A Jar of Possibilities

My dad only ate one thing for breakfast when I was growing up. This meal was what got him up in the morning, what fueled him for long days in the office, and what gave him the mix of nutrients he needed to stay energized. It was derived from the humblest and simplest ingredients. It was at once appealing to adults and a childhood classic. It “stuck to the ribs,” as he would say. It was… peanut butter on toast. 

This minimalist breakfast was part of a long line of items and preferences that solidified my dad’s status as a creature of habit when it came to food. He liked his specific brand of Arnold whole wheat bread and his Teddie Unsalted Super Chunky peanut butter, the former toasted until crispy and the latter slathered on to perfection. No frills, just carbs and protein. My impressionable young mind thought that this was what the perfect meal should always be: centered around ingredients you could rely on, day after day, year after year. 

And rely on peanut butter, I did. While two of my cousins had nut allergies from a young age, I balked at the idea of replacing peanut butter with sunflower butter. I teased them for sitting at the allergen-free table at lunchtime during the school year. I shuddered at the thought of what a hollow existence it would be without the magic of pumpkin-shaped Reese’s peanut butter cups at Halloween or the delight of peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Uncrustables, frozen in the summer and microwaved in the winter, formed the cornerstone of my diet. I still remember the power I felt when my friends looked enviously on as I pulled not one, but two of the circular sandwiches from my lunchbox. 

Much to my dad’s dismay, my tastes veered toward sugar-centric items. But my palate matured over time. The Teddie peanut butter that seemed devoid of flavor compared to the sweeter Jif or Smucker’s now appealed to me for its natural, more subdued taste. I loved the combination of peanuts with a pinch of salt. As I began to prepare my own meals at school and at home, the blank canvas of peanut butter opened the door to a wide range of possibilities. This basic ingredient became the foundation of anything sweet or savory. I could put it on trusty toast or oatmeal, blend it into smoothies or sauces, spread it on apples or bananas, or mix it into quick breads, muffins, or cookies. It added the perfect touch of warmth, savoriness, and nuttiness to any dish. Peanut butter could be bold and overpowering, or smooth and subtle. 

Without at least two jars of this beloved spread in my pantry, I felt lost. Something was missing if the Teddie bear logo wasn’t peeking out at me from behind the brown rice. When my dad visited me during my semester abroad in Spain, I requested that our beloved Teddie be brought from the U.S. Spanish peanut butter just wasn’t the same. In an amusing repetition of history, the Spanish girls from my residence hall stared with wide eyes as I twisted open a fresh jar of good old Made-in-the-USA Teddie Super Chunky spread. The container even had a tiny image of the American flag on it. It tasted like home.

This special ingredient drew a line from my past to the present, from elementary school lunches to a simple snack in college. It didn’t always have to be the star of the plate for me to appreciate its flavor. I could always rely on it. Memories of it filled me with a sense of nostalgia and reminded me of how I had grown. Although I would never outgrow Reese’s, a jar or three of Teddie’s peanut butter would always be right there for the taking. Because without fail, it kept me going and stuck to my ribs.   

Cover photo courtesy of Eat This Not That


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