Deja Chew | Norfolk’s peanut butter cracker history + recipes


Item from my Virginiana culinary artifact collection

Peanuts have been part of the South American landscape for thousands of years, and, through a circuitous route made their way to North America via Africa principally through Spanish colonization some five-plus centuries ago.

And, although there is evidence that some civilizations, such as the Aztecs and Incas, were crushing the peanut to make a paste, what we think of as peanut butter didn’t come about until the late 19th century. A patten was given in 1994 for peanut butter, and breakfast cereal icon John Harvey Kellogg popularized it as a source of protein at health clinics for invalids.

But it was Bosman and Lohman, a peanut company in Norfolk, who first began manufacturing peanut butter commercial under the name Nut-Let around the turn of the 20th century.

At first, folks weren’t sure what to do with peanut butter, and many were skeptical to invest in purchasing a whole jar.

Enter Fred Phillips who, in 1908, decided to smear some peanut butter on a saltine cracker and top it with another, creating the first peanut butter sandwich.

“I put some of the butter between two crackers and gave a sandwich to each of the two bosses [at Bosman and Lohman,” Phillips said in a 1946 interview.

“They liked them and I told them the public would like them too if they were demonstrated. I was told to go ahead and see what I could do,” he said.

So he, along with four women, carried satchels filled with 16 sandwiches and a. Few jars of peanut butter, going door-to-door.

“We gave away the sandwiches and sold the butter. We did a good business,” said Phillips. “We demonstrated our product on the streets and in the store. We carried with us peanut vines showing just how the goobers grew.

“Our business grew so rapidly the National Biscuit Company decided to put the sandwich on the market and gave our firm an order for 30,000 pounds of peanut butter. It was the largest we ever received.”

Bosman and Lohman lasted until the 1920s, closing shop in 1924.

National Biscuit Company became known as Nabisco and is today part of Kraft Foods. The peanut butter sandwich, sold in a pack of six wrapped in a cellophane package, was colloquially known as Nabs, particularly in the South. They were often eaten as a quick meal, along with a Coca Cola.  In the 1970s/80s, Nabisco discontented the manufacturing, and Lance has become the best-known brand.

Want to make some fun takes on the classic peanut butter cracker sandwich? Here are some ideas:

+ Aloha

Vanilla wafters, peanut butter, chopped candied pineapple, coconut flakes

+ Fluffernutter

Graham crackers, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff


Saltine crackers, chunky peanut butter, raisins, dried cranberries,

+ Johnny Appleseed

Whole grain crackers, peanut butter, apple slice, cinnamon

+ Orient Express

Ginger snaps, peanut butter, orange marmelade

+ PBBB | Peanut Butter, Bacon + Banana

Ritz crackers, peanut butter, crumbled bacon, slice of banana

As seen on my Eats + Drinks segment on Coast Live on WTKR TV-13 on Feb. 26

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