This Month

THE allure of a salted peanut—even a salted peanut in prime condition — is something that many of us can muster enough will power to resist.

I doubt that the guests would sulk and whisper about the hostess if she did not offer peanuts. Poets and romantics have found no reason for hymning the peanut: the literature of the subject is nil; as an “appetizer or hors d’œuvre, the peanut is about the equivalent of a graham cracker— gah.

I realize that Smithfield ham is supposed to benefit from peanut vines, that peanut butter is the pillar of the American school lunch, that a vegetarian would rather sit down to a peanut pie than to squab turkey. But the average adult, sampling a pale manzanilla or a worthy whiskey or a suitable cocktail, can forgo the peanut without real hardship.

Let me break off to include in these misgivings the potato chip, the sunfast yellow popcorn, the woozies, cheezettes, krispados, funzies, whimzies, toasterinos, and kraxies. These proprietary substances are usually yellow,1 but we can only guess whether from the addition of egg products, corn, a non-fading but nameless cheese, or a non-poisonous vegetable dye. They all taste alike loo — a faint, flavor of light yellow; consistency: chalk.

I have recently encountered still another foodstuff intended for cocktail use: a kind of imitation bacon in appearance, deflavored artfully of all but a whiff of salt, and tending to dissolve and vanish immediately on being chewed, like the spun sugar once sold in gigantic paper cones in amusement parks. It comes in a can, and thus its nothingness is kept absolutely fresh right up to the moment of serving.

There may be people who wouldn’t take a drink without chewing one or another of these delicacies to powder at the same time. I do not seek to abridge their privilege.

What I do suggest to all hostesses of the krispy-krunchy persuasion is that they throw the leftovers away. That’s where the trouble lies —the leftovers. The facts: —

Helen Y, housewife, gives a small cocktail party, with peanuts and other appetizers from the handy, convenient, easy-to-serve, no-fuss-and-bother tin containers on her shelf. For the same outlay she could serve a big slab of sharp, unpasteurized, aged New York cheese and a plate of saltines and let the guests help themselves, but no matter. Helen is a peanut and toasterino girl. She dresses up her bowls of peanuts by scattering a few cashews and pecans on top, simulating what the nut stores call the Luxury Assortment.

There are never any leftovers of cashews and pecans, so this addition does not complicate the problem of leftovers. (Some guests will burrow through bowl after bowl of the Luxury Assortment in their search for that last cashew.)

After the party, Helen finds she still possesses one pound of peanuts and one peck of toasterinos. Instead of throwing them away, she puts them back in their tins.

Two weeks later, Helen gives another party. Aware that the appetizers are staler, by two weeks, than they were, she conscientiously gives them a turn in the oven. This, she believes, will freshen them up. In truth, the oven merely seals in and reaffirms the staleness. Helen now adds an equal amount of fresh peanuts and toasterinos bought that very day, plus the display cashews and pecans.

Again the guests, the drinks, the borrowings for the souvenir cashew. Again the leftovers.

By the time Helen gives her third party, her appetizers comprise vintage materials as follows: one fourth of the offering is four weeks old and has been reheated twice, one fourth is two weeks old and has been reheated once, and one half is in putative cornerstore-fresh condition.

From this point on, several variables in Helen’s mixture (the diminishing remnants of the first, the second and successive batches of peanuts and toasterinos) are approaching a constant— zero. But like the grasshopper that never gets across the bridge, or the train that is unable, mathematically, to enter the station, the original and early ingredients will dwindle along in Helen’s bowls without ever actually reaching extinction.

Years later, some guest will munch all unsuspecting an elderly peanut that has survived, phoenix-like, countless refreshenings in Helen’s oven. It will taste like a pellet of plaster of Paris flavored with Copenhagen snuff, and so will many of its near neighbors in Helen’s Luxury Assortment. The less said about vintage toasterinos the better, but like the peanut’s, their distinctive bouquet will dominate whttlever the company happens to be drinking.

And now a final word on the potato chip. Avocado, put through a sieve and enlivened with lemon juice and garlic, is a perfectly good “spread" for an appetizer. But the potato chip — aside from all the ills mentioned above—is structurally too frail a scoop for the avocado mixture. It breaks off, leaving the guest with an end fragment, no avocado, and a sense of frustration. A butter spreader and saltines would be a bet ter scheme.

Helen Y, I am happy to report, has stopped saving old nuts, chips, and crackers masquerading as something else. The last time I saw her she was scoring heavily with a terrific novelty of her own invention: a couple of loaves of rye bread; a bowl of unsalted butter; a platter of sliced corned beef; a bowl of chopped onions.

The guests were allowed to combine these items as they saw fit in what is called a “sandwich.” One of the more brilliant small parties of the winter season, people say.

  1. These things seem to be available also in pink, green, blue, and other colors.