This year marks the 100th birthday of a guy most of us know and some of us love — Mr. Peanut. Although only 1.48 ounces at a height of 2.87 inches, he is a giant among men in the peanut world.
Celebrations will abound, including a spot on the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame.
Home for Mr. Peanut is Suffolk, Virginia, although he does spend a lot of time on the road.
This guy comes from a large family. He is a legume, after all.
Peanuts belong to the plant clan, Leguminosae. According to the dictionary, legumes are “edible seeds enclosed in pods.” This group of plants provide the best source of concentrated protein in the plant realm. Physically, they resemble many other legumes, but their place in our diets and gastronomy corresponds more with familiar varieties of nuts. Unlike nuts that grow on trees, peanuts actually grow underground.
Mr. Peanut was born in 1916 when then-14-year-old Virginia student Antonio Gentile created him as the winning entry in a Planters sponsored mascot contest. Antonio won $5.
Known for his “nutty achievements,” Mr. Peanut was given his top hat, cane and monocle by an ad agency wanting to give him a more cosmopolitan flare.
Sean Marks, vice president of marketing at Planters, shares that “Mr. Peanut’s continued popularity is a testament to America’s love of Planters nuts. Mr. Peanuts 100th birthday will pay homage to his lifetime.”
I had no idea that Mr. Peanut’s real name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe. I must say his name befits his gentlemanly image.
Some little-known fun facts about Mr. Peanut are:
His recorded first billboard was in Time Square in 1937. His first television commercial aired in the 1950s. In 1997, he made his first appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. He actually has a national fan club called “Peanut Pals.”
According to Planters, peanuts and peanut butter are the most popular nut choice in the U.S. at 67 percent of all nuts eaten.
The same cannot be said for the Italians. Peanuts are most often enjoyed as a light bar snack. That’s about it. If you mention peanut butter to an Italian, most will let you know that it is their understanding that this food product is one of the worst junk foods produced in the U.S.
As part of my “Let’s Go Cook Italian” experiences, we do participate in food discovery exchange with my associates throughout Italy. I’ve even gone so far as to host a peanut butter-tasting party with a group of locals aged 4 to 80 years. The results, once the fear of taking a taste had passed, was thumbs up. There was one participant who decided she could not risk even one bite of this strange concoction.
Moms within this group were surprised to learn that a serving of creamy Skippy is lower in sugar and higher in proteins than their go-to, Nutella.
Knowing this now, it won’t surprise you that classic old-school Italian recipes with peanuts as an ingredient are few and far between.
A friend shared this savory sweet cookie recipe with me. It’s been in her Sicilian family for almost 100 years.
I’m a huge fan of creating fun recipes using peanut butter. Below are a couple personal favorites, often prepared for guests of my former B&B.
Italian Peanut Cookie
(Biscotto di Arachidi Italiano)
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
11/2 tsp. baking powder
zest one medium orange
1 cup dark corn syrup or honey
2 cups dry roasted peanuts, chopped
Powdered sugar for dusting
Cover cookie sheet with parchment. Scatter peanuts evenly. Roast peanuts in 350-degree oven 10 minutes. Cool Coarse chop in food processor.
Combine dry ingredients.
Add orange zest, molasses and peanuts to dry ingredients. Mix well by hand.
Divide dough in half. Wet hands with water and shape each half into a log 12 inches long. Place on parchment paper on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 18 to 20 minutes.
Cool slightly. Turn off oven.
Slice logs diagonally as you would for classic biscotti. Make slices one-half inch wide.
Return cookies to the warm oven for about 5 minutes. Cool. Dust with powdered sugar.
Makes 4 dozen cookies
Peanut Butter Salad Dressing
1/2 cup Cider vinegar
8 heaping Tbsp. creamy peanut butter
6 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (mild to medium flavor)
2 Tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Whip together with electric hand whip or whisk briskly until well blended.
Cover and chill in refrigerator minimum 6 hours before serving. I store in Mason jar.
When ready to serve allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Shake or stir well each time before serving.
Thai Dipping Sauce
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup firm packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. chili oil
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. warm water
(If you can find the Sesame/Chili oil combined it’s great. Adjust recipe to use 1 1/2 tsp. and omit Sesame and Chili oils.
On low heat, melt sugar with soy and vinegar until sugar is no longer grainy. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Take off heat and cool. It can be refrigerated or kept at room temperature.
If kept refrigerated, remove and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.
Great for dipping fresh veggies or brush onto to cooked chicken skewers as a simple Satay.
Peanut Butter Cup Bread
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup creamy Skippy peanut butter
1/2 cup Karo corn syrup (light)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbs. cocoa powder
Combine first 5 dry ingredients. Set aside.
Heavily spray 2 standard loaf pans. In large bowl, beat peanut butter, syrup and eggs with mixer at medium speed. Add vanilla to milk.
Alternately add flour mixture and milk to peanut butter mixture. Mix on low speed just until moistened.
Set aside 1/4 of the batter. Add cocoa powder and mix until blended.
Pour remaining batter into loaf pans.
Place spoonfuls of cocoa batter onto batter in loaf pans. Using a butter knife, swirl cocoa batter into the peanut butter batter for a marbled look.
Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of loaf comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes and then invert pan to remove loaves. Continue to cool on rack.
Slice and serve for breakfast, snacks or dessert.
Mangia Bene and Buon Compleanno, Mr. Peanut.