent on the stuff we have accomplished.
You see: I make my own peanut butter. Which is not that big of an accomplishment, truth be told: it couldn’t be much simpler. Raw organic peanuts, toasted in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes, then whizzed in the food processor (in batches, since mine is an ancient and tiny Cuisinart mini) with a little sunflower oil (oddly, peanut butter made with peanut oil tastes like Chinese food) and salt. Sometimes I add a touch of honey, if the peanuts seem a bit bitter. And then, that’s it: the butter goes into a storage container, into the fridge, and I don’t have to worry about peanut butter for another couple of weeks.
And it is easy: all in all, it requires maybe 10 to 15 minutes of active time. Add in the roasting time, and you need to set aside about a half an hour to make it happen. Which shouldn’t be that difficult, and normally, isn’t. But when busy times hit, they hit hard. When dishes pile up in the sink, laundry piles up on the bathroom floor, the temps are in the 70’s and you haven’t managed to get out the summer clothes; when friends are coming to visit and the house is a wreck and the data analysis just keeps coming and you’re flying to Brazil in three weeks and you haven’t even thought about what you’re going to wear: at that point, making your own peanut butter, rather than simply grabbing a jar off the shelf, seems, well, dumb. Ridiculous. Ludicrous, even. Why invest that precious 30 minutes in homemade peanut butter when you could be searching for the perfect Amazon treehouse hotel? Or doing more research of the evils of sugar? Or simply relaxing with a cup of coffee
and a scone (wait, you don’t have time to bake scones; just coffee, thanks).
I often get asked, sometimes teasingly, sometimes disappointedly, sometimes downright aggressively, “You mean you don’t make your own bread? Yogurt? Cheese, crackers, butter?” And I do make these things; sometimes. But there are better bread bakers than I (with far better ovens than mine); better yogurt fermenters, better butter-churners. And let’s face it: those half-hours add up. Homemade granola here, DIY instant oatmeal there, butter, cheese, crackers. It all adds up. This is why, back in the day, “homemaking” was considered a full-time job. I can understand why women in the 60’s and 70’s joyfully embraced the promise of convenience foods.
So why, you might ask, make these things at all? It’s not particularly hard to find peanut butter in the store, even good organic peanut butter with no creepy additives. Why spend even the minimal time & effort when you can just pick up a jar?
I ask myself the same question at times. In fact, when I get this busy, I will often berate myself, “For <bleep> sake, Kaela: it’s only peanut butter. You don’t have time for this. Get over yourself and buy a damn jar.” I could give you all sorts of health-related reasons: it’s organic, it’s fresh, there are no additives, I know exactly what goes in it. I could give you a competitive Super-Wife reason: my husband loves my homemade peanut butter, and he eats a lot of PB&Js, and I want him to be happy, and healthy, and feel loved. I could give you a Feminist Power reason: that I am throwing off the yoke of corporate Big Food and participating in a small act of rebellion by buying peanuts (that someone else has grown and harvested, <cough>) and grinding them into butter myself.
I could give you any number of reasons, really, and all of them would be somewhat true. But mainly, I make my own peanut butter because I like mine better. I like it chunky, but not super chunky. I like the peanuts roasted, but not overly so. I like it salted without tasting salty. Sometimes I want a hint of sweetness; sometimes I don’t. Somehow, in the Great Debate as to why or whether we should make these sorts of pantry staples from scratch, in the rush to defend our decisions on how we spend our time and money, how we choose to feed our families and ourselves, the simplest, and perhaps most truthful answer, is somehow unacceptable: Because I like it.
The real tyranny of homemade? It’s not that we have to do it. Or that we don’t have to do it. It’s that, whatever we decide, we’ll have to justify that decision to multiple groups of people who will judge us either way. And more often than not, those people include ourselves.