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Post He Just Smiled, and Gave Me a Marmite Sandwich
Created by John Eipper on 03/06/13 7:54 AM

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He Just Smiled, and Gave Me a Marmite Sandwich (John Torok, USA, 03/06/13 7:54 am)

In response to John Eipper's pronouncement on Marmite (see Nigel Jones, 2 March), I am an American who can stomach Marmite and Vegemite, although I prefer the former. It is true that I spent my "impressionable age," though, in the UK.

JE comments: Exactly. I would never question John Torok's Americanness, but I'd bet a case of Marmite he spent the crucial years of 2 through 5 in the UK. That's when you develop your fundamental tastes for "comfort food."

So I'll qualify my original theory: "No American who grew up exclusively in the US of non-British or non-Australian parentage can stomach the Marmite/Vegemite duo."

We could draw a corollary with peanut butter. Non-Americans cannot stand it. Any European, Asian/Oceanian, or Latin American WAISer fond of peanut butter? I didn't think so--although I'd like to know if this is the case with Thailand and Peru, two nations with peanut-intensive national cuisines.

John Heelan is a Vegemite/Marmite aficionado.  It's time to re-publish his post of 1 May 2007.  I stand by my "soy sauce marmalade" description of Veg-Mar, but in the meantime I've developed something of a taste for Inca-Kola:


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  • Marmite and Vegemite (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/06/13 9:25 AM)
    Marmite/Vegemite is an industrial waste product (a byproduct of brewing), which some ingenious entrepreneur managed to market as a foodstuff. Prior to this marketing coup, breweries had to pay to have it taken away and disposed of. All I can say about it is--to each his own.

    Oh, I would add that children of Russian friends of mine studying in the UK very quickly developed a taste for it. Seems inexplicable to me.

    JE comments: We educators always explain the inexplicable with "it's culture!" (Granted, this won't work with scientific phenomena.)

    Eugenio Battaglia sends his thoughts on peanut butter. His post is next.

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    • Marmite/Vegemite and Peanut Butter (Robert McCabe, -France 03/07/13 3:18 AM)
      As a Minnesotan who grew up on peanut butter (Peter Pan a preference) in the 1930s and remains hooked, as a discoverer of Marmite and Vegemite during a long 1960s residence in Hong Kong, and now a Paris resident since the '70s exposed to Marmite, Skippy peanut butter (smooth and chunky) and even a fancier of French peanut butter (made in Strasbourg), I normally would claim all sorts of high recognition from the World Peanut Butter Community. As a PB Missionary, in Bavaria, back in the 1950s, I earned the huge gratitude of a German refugee family and their friends by smuggling to them peanut butter straight from the Garmisch PX.

      But I must confess there's a flaw in my resume. I much dislike peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. These, the staple food of hundreds of thousands of American lunchboxes, are an early sign of debilitation and definitely to be avoided.

      As for labeling innocent stuff like Marmite as an "industrial waste product," I feel Gospodin Sawyer is treading on marshy ground. I have an English son-in-law, born and bred on the product, whom I just might unleash. He is 6'4", a star soccer player and devoted father, whose only signs of ferocity occur when someone hides his Marmite.

      In response to John Torok (6 March):

      Selamat pagi! You might add Indonesia to your peanut-favoring cuisines. Their cabbage and peanut oil salad is great.

      I like (crave?) both peanut butter and Marmite/Vegemite, and (anent JE's definition) "grew up exclusively in the US, of non-British or Australian parentage, from the ages of zero to 23." I cannot believe I am alone.

      And one of the great world treats is a peanut butter and bacon sandwich, preferably toasted.

      To digress slightly: in my childhood I invented a peanut-butter, ham and mayonnaise sandwich, with plenty of potato chips in the middle. The chips, when the sandwich was crushed slightly in the hand, created a sort of cement that held the whole mess together.

      JE comments: Peanut butter, ham, potato chips and mayonnaise? Robert McCabe may have found the best illustration yet of American exceptionalism!  With all respect to Bob, the sandwich sounds pretty yucky.  I've never tried PB and bacon, but it looks good on paper.  Unless you're Muslim or Jewish, everything tastes better with bacon.

      I'm very happy to see my Marmite and peanut butter theories debunked. Next up, a note from Henry Levin. It seems there is at least one peanut butter fan from Catalunya.

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      • Peanut Butter in Siberia, and a Recipe from Elvis (Randy Black, USA 03/08/13 5:56 AM)

        In reply to Robert McCabe (7 March), peanut butter, Skippy-Chunky, was nearly always my favorite sandwich as a grade school brat. Later, I graduated to peanut butter and strawberry jelly, and never any other flavor of jelly to this day.

        Finally out of school in the late 1960s, rarely did a month pass that I did not make myself a late night peanut butter sandwich or take peanut butter and Ritz crackers snack to work.

        When I arrived in Omsk in January 1993 as a mid-40s stranger in a strange land, I did not find a single jar of peanut butter anywhere. When I asked, my newly found Russian pals and the store clerks looked at me like I was from Mars. I resigned myself to a year without it. For that matter, even bread was rationed throughout the entire year, as were sugar, salt, flour and other staples.

        By mid-April, winter was beginning to melt away in my little corner of Siberia.  It was a bright Saturday in the high 20s as I strolled the two miles to the sports center where I played indoor tennis. Two hours later, as I took a different way back to my dorm, I found a small food store that seemed to have some goods for sale instead of the usual mostly empty shelves.

        I stumbled into the store. Lo and behold, it looked like someone had knocked over a train car full of Peter Pan Peanut Butter! No one was buying it, however, due to the $3 per jar cost and perhaps due to their unfamiliarity with the product. Minimum wage that year was something like $9 per month (sic) and plenty of people were struggling to get by on such a small wage or a bit more. My graduate student-teaching assistant at the university earned $14 per month. Professors and visiting lecturers (me) earned the sterling sum of $21 per month in the winter of 1993 in Omsk.

        I dug into my backpack and came up with $3 in rubles, the old ones with Lenin's profile on them, and quickly purchased a jar. Three of my students saw me through the window, came in and asked what I was buying. I explained that it was the preferred lunchtime snack of nearly all American children.

        They seemed very interested, but were two dollars short. I chipped in another $3, they got their jar and stationed themselves on the park bench in front of the store while I picked out a few other items for my pantry.

        By the time I left the store, they'd nearly emptied the jar, one finger of peanut butter at a time. To them, it was an exotic dip, but without the crackers.

        They had literally gone through a 16oz. jar in about 15 minutes. "You're supposed to spread it on bread and make sandwich," I explained.

        "Mr. Black, the bakery will not have more bread until tomorrow morning and we didn't want to wait." Anything "the American" wanted seemed to be high on everyone's list.

        A week later, the word must have gotten around, because my second trip for more peanut butter was a wild goose chase. The shelves were once again mostly barren.

        By the way, the following is apparently the recipe for Elvis's favorite sandwich:


        2 slices white bread

        2 tablespoons butter

        1 small ripe banana

        2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter


        Place 2 pieces of white bread in the toaster on a light setting. Heat skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons butter. While the bread is toasting, in a small bowl, using a fork mash the ripe banana until it reaches a smooth consistency. Using a knife, take both pieces of the toasted bread and spread 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, topping 1 side with the mashed banana. Place 1 slice of bread on top of the other forming a sandwich. Place sandwich in hot skillet browning each side, flipping with a spatula, about 2 minutes per side. Take out of skillet, slice on a diagonal and serve on a plate.

        Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/elvis-presleys-fried-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

        JE comments:  Serve on a plate--ah, I insist on them!  This charming (and utterly convincing) billboard was visible in Brooklyn for many years.  I don't know if it's still there:

        Sorry for the digression, Randy, but thank you for the fried banana sandwich recipe.  It's a snack fit for The King!

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  • Peanut Butter (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/06/13 9:29 AM)
    I eat peanut butter from time to time, but it reminds me of the period immediately after WWII, when the UNRA in North Italy started to circulate peanut butter, egg powder, soup powder, etc.

    Such items were also sent to families from their Italian-American relatives. There is a joke (it may have been in an Italian movie or it may have been the truth): a family receives a package from Brooklyn with various things including peanut butter, egg powder and some gray powder with no message.

    The family very happily ate all it, including the gray powder which made a dull soup.  This was justified as a strange American taste. But a couple of days later, a letter arrived which explains that together with the food from Brooklyn, the ashes of a deceased uncle have been sent, as he wanted to be buried in his old hometown.

    My daughter, who considers herself American, of course eats peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies and all other possible American stuff.

    JE comments: A classic.  Poor Uncle Luigi may have tasted no worse than the peanut butter...

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    • A Food Joke from the Philippines (Bienvenido Macario, USA 03/07/13 3:56 AM)

      Eugenio Battaglia's anecdote (6 March) about the Italians who unknowingly eat their uncle's ashes reminds me of a Filipino joke about two showbiz personalities-turned-senators famous for murdering the English language.

      The two senators are in a contest:

      Question: "What do you call someone who eats nothing but vegetables?"

      Answer: "Vegetarian."

      Question: "What do you call those who eat only fruits?"

      Answer: "Fruitarian."

      Question: "What do you call those who also eat people?"

      Answer: "Humanitarian."

      Where I grew up in the Philippines, peanut butter was popular. I don't know if this is still the case, though.

      JE comments:  This gives the Humanities a whole new meaning!
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  • A Yes for Peanut Butter (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/06/13 12:54 PM)
    JE's statement: "...peanut butter. Non-Americans cannot stand it. Any European, Asian/Oceanian, or Latin American WAISer fond of peanut butter? I didn't think so..." (6 March), is absolutely false. I love peanut butter (chunky, with no emulsifiers, and I throw the oil away), and eat it quite often on toast with fresh fruits.

    When my children were younger, my wife would disguise the peanut butter and wheat germ with honey nut Cheerios for a most delicious combination. When I was growing up in Brazil, everyone I knew loved peanuts. It was common to make delicious "passoca" from grounded roasted peanuts, mixed with grounded roasted cassava (mandioca). Thus, I have enjoyed peanut butter all my life under Brazilian and American passports.

    JE comments: I'm always happy to be set straight on my sweeping cultural generalizations! But what about the "passoca" factor? Doesn't this mean that Brazilians are already accustomed to a peanut butter of sorts?

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    • Another "Aye" for Peanut Butter (Henry Levin, USA 03/07/13 3:41 AM)
      Pilar Soler, who has lived in Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and the US, adores peanut butter (without additives). Her brother, who lives in Venezuela, also loves it.

      JE comments: Henry Levin is referring to his charming wife Pilar, whom I had the chance to meet a year or so ago in Ann Arbor. The three of us enjoyed a Mexican (and peanut butter-free) lunch, but if I had only known Pilar's preferences...

      When Hank returns from his conference in Sweden, I hope he can ask his brother-in-law to comment on the transition in Venezuela. Perhaps, if the Chávez-era shortages come to an end, peanut butter will be more widely available.

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