A lot of people have been taught that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter. That's not exactly true, though I'll get back to Mr. Carver in a minute, because he really was a peanut hero.
But before there was peanut butter, the peanut had a history of its own. And let's just get this over with: The peanut is not a nut; it's actually a legume that originated in South America. It arrived in North America by way of Africa. In this country, peanuts were originally called goobers, from the African word nguba.
Eventually, they took on the name peanuts and sometimes groundnuts, because they grow on bushes close to the ground.
Though there are many claims about the origins of peanut butter, we do know that as early as the 15th century, Africans and Chinese were grinding peanuts to a creamy texture for sauces and stews.
The peanut butter we enjoy today was pioneered in 1890 by Dr. Ambrose Straub. The St. Louis physician was trying to help his older patients whose bad teeth made it hard for them to chew meat. He patented a mill for grinding peanuts into butter and was able to persuade a food company to package it.
This company, Bayle Food Products, took its new product to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Thinking that they had enough of a supply to last for weeks, they sold peanut butter samples for a penny a piece (it cost almost a penny to make each sample). After three days they were completely out - and they made more than $700 in profit!
Peanut butter was a hit. By the 1920s, companies were jockeying to come up with the best product, and one of the newer innovations was to produce a stabilized peanut butter with a longer shelf life.
The E.K. Pond company was one of the first to do this, with a product that in 1928 was renamed Peter Pan. Joseph Rosenfeld, the entrepreneur who came up with shelf-stable peanut butter, became Captain Hook and had a dispute with Peter Pan. Being a crafty pirate, he started selling another peanut butter brand called Skippy.
All this brings us back to George Washington Carver. When the cotton crop was destroyed by the boil weevil, Carver, an African-American educator, scientist and botanist from Alabama's Tuskegee Institute, smartly convinced farmers that the peanut was the best replacement.
By 1903, he had hundreds of recipes using peanuts. He printed a paper in 1916 titled, "How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways to Prepare It for Human Consumption." It didn't have a pie recipe but included three killer recipes for peanut-butter cookies.
If it hadn't been for Carver's promotion of the peanut, Peter Pan and Skippy might never have seen the inside of a jar.
Georgia, I forget. Was your request for a pie?
Well, I'm glad you brought that up, because we have ancient Egyptian pie records . . .
OK, don't worry. I'm not going to get into the history of pie. But I hope you enjoy these peanut-butter pie recipes. You can thank Normandy Farm banquet chef John Smith (who makes his version whenever he goes camping and doesn't use refrigeration) and pastry chef Colleen Winston for the following recipes.
Translation? Don't blame me if you don't like them!
CHEF JOHN'S EASY NO-BAKE PEANUT-BUTTER PIE
1 9-inch graham-cracker pie shell
1 large package instant vanilla pudding
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 cups Cool Whip or whipped topping of your choice
Mix 1/2 cup peanut butter and the confectioners' sugar to get a crumbly, streusellike texture. Divide mixture in half and put half in the bottom of the pie shell. Mix pudding according to package directions but reduce milk by half a cup.
Stir the other 1/2 cup peanut butter into the pudding, mixing well. Pour into the pie shell on top of other mixture. Allow to set, then top with whipped topping and the remaining peanut butter/sugar streusel crumbs. Serves 8 to 10 people.
COLLEEN WINSTON'S PEANUT-BUTTER PIE
1 9-inch graham-cracker-crust shell
1/2 cup fudge sauce
1 cup chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
For the filling:
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
For the garnish:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup salted peanuts
Lightly toast the graham-cracker shell in a preheated, 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Let cool.
Lightly warm the fudge sauce and pour into the bottom of the pie shell. Sprinkle the chopped peanut-butter cups on top of the fudge sauce. Set aside.
In a bowl, whip the cream cheese, 1/2 cup of sugar and the peanut butter until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whip the 1/2 cup heavy cream until soft peaks form. Lightly fold the cream into the peanut-butter mixture until well blended. Pour into pie shell and smooth out until even.
Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight in the refrigerator.
The next day, whip the remaining cream and sugar into stiff peaks. Using a spatula or a piping bag, cover the top of the pie with the cream. Sprinkle the cream with the chopped salted peanuts. Allow to set for about 1 hour before serving. Serves 8 to 10 people.
Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Club, is the author of three cookbooks and hosts two nationally syndicated shows: "A Chef's Table," noon Saturdays on WHYY (91-FM); and "Flavors of America," 1 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 12, and 4:30 p.m. weekdays on CN8. He and his wife, writer Candace Hagan, will answer questions.