For almost ten years I've been on a quest, a slow and meandering one maybe, but a quest all the same, to go from a person who heats prepackaged foods to one who actually cooks (and bakes).
Along the way I've been surprised, embarrassingly often, at the foods that can be made at home, which I had assumed could only be made in factories. If you've never seen someone make mayonnaise for example, would you ever imagine that it's made from whisking together eggs and oil? Some foods' creation is as mystical as alchemy, until you see behind the curtain.
Jennifer Reese has a book out that touches on this issue of how foods are made, titled Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. There's a copy waiting for me at the library as I write this, so I can't say too much about it, other than that she discusses when making food at home is (and isn't) worth the time and effort.
I think most people would agree that food made with care in small batches at home is better than food that has undergone an automated process of washing, heating, extruding and packaging in a factory. Except sometimes, it isn't. Peanut butter cups come to mind. I don't know what Reeses does to theirs, but no recipe I've tried at home has ever come close. And so, when I saw Yvette van Boven's recipe for Homemade Peanut Butter I thought, what a great idea, but it won't taste like peanut butter. By which I meant, it won't taste like the processed, sweetened, velvety spread that I have eaten almost every day of my life and love.
Here's where you'd reasonably expect me to tell you how van Boven's recipe compared to my expectations, but I can't. When I got to Trader Joe's to buy the peanuts, I was confronted by eight shelves of nuts, all begging to be made into butter. There were pale gleaming macadamias, wrinkled, brain-like walnuts, satiny cashews, diet friendly almonds, and an array of seeds as well. In the end I brought home bags of hazelnuts and pecans.
Once I'd changed the nuts involved I felt free to make all sorts of adjustments, including the type of sweetener and the seasoning used. Based on the interview with van Boven that accompanies the recipe, I think she would approve.
At this point I was worried that my blender just didn't have what it takes to grind those nuts into creamy submission. Maybe there's a reason why you never see hazelnut or pecan butter. I decided to give it one more shot. I turned the mixer on and went downstairs to flip the laundry.
When I returned,
I had hazelnut, pecan butter with a hint of curry - I did mention I played with the seasonings, didn't I? I know the picture looks a little like pate, but it tastes wonderful. It's a little grainier than peanut butter, and I don't know if that's my choice of nuts or the fact that it's homemade, but it tastes so good that I keep stealing spoonfuls each time I walk through the kitchen.
Next time I'm thinking I'll add a little cocoa and see if I get something similar to Nutella. I wonder what using agave or molasses would do to the results. As you can see, it may be a while before I buy another jar of my beloved store butter.
If you'd like to try your hand at van Boven's homemade peanut butter, or create your own signature variation, the recipe (and interview) can be found in issue five of CraftSanity magazine (along with everything from chai apple pie, gardening in the snow to instructions for Tunisian crochet).
Normally I would just post my variant of the recipe, but I'm hoping you will buy the magazine (either in paper or reduced price pdf form) and support Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood as she turns her love of craft and journalism into a new business venture. For all the back story on the magazine visit Craftsanity.com where you can find a blog and the amazing CraftSanity podcast full of interviews with people making a life through craft. In fact, you can hear Jennifer interview van Boven in episode 126.
Now I think I left something I need in the kitchen. Yeah. On the counter near the nut butter...