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.

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    20 Responses

    1. Simone says:

      It is interesting to me to hear that most people do not eat peanut butter on pancakes. I do and I have taught my children to as well. The other odd combination at my house is scrambled eggs with ketchup. These will no doubt remind my children of me later in life, I’m sure. 🙂

    2. Laura says:

      Did we grow up in the same family?

    3. betty says:

      Wait, other people don’t do this?

      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

      It is official Otis, we are twins separated at birth but with different parents who had the same eating habits. Kindred.

    4. Trish says:

      My meatloaf sandwiches on white bread are with mayo.

      I have seen many people put salt on watermelon and have heard of the pepper on cantaloupe.

      I put ranch or blue cheese dressing with the pepper on my avocado, or goat cheese or feta

      My weird foods are molasses on cottage cheese and mayo on cold cornbread dressing as a finger food and of course peanut butter and bannana sandwiches or just dipping a bannana in peanut butter.

    5. Trish says:

      I forgot also, my grandfather would put canned peaches on plain pasta.

    6. Shelly Cruzan Mascher says:

      Some of those aren’t so weird… I do the peanut butter pancake thing and the salt on the watermelon thing as well as ketchup on my chili. The worst thing I have ever seen… My mom and I were out to eat breakfast with one of her boyfriends back in the day. He put ketchup on his pancakes. EW!!!

    7. Shelly Cruzan Mascher says:

      Oh I forgot to mention… have you ever tried peanut and syrup? It is delish!

    8. trodoss says:

      Well, your peanut butter pancakes are safe from me 😉 Food allergies.

      I have managed to thusfar survive, with my own culinary eccentricities. Not many other people I know salt their coffee.

    9. Astin says:

      I still put ketchup in mom’s chili. Not my own, as I make sure mine is already extra-tomatoey.

      Mom also made a soup I didn’t like much, until I added ketchup, tabasco, and pepper… then it became a favourite.

      But the one that always gets people, and that I will do until the day I die – dill pickles with honey. Not always, but a combination that’s lasted at least 3 generations now.

    10. Special K says:

      Yellow mustard on grilled cheese sandwichs. Yum.

      Mayo and banana slices on white bread seems to be a southern thing. I’ve never had the guts to try that one.

    11. Every day for lunch at school I ate mustard & ketchup sandwiches. Nothing else, just condiments. I still salt my watermelon and salt & pepper my cantaloupe. Love it!

    12. Martin says:

      Lesee: Mashed potato on white bread with gravy. Rice krispies with
      half and half instead of milk. Olives rolled in walnuts and cream cheese.
      And peanut butter on apples.

    13. MGM says:

      My childhood memories are less about what I ate and more about what my dad ate–when my mom was working the overnight shift as a Registered Nurse. Those nights, Dad was left to feed us the evening meal. Funny that I don’t remember eating these things that I remember him eating…must have blocked it out because it was traumatic or something. Here are a few things I remember HIM eating (but which I do NOT remember eating myself):

      Spam sandwiches with ketchup

      Schwann’s breaded pork fritters, fried in vegetable oil on a bun with
      tabasco sauce

      Campbell’s condensed soup–straight out the can

      Cold Pork ‘n Beans straight out of the can

      …and I also salt my watermelon…and my boiled eggs, and my avocados, and my chili, and my cantaloupe, and my meatloaf, and my tomatoes. Hmmmm…I’m seeing a theme here.

    14. StB says:

      I find it amusing that I don’t think any of it is strange with the exception of kethcup in the chili. That is blasphemous!

    15. Skip says:

      Amigos, there are few thing in life that are not improved by adding peanut butter. (or bacon, for that matter) For me, it goes on (obviously pancakes, waffles and french toast), but apple or banana slices, carrots, chocolate bars, into protein shakes, on BLT’s and (insert gagging sound) balogna sandwiches with mayo. Apologies, but again, I blame my parents, too. 🙂

    16. Poker Shrink says:

      My brother and I will sometimes do a dual recitation of what passed for the menu in our childhood kitchen. People always look at us strangely for several hours after that and always seem to remember the creamed bologna on mashed potatoes.

    17. Murph says:

      The cold meatloaf sandwich with spicy BROWN mustard and salt is one of my favorites. Try it if you have any meatloaf remaining!

      Goodies from my youth:
      A gob of peanut butter with King syrup poured over it.
      A slice of Longhorn cheese diped in King syrup.
      King syrup on Lima beans.
      King syrup in bean soup.
      And my mother eats peanut butter and banana sandwiches with Miracle Whip.

    18. gatorphish says:

      Ditto on the salted watermelon, and meatloaf sandwiches except with ketchup or mayo.
      Both parents grew up on farms in the Midwest, and from my Dad I get these special treats (that are actually tasty).

      Peanut Butter and Pickle sandwich (gotta use the bread & Butter sweet pickles)
      Peanut Butter, mayo, and lettuce sandwich.

    19. April says:

      When you mention salt on watermelon, My mind takes a trip back to my childhood where there were about 6 salt shakers in the cabinet for this purpose only. The watermelon would be thrown into the swimming pool for the day to “chill” in the cold water. Afterward, it would be fished out and cut in FOURTHS. Everyone got a fourth of a watermelon in a 13 X 9 pan, a butternife, and their own personal salt shaker. To us, it wasn’t just a fruity snack. It was religion. And oh yeah, that full, swishy stomach you get when you’re done? We termed it wallabelly. Good times…

    20. Kevin says:

      I realize that this post is OLD, but I just stumbled across it. I wonder if there is some sort of regional influence at work here, because all of the things you mentioned (except the avocados – which we never ate – and tomato slices – which we ate with salt) were common around our house. I notice that several of the previous commenters also saw the entire list as normal. There must be a common influence.