A peanut butter dream
Pic Picot is the author of Pic: Adventures in Sailing, Business and Love, published in 2021. He makes peanut butter.
The maker of one of New Zealand’s great hazelnut pastes on how his empire began
I bought two bags of raw peanuts, took them home, and tossed them on a baking sheet.
The warm and satisfying aroma of roasted peanuts brought me back to winter afternoons in Pakuranga. Mom was getting ready for a party. Alongside bowls of stuffed olives and grapefruit halves spiked with cheese and pineapple toothpicks were bowls of freshly roasted and salted peanuts.
When I decided my peanut platters were well roasted, I let them cool and tipped them into a blender. A dry, mealy ring formed around the bowl, as a thick brown mass built up on the blades, slowing the motor until the smell of hot plastic caused me to pull the plug from the wall.
I took a knife and cleaned what I could of the blades. I put a pea-sized piece in my mouth. It needed salt, but it was good – really good. I removed the floury substance from the side of the bowl and mixed it with the lump and a teaspoon of salt. When I turned the blender back on, the chunk was bigger, but it was definitely not peanut butter. I cleaned the blades once more and this time added a little olive oil.
Thick, creamy peanut butter swirled outward from the blades. I made a piece of toast, took a generous portion, and took a bite. It was definitely worth the food.
I filled a few jars with my peanut butter and gave it to Louis when he got home from school. The next day, when he brought a friend home, he offered his companion a piece of toast and peanut butter. His friend was very impressed and asked him if he could buy a jar of his own.
I figured I might be on to something, so I bought myself a pair of stainless steel baking sheets and a 10kg bag of blanched nuts from a local wholesaler and experimented with different roasts. After burning a few batches of nuts, I ended up with almost a dozen good jars. I loved the stuff, and I loved the idea that I was no longer dependent on these nasty manufacturers and their mindless meddling. My blender quickly died out, but a new one, sold on special with a six-month full replacement warranty, provided a succession of new, highly abusive machines. The seller seemed only too happy to replace them as needed.
The peanut butter made a great gift, and before long I was almost exhausted and thought of another batch. It was painful roasting nuts in my old oven. They needed constant flipping and the difference between roast and burnt could be as little as a minute. The blender situation also had to be taken into account, as did my nut supply.
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The owner of Nelson’s Bin Inn was extremely helpful. He had a benchtop peanut crusher in which his customers could crush nuts and fill their own jars. He found a used shredder in his franchisor’s warehouse and practically gave it to me. I tracked down the New Zealand agent for an Australian peanut company who was happy to quote any volume of nuts from a 25kg bag to an 18 ton container. I found a company in Wellington that sold new jars and lids, ranging from a carton of 12 to a pallet of 1200.
The roasting was the main problem. In my opinion, the key to even cooking a mass of small items had to be continuous movement – a kind of rotating roasting pan. I was surprised to find, in a world filled with every kitchen appliance imaginable, that there was no such product available for home use. I started looking at commercial material.
I found the sort of thing I was looking for in Westport. Abel Mixers Ltd was a small engineering company that had been manufacturing concrete mixers since 1964. They had developed a stainless steel model for the food industry, one version of which came with a gas burner under the tank. It had the capacity to roast 2 kg of dry produce per hour and had a price of around $ 7,000.
I set up the roaster in my garage, a basement room at the top of a steep driveway. One day, when I had finished my roasting for the week, I filled his bowl with water and a squirt of detergent, and I let the gas burn and the engine running to clean it well before cooking. take my last box of nuts upstairs. to make peanut butter.
I was happily patting a jar on the table to chase away any air pockets when the soothing rumble from below stopped. A sickening squealing noise was followed by a crash. I turned outside to see my brand new roaster, the flagship of my dreams, lying on its side in the middle of the road. A yellow extension cord, its plug torn from its socket, unnecessarily lengthened the reader. The roaster’s gas cylinder, scratched and dented, lay attached to the wreckage by its hose.
The road was blocked and a stranded motorist helped me turn off the gas and put the roaster back on its wheels. The bowl was dented and scratched, but its driveshaft and bearings looked unharmed when I checked it by the side of the road. I needed help pushing him to the garage, where he served the rest of his life without a license attached by a chain to a heavy workbench.
An excerpt from Pic: Adventures in sailing, business and love by Pic Picot ($ 29.95), available at bookstores (and Countdown supermarkets) nationwide.