Chock Full of Nuts

I have learned so much about the making of peanut butter in 3 short days. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to take a tour of one of the nation’s automated food processing plants, you are missing out. This is the fourth such facility I have been able to walk through and it’s really quite amazing. I know you are probably shuddering and thinking “you have no idea what could fall into an industrial food system” etc. But they really are incredibly resourceful and clever in making sure the food is sterile, safe, tested and pure.

The first place I got to tour was the Sara Lee Bakery where my mother was in charge of a line that baked bread. Baking is one of my favorite hobbies and I am good at it. I actually credit the “A” I got in chemistry in High School to the skills I grew up learning in the kitchen baking homemade bread, cookies and cakes. I was impressed with the industrial sized mixers, enormous proofing boxes and the automatic flow of bread through the ovens.

The next tour I went on was of a frozen dough bakery. They baked all kinds of gourmet bread and roll dough for grocery stores and sub shops. The stores and shops would thaw, raise and bake the bread “fresh” at the location. The most interesting part of that pristine environment was the chilly temperature so many people had to work in. Brrr!

My favorite was Kraft/Nabisco where I got to have a hot Chips Ahoy cookie right off the line as it crisscrossed a huge cooling room. Mom had to try all their stuff right off the line, poor thing. Oreos, Triscuits, Wheat Thins. I also really enjoyed the scent of the chocolate room where they stored all the chips and bits they use for all their special recipes. It was a huge and amazing facility.

Where I am right now is nothing like that. It’s relatively small. So far I’ve spent a couple of days with the Roaster who has a pretty complicated job. It’s kind of like roasting coffee beans. You have to take the raw peanuts and roast them to the perfect color to make the perfect consistency and color peanut butter. The Roaster operates a somewhat complicated series of ovens powered by gas that he monitors and times. He adjusts the ovens as needed to meet his target. The roasting process takes about 35 minutes per batch and then he can test the color using a high tech scanning device called a colorimeter. He takes a sample of peanuts, grinds it into peanut butter paste and the scans it with the colorimeter and it spits out a number. The number has to be within the guidelines on the specifications sheet provided by the company ordering the peanut butter. His job is to make it a few numbers above the target because as the peanuts get completely processed the color will lighten slightly. That’s because peanut butter has a few additives like salt, sugar and dextrose to stabilize it and these things make it lighten.   Today I worked with the man who is in charge of those additives and the machinery that dispenses it. I find it fascinating. Organic natural peanut butter has no additives, it’s just the nuts! I had to skip the grinder who comes between roasting and additives because he was out but I am supposed to get him tomorrow.

I moved ahead and worked with the Jar Scrambler in the afternoon. Jar Scrambler? What the heck is that?! It’s a funny machine that you dump empty, sterile plastic peanut butter jars into and it spins them around, blows air into them and sets them right side up into a line of straight up ready to be filled empty jars in a line. Fun to watch. American ingenuity at work.

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 22nd birthday, which she no longer celebrates due to her religion, but hey I still celebrate it. It was a very important day in my life. I met someone who changed my world forever and instantly became the center of it. So I always celebrate it, even if I can’t share it with her.

In my book news, there is a major re-write in progress! I am very excited by the direction it’s taking. I can’t wait until it’s ready to share and I can check it off my to do list. I think I might make that mid September target date after all!

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