On the tyranny of homemade

peanut-butterI 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.

peanut-butterAnd 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.

50s-collageSo 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.

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23 comments

  1. I’m on the side of make your own, if you want to devote the time and IF yours tastes better then what you can buy. I’ll always make my own peanut butter and I’ll forever use your homemade ketchup recipe 😉

  2. I thought similar thoughts recently while slaving over homemade crackers and cheese…why am I spending half a day on the weekend making this! But, as for you, I simply like it. It also tastes amazing! But yeah, my friends think I’m a little mad 🙂

  3. It’s because some things we ENJOY doing for ourselves. And if it’s enjoyable, then you’ll always make time for it.

    I’m not a good baker so I don’t do bread, but I make sure dinner is cooked every night and some days, I stay up late or get up extra early to make lunch. I stayed up last night to make lunch and this morning, I got up early and made a breakfast fried rice. Sure I could have had a bowl of cereal, but I didn’t want to.

    Meanwhile, dirty laundry piles up, dishes pile up and the carpets are desperately crying out for a vacuuming. Cleaning is such a chore, cooking is a pleasure. I don’t day dream about what I’m going to clean when I get home, but I do day dream about what I might like to cook.

  4. Some of the homemade items are a bit of a chore, I’ll admit: I’m not a big breakfast person, so I don’t eat the granola I make or oatmeal (blech). But I make them because my husband loves them (and it’s cheaper and healthier than what I can buy).

    But yes: obviously I support the notion of homemade over store-bought. But I also support the notion of “don’t make yourself feel guilty, or let others make you feel guilty, if you simply don’t WANT to make it at home.” You (and I) don’t need excuses and rationalizations and discussions of work and schedules and drama: it should be enough, for all of us, to simply say, “I don’t want to.” Or, conversely, “Because I like it.” 🙂

  5. The irony here is that, in the middle of drafting this post, I sliced up a grapefruit for lunch, and whipped up some grapefruit salt scrub with the zest. It’s like I CAN’T STOP MYSELF. Expect to see splashy headlines: DIY IS KILLING YOU!!! next week on Salon.

  6. 🙂 I often go through the same thing “Oh! Why do I do this to myself!” But I always get the answer back “Because I choose to, I looked at all the other options and don’t like them”. Sure, it’s more time consuming, it’s harder but it’s still better. Can relate to this though!

  7. freebirdsings

    I was all set to retire from cooking. Then I found I’ve become soy intolerant and almost all fast food has soy in it. So I am baking my own bread, biscuits, cookies and cakes right down to finding a recipe for bread to turn into stuffing croutons! I bought some fresh-ground peanut butter at our local store but it doesn’t have a good texture or taste. It’s pure dry roasted peanuts. Then my daughter bought me Smart Balance peanut butter and it tastes so familiar so I will be guilt free as I eat it on my homemade bread. I am NOT going to make EVERYTHING from scratch and certainly will not feel guilty either.

    I did make your ketchup as the “natural flavoring” in my Heinz must have some soy in it as it made me ill. Your ketchup works better for me than others I have tried. It’s got that familiar texture and flavor of my usual just as the Smart Balance peanut butter does so I will keep your recipe for ketchup in a safe spot! You don’t happen to have a recipe for Chicken Rice a Roni soy free do you? Just kidding – all the bouillon powers and cubes have soy at least that I have found. I just have to give up on some stuff.

    So, we all make choices about what we make from scratch and how far back to the farmer we want to go to call it our own. Sometimes its not worth making this because we want to make that. We aren’t 60’s housewives anymore and actually, I would think most people would be wowed by someone who can whip up their own peanut butter as most people don’t seem to do anything really homemade anymore. Unless slapping storebought peanut butter on storebought bread counts as homemade and it does to a degree.

  8. I love this post! I’ve felt so many of the things you’ve shared in this post so many times, especially the last paragraph. As for our household, we’ve been out for bread for 3 weeks because I haven’t had enough consecutive free hours to make more. I feel your pain.

  9. Oh this so hit a nerve, and you put it so eloquently as always. Do you guys do that thing where you try making something new, taste it, and then go, OH GOD, now I have to make this from now on too! Ironically though, PB is not one of my DIY things, but yogurt and bread are 🙂

    • Absolutely. There are many things on the list that I simply won’t buy anymore: pizza, for one. I can’t remember the last time I ordered take-out pizza: it’s invariably disappointing. And some things become so second-nature that it doesn’t even occur to you to *buy* it from somewhere. I mean: once upon a time, I bought frozen dinners from Trader Joe’s. Seeing them in there now, with a 1/4 pig and home-rendered lard, foraged berries and wild greens and last summer’s corn… it would be cognitive dissonance. 🙂

  10. I do the things that make me the happiest, and don’t feel guilty about the things I don’t want to make. The people in my life who “get it” don’t need any explanations, and those that don’t wouldn’t get it any way so I don’t bother. But even they appreciate it when I share 😉

  11. kelli heidtmann

    make as much peanut butter as you want, need, can…
    because it does taste better
    it’s made by you for you and the ones you love
    sure you can buy a jar of organic p.b or get it in the bulk section at your co-op and watch it being ground into your own jar that you remembered to bring and weight before filling to help save our planet from plastic waste
    but the stuff made with your own hands
    be it peanut butter or bread or pasta sauce or jam or cookies or meatloaf or kombucha or ice cream or whatever
    IT ALWAYS TASTES BETTER WHEN YOU MAKE IT YOURSELF!
    even when it doesn’t!?!
    it’s the attention paid to details
    it’s the time spent doing something VERY IMPORTANT
    it’s feeding yourself and the ones you love
    it’s one of the most important and overlooked and forgotten things in our lives
    go make some peanut butter

  12. Marisa

    I loved this post. I laughed out loud and nodded in agreement. And those voices!? Gah-they are here in the midwest too. So loud and relentless, yet so stingy with accomplishment reminders.

  13. EL

    What an interesting post. It puts into words a lot of what I feel, although I don’t have the guilt trip. I happen to garden because I like the way things taste from my garden. I have to admit that I don’t cook a lot of what I perceive as “fiddling” things (which of course differ from person to person) because I don’t have a lot of time, but I do try to cook and won’t buy frozen meals at all (although I do freeze my own). It’s interesting that the “voices” you write about from outside comment on these things — I notice that gardeners don’t tend to do this. It seems to be accepted that some people like to garden and some don’t. Some grow their own food and some just like flowers. In other words, it’s a personal decision. I wonder why we are so opinionated about food. . .

  14. Bea

    I love this. I used to only use homemade bread. It took me forever to make it, my oven is AWFUL!!!, and it never turned out how I wanted it. Now I buy my bread at the local bakery across from my work. It’s owned by a good friend of mine, so I get to support his business, and at the same time make my life less stressful, and get a product that I actually want to use. I used to feel so guilty that I didn’t make homemade bread anymore, but, life is too short. There are other things, like bbq sauce and peanut butter, that I am good at making, so I’d rather spend my time on those and buy bread at the bakery.

  15. Meli

    Too funny. I don’t tell people I cook or bake or garden or anything even slightly home-makey because they get all weird about it. I just do what I like – it’s not about anything but that.

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