Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peanut Wafers and a History of Peanut Butter

Peanut Wafers

About Peanuts and Peanut Butter
Peanuts are a native American product, originating in South America in Peru and Brazil, and were known as far back as possibly 3500 BC. The peanut was brought from Brazil to West Africa by the Portuguese. The Spanish took peanuts west across the Pacific from Peru and introduced them to the Far East.[i] Of course, the ancient Mesoamericans were the first to eat peanuts (proved by archaeological shell evidence); however, there is no documentation explaining how they ate them. 

African slaves introduced peanuts to North America (particularly Virginia) by the 18th century. In the early days, peanuts were originally roasted and eaten as a snack food, and all production was done on a small scale. Roasted peanuts were popular particularly at the circus, theater, or ball games.[ii]

By the 19th century, health and vegetarian movements emerged and promoted the healthful benefits of a variety of nut butters, including peanut butter. The first person to patent peanut butter was Marcellus Gilmore Edson in 1884.[iii] In 1895, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (yes, of Kellogg’s cereal) patented “A Process of Preparing Nut Meal”, and he and his wife, Etta, published a version of peanut butter in 1895. Here is that recipe:

Peanut Butter
Mrs. Ella Eaton Kellogg, Science in the Kitchen. [Modern Medicine Publishing Co.: Battle Creek, MI], 1895.

A nut butter mill is desirable for the preparation of the nut butter at home. If one designed for the purpose is not obtainable, a coffee or hand wheat mill may be used. Blanch the nuts, but do not roast and grind. The meal thus prepared may be cooked by putting it (dry) in the inner cup of a double boiler and cooking as directed for grains, eight or ten hours. As it is required for use, add water to make of the desired consistency, and cook again for a few minutes, just long enough to bring out the essential oil of the nuts. Water may be added as soon as the nuts are ground, and the mixture placed in a covered pot and baked from eight to ten hours in a moderate oven, if preferred.[iv]
By 1901, the first recipe for peanut butter and jelly was published[v], and in 1904 peanut butter was popularized at the St. Louis World’s Fair. In the early 20th century, Dr. George Washington Carver also popularized peanuts when he promoted their cultivation and how to use them in recipes in his efforts to revitalize the economy of the South when the cotton crop started to fail there at the hands of the boll weevil.[vi] 

While peanut butter became more popular in the 20th century, there were issues with its stability as the natural oils would separate and could become rancid. In the 20th century, technological advances and the commercialization of food production and distribution made it possible for mass produced peanut butter to be in every home in America. Also, machinery and technology made it possible to make a more consistent product that would not spoil, and sugar was added to make it more appealing. Big business such as Beech-Nut and Heinz, could also afford huge advertising campaigns to promote peanut butter, and they were subsequently the most popular peanut butter manufacturers early in the 20th century.[vii]

A New Development
Skippy Peanut Butter was created in 1922 , the first company to use a new method whereby unsaturated fats were turned into saturated fats by hydrogenating them. In other words, now the liquid oil was transformed into a solid fat so that it would no longer float on the top of the butter. Therefore, a more consistent, solid product was developed.[viii] We now know this is not a healthy form of oil, but this type of peanut butter dominated the 20th century market and made it one of the most popular household food items of its time.

The Recipe: Peanut Wafers
Source: Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book by Sarah Tyson Rorer, Philadephia: 1902:

Mrs. Rorer's New Cook Book, 1902

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield:  Makes about 90 wafers.


  • 1/2 Cup Raw Peanuts or Prepared Peanut Meal (if you can get it; I found a good peanut meal at the local Amish market)
  • ½ Cup Organic Peanut Butter (the type where the oil settles on the top, but mix it together very well)
  • ½ Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • ½ Cup Warm Water
  • 1 ½ Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 3 Cups of White Whole Wheat Flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place the raw peanuts in the oven for 5-10 minutes to release their oils Remove from the oven and remove their skins, if necessary. Grind the peanuts in a food processor.
  3. Mix together the peanut meal and the peanut butter.  Add the sugar. It is easiest to incorporate the sugar using your hands.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the baking soda and warm water.  Add this to the peanut mixture. Then, work in about 2 ½ cups of the flour until you have a firm but pliable dough. 
  5. Using the remainder ½ cup of the flour, roll the dough out into a thin sheet.  Cut into 2-inch squares, or use a cookie cutter of your choice.  Bake for 15 minutes. The wafers will crisp as they cool. 

Mixing Peanut Meal and Peanut Butter

Use Your Hands to Mix Sugar Into the Peanut Mixture

Wafer Squares Ready for the Oven


[i] Sophie D. Coe, America’s First Cuisines. Texas:  1994. p. 34
[ii] Ken Albala. Food: A Cultural Culinary History, The Great Course.
[iv] The Food Timeline,
[v] Albala.
[vii] Albala.
[viii] Albala.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.