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BEFORE the arrival of Europeans, there were no peanuts on the North American continent. And they were not a staple crop until George Washington Carver, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, promoted them as a replacement for the cotton crop destroyed by the boll weevil in the 1890s. By the end of the century peanut butter had been ``invented'' by a St. Louis doctor using his kitchen grinder. A short time later Dr. John Henry Kellogg, famous for his breakfast cereals, developed a peanut butter in Battle Creek, Mich.

In 1903 Ambrose W. Straub of St. Louis received a patent for a machine to make peanut butter; the general public got its first taste at the St. Louis World's Fair the following year.

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Today the US Food and Drug Administration has specific regulations concerning what peanut butter is -- and what it is not.

Any product labeled ``peanut butter'' must have at least 90 percent peanuts. It may contain only the following additives: salt, sugar, sucrose, dextrose, or hydrogenated fat or oil (used as an emulsifier to prevent the peanut oil from separating and rising to the top and to ensure its spreading easily without tearing bread). No artificial flavorings, artificial sweeteners, chemical preservatives, colorings, or animal fats are allowed.

Although government regulations are very clear about what goes into the peanut butter you buy, it is still very satisfying to make your own peanut butter at home in a blender or food processor. Here are the directions. Homemade Peanut Butter

Be sure blender container is completely dry. Empty 1 cup shelled roasted peanuts into container. Cover and blend on high speed 5 seconds. That's all it takes for ground peanuts for cookies, cakes, or toppings.

Add 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil. Cover and blend on high speed. After 10 seconds turn blender to low and blend about 60 seconds. If necessary, stop blender and stir mixture down from sides with a thin rubber spatula.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of peanuts, if desired, or to taste. One cup peanuts makes 3/4 cup (6 ounces) fresh peanut butter.

-- Phyllis Hanes

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