The peanut butter conundrum

I was in my mid-teens before I realized that most people did not put peanut butter on their pancakes. Or waffles. Or French toast.

This fact, mundane as it may seem, was eventually cause for some amount of embarrassment. Later in life, people would look at me as if I’d suggested putting red hots on caviar or a condom on a cucumber.

“Your family did some weird things with food,” my wife said today as I messed with some leftover sun sundried tomato meatloaf.

I stood there with the bottle of yellow mustard in my hand and thought back on one moment in food on her side of the family. It involved a potato salad that no doubt moonlighted as spackle. I held my tongue and squirted the mustard on the leftovers. While my wife didn’t have much room to talk, she was right.

I come from comfort foodies. My mom’s side of the family produced some fairly inspired and fantastic home cooking. Grandma and my mom could whip most home cooks like a cast iron skillet to the side of the head. To this day, much of my cooking foundation comes from the things I learned in those kitchens. What’s more, both of my parents come from relative poverty and–mostly my dad–developed some odd make-do-with-what-we’ve-got tastes.

I came away as a guy who can eat a $200 tasting menu one night and peanut butter pancakes the next morning.

It wasn’t just the peanut butter, although I’ve come to define many of my food eccentricities by the memory of smearing Peter Pan on the top of mom’s flapjacks. Here are a few other things that happened around our table that I’ve either never seen or seen in very few places:

  • Cold meatloaf, white bread, mustard sandwiches
  • Salt on watermelon
  • Black pepper on cantaloupe
  • Miracle Whip and back pepper in half an avocado
  • Country gravy on tomato slices
  • Ketchup as a condiment in chili
  • I’ve found it interesting which of the above I still find tasty. I gave up the peanut butter several years ago (preferring to actually taste the pancake). The only time ketchup ever enters my chili is if it is in my boy’s bowl and I’m trying to make it palatable for him. I eat avocado plain or in guacamole. I have never liked tomatoes. But the cold meatloaf, salted watermelon, and peppered cantaloupe, those are all still friendly reminders of what it was like to be a kid.

    My family ate well, no matter that we weren’t that well off when I was young. We sometimes ate weird, but we ate well. I was blessed with a couple of matriarchs with kitchen talent. That the family passed on some strange eating habits makes me appreciate it all even more.

    The way I see it, a family should have a tradition in food. I feel sorry for people who don’t look back on their childhood and remember what it was like to eat. Nearly every night I’m home, I sit around the dinner table with my family and we eat together. Every night at bedtime, I remind my kids that I was happy I got a chance to have dinner together.

    For what it’s worth, my kid puts regular butter on his pancakes.