Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peanut Butter: The Making of a Tall-tale

"Is this like how peanut butter was invented," my daughter asked this evening when I offered some crazy explanation to one of her questions?

My peanut butter invention story became a legend in our family this Christmas while we were home. I’d forgotten about the story. It was at least three and maybe four years ago when we were traveling some distance in the car that I made it up. My daughter was in the back, strapped in her car seat, chatting away. She had recently discovered peanut butter (we didn’t give her any until she was three to avoid any serious reactions). It quickly became her favorite food (and is her main source of protein to this day). She was asking me questions about peanut butter. How you make it and so forth. Then she asked me how it was invented. After having driven several hours, my mind needed a distraction so I told her a story.

"You see," I said, "a hundred years or so ago there was this engineer named George Washington Carver (I may have even gone into how he got his name) driving a large coal-fired hog on the Georgia Central, pulling freight on the Atlanta to Macon run. One day he spots some kids playing on the track up ahead. He pulls the whistle and they run, but they left something on the tracks. He engages the brake and the train comes to a squelching halt. Climbing out of the cab, after the steam dissipates, Engineer Carver looks under the wheels and notices a brown paste. Not knowing that it was, he wipes it on his finger and sniffs. It smells good, so he licks it and discovers peanut butter. "

I went on to tell about how he’d bring peanuts to work, place them on the rails outside the round house. Then, after he fired up his hog and drove it out onto the turntable, getting ready for a day’s work, he’d made enough peanut butter for him, his fireman and brakeman's sandwiches. It was the brakeman’s job to scrape up the peanut butter and spread it on slices of bread. They may have been more to the story, cause she kept asking questions and I kept making up answers." After the trip, I promptly forgot about it, but not her.

What’s amazing, this year at Christmas (several years after I told the story) my daughter tells her cousin (who is in college) the story. I’d forgotten all about it. She even remembered George Washington Carver’s name. Her cousin breaks up laughing, then has her telling everyone else in the family. And now, when she wonders if I’m pulling her leg, she asks, "Is this like how peanut butter was invented?"

And one more thing... I recently discovered that George Washington Carver was not the inventor of peanut butter, even though he did do a lot of work with peanuts. His being the father of peanut butter is a myth, but like Mark Twain supposedly said, you can't let truth get in the way of a good story.


  1. When I first read this, I thought you were blowing smoke. I mean, George Washington Carver is from my alma mater Iowa State University, and I always thought that he was the inventor of peanut butter along with about 300 other peanut products. So I did some research and learned that you were right. Dang. He does have the distinction of becoming the first black faculty member in Iowa. Ah... the good old days of sweating out my calculus classes the Carver building on campus named after him.

    I can't wait to tell my child stories like that one.

  2. Ahh, peanut butter.

    I can remember the episode of Mr. Rogers where he makes peanut butter in a sandwich bag like I saw it yesterday... I wonder if they'll ever offer his shows on dvd so my kids will have something worthwhile to watch...

    Oh yeah, and Hello, Michelle sent me.

  3. Ed, maybe when she's older, I'll enlighten her, but for now, I'm keeping Carver as the engineer on that train! Mo, Mr. Rogers was a favorite for her and me...

  4. great story!

    "is this like how peanut butter was invented?"

    heh, that's still making me laugh; you got a sharp, witty one on your hands, that's for sure.

  5. Very funny! I'm really upset to hear that GWC didn't invent PB. I'm going to just pretend I didn't hear that. lalalalalala.

    Michele sent me.

  6. Great story! :)

    Here via Michele's.

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  8. Loved the story. Kids are like she remembers lots more stories. BTW Nevada Jack is a hoot. Michele sent me today.

  9. That's an awesome story! Isn't it amazing what kids remember? Things I say come back to haunt me all the time... lol...
    Here via Michele's this time!

  10. Wonderful story Sage, and a great bond with you and your daughter.

  11. Great story; and personally I'm a sucker for any father/daughter story! Of course peanut butter is one of my five favorite banned foods