There is something quintessentially American about peanut butter. While people in other parts of the world eat it, nowhere is it devoured with the same gusto as in the United States, where peanut butter is ensconced in an estimated 85% of home kitchens. Who exactly invented peanut butter is unknown; the only person to make that claim was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the chief medical officer at the Sanatarium, the fashionable health retreat in Battle Creek, Michigan. Kellogg, a vegetarian who invented Corn Flakes, was seeking an alternative for “cows’ butter.” He thought puréed nutmeats might work, and in the early 1890s Kellogg experimented with processing nuts through steel rollers. He served the nut butters to his patients at the Sanatarium, who loved them. Remarkably, in less than a decade peanut butter would emerge from the province of extremist “health nuts” to become a mainstream American fad food.
America’s elite visited the Battle Creek Sanatarium to recover their health, and many fell in love with the foods served there—particularly peanut butter. It soon became a passion with health-food advocates nationwide, and newspapers and magazines quoted vegetarians extolling its virtues. A vegetarianism advocate, Ellen Goodell Smith, published the first recipe for a peanut butter sandwich in her Practical Cook and Text Book for General Use (1896).
Homemade peanut butter was initially ground in a mortar and pestle, but this required considerable effort. It was also made with a hand-cranked meat- or coffee-grinder, but these did not produce a smooth butter. Joseph Lambert, an employee at the Sanatarium, adapted a meat-grinder to make it more suitable for producing nut butters at home. He also invented or acquired the rights to other small appliances, all intended to simplify the making of nut butters. These included a stovetop nut roaster, a small blancher (to remove the skins from the nuts), and a hand grinder that cranked out a smooth, creamy product. In 1896, Lambert left the Sanatarium and set up his own company to manufacture and sell the equipment.