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PostPeanut Butter in Siberia, and a Recipe from Elvis (Randy Black, USA, 03/08/13 6:08 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.
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!