The Quest for Peanut Butter
Perhaps you thought that I would print a recipe for peanut butter here. The title is rather deceptive. Actually, I’m going to relate an ongoing experience I’ve had here in Russia, which will be difficult for people other than American expats to relate to.
The constant search for peanut butter consumes a disproportionate share of an expat’s time here in Russia. I’m sure that in Moscow, it’s quite possible to find American style peanut butter without any problems; but I’m not in Moscow, and it’s a long way to travel to buy this.
Whenever I meet up with another American here in Chelyabinsk, within minutes, the conversation invariably turns to the “quest” for peanut butter. Popular is the person who can direct this other American toward a place to buy this uniquely American taste treat.
When you live in the States you really don’t need to give this subject any of your valuable time, but if you look in your cabinets, it’s likely that you will find a jar or two. When you want more; you needn’t make trips all over the city to find it. You merely put it on the shopping list for the next time you need food.
Here in Russia there is a product that would be translated as “peanut butter”, but it’s not the same at all. I’m not trying to disparage this product that Russian children may also crave, but the only similarity to American peanut butter is the translated name.
Whether you prefer “creamy”, “chunky”, “extra chunky”, “natural”, “low sodium” or whatever, you never realize how much we Americans love this stuff until you are separated from it. Believe me; when you are making a list of things to bring to Russia for the first time, peanut butter will not be on that list, but the next year when you travel back to the States for a visit, you’ll be calculating how many jumbo jars you’ll be able to fit within your baggage allowance.
When you return to Russia with your prized jars, at first you swear that you will really use it sparingly, no more than a tan stain on your bread in order to make it last. But, before you know it you are pounding it down with a tablespoon, and to hell with milk to go with it; this might dilute the taste. What you thought you could nurse for the next year, is gone in less than two months.
Another thing; if your spouse or roommate here is Russian, do your best to convince them that it tastes awful. Perhaps mixing a teaspoon of salt with the sample spoonful of peanut butter that they ask for will also accomplish this on its own. You see, I wasn’t thinking and let my wife try it without adding anything to destroy the taste, and she also developed a taste for it. So now I’m resigned to spending twice the time on the unrewarding search. Actually, I’m happy she likes it, this way I’m able to use up her baggage allowance with jumbo jars also. Due to not so frequent trips to the States and also miserly baggage allowances, I’ve had to resort to desperate measures in order to obtain even 30% of my peanut butter requirements. Not long ago, an acquaintance of ours told us how her son had been hit by a car while riding his bicycle in America and how the proposed insurance settlement would not even cover his hospital bills. I interceded on his behalf and was able to have the settlement increased substantially. My charge for this? Several jars of peanut butter payable on his return.
Here in Chelyabinsk I am able to find it in a few locations. This is imported peanut butter, but from somewhere in Europe. European cuisine is known as wonderful, but they don’t know crap about making peanut butter. In a pinch it will do though, when you are really desperate you will pay the $5 for the microscopic jars that it comes in; not much bigger than a baby food jar. It’s not quite as good as the worst generic brand in the States, but still worlds better than the local variety.
Recently a Metro brand supermarket opened here in Chelyabinsk, and I’m told that they carry large jars of American style peanut butter. The problem is that you have to belong to a member organization to shop there. I’m thinking about setting up a shell company to accomplish this task. Actually, I know people who are members and I should just ask them to pick some up for me, but part of me enjoys the search I suppose, and then I’ll need to find something else to occupy my free time. Besides, if I did go there and find that this was just a cruel rumor, I don’t know if I could handle it emotionally.