A Nutty Dessert
Ruth reached down into the kitchen cabinet for the tin loaf pan, its scratched and darkened metal testifying to years of use. The loaf pan was just where it always was, right-hand side of the shelf, on top of the muffin tins and cookie sheets. As she pulled it out, she paused to massage her hip. Her doctor kept telling her she needed to have a hip replacement soon, but she was content to pop a few Advil and try to live with the pain a little longer.
Fortunately, she didn’t have to reach or stoop to gather the flour, sugar, and other staples she needed for baking. That set of brown Tupperware canisters was one of the best purchases she had ever made. The lids on those canisters still fit tight as a tick, just as sturdy as the day she bought them, and besides, they matched the rooster print of the kitchen wallpaper.
Walking slowly over to her small but tidy pantry, Ruth looked on the second shelf and pulled out a jar of Jippy Peanut Butter. Ruth had eaten nothing but Jippy since it first came out in the fifties. It was the only peanut butter her kids would eat, and the “kids” were almost senior citizens. Her son loved the Creamy, but her daughter wouldn’t eat anything but Extra Crunchy. Ruth kept jars of each on hand at all times, just in case the kids stopped by.
After she finished sifting and measuring her dry ingredients, she added the peanut butter, eggs, and milk. She greased the pan, poured the batter inside, sprinkled some chopped peanuts on top—after munching a few—and set the timer for one hour. Soon, the rich scent of hot peanuts filled the air.
Peanut butter had long been a staple in her home. Her late husband, Bill, had always had a tablespoon of peanut butter—the Creamy—on his toast each morning. Occasionally, Ruth joined him in that, but she preferred the Extra Crunchy. Over the years, she’d made just about every peanut butter dessert imaginable: peanut butter cookies, peanut butter bars, peanut butter balls at Christmas. Her chocolate peanut butter pie was always a big hit when she took it to the Senior Center’s monthly birthday parties.
That evening, Ruth’s neighbor Eloise was coming over for dessert and tea, so Ruth was baking a favorite treat, her Peanut Butter Tea Loaf.
Eloise, who was hard of hearing, loved it, but Ruth had had a devil of a time explaining why it was called a “tea” loaf.
“Is there tea in there?” Eloise had asked, hollering as if she thought Ruth was hard of hearing, too.
“No, no tea,” Ruth had said.
“I know it’s nutty. I said, is there tea in there?” Eloise had asked, louder.
Ruth had explained that a tea loaf was just a name and didn’t really mean that much. A true Anglophile, she knew that “tea loaf” usually referred to those English cakes made with dried fruits and served in slices with butter on them, but she didn’t have the patience to try to explain that to Eloise.
Once, Ruth had made the mistake of trying to watch one of her entertainment programs while Eloise was there.
“Who are all those gals?” Eloise had asked.
“They’re the Kardashians,” Ruth replied.
“Car dash what? That’s a funny name. And why do they all wear so much makeup?”
Ruth finally learned to keep the TV off when Eloise visited.
When the timer sounded, Ruth removed the tea loaf from the oven and let it rest in the pan on a wire rack for ten minutes. When Bill was still alive, he’d always gotten into the baked goods before they cooled, and she’d slapped his hands away many times. She smiled at the memory. If only Bill’s hands were there to reach for a fresh-out-of-the-oven dessert once more.
The rooster teakettle on the stovetop was starting to whistle, so Ruth went ahead and prepared her cup of tea. She liked a strong English Breakfast blend at any time of day, and Eloise didn’t have a preference one way or the other. She came for the gossip more than anything.
At seven o’clock, Ruth heard a knock at the door and knew it was her friend.
She looked through the peephole and saw some familiar gray hair. “Come in,” Ruth said. “Let’s just sit in the kitchen and have dessert.”
“You’re gonna miss your program with all those car dash women on it,” Eloise said. “You don’t mind?”
“Not a bit,” Ruth said.
She prepared Eloise’s tea and brought it to the table along with a pink glass plate bearing the sliced tea loaf.
“Is this that peanut butter thing I like?”
“It sure is,” Ruth said.
“It’s got tea in it, right?”
“No, no tea.”
“I know it’s nutty. You always say that, but I said does it have tea in it?”
“No, it does not have tea in it,” Ruth said, speaking each word loudly and clearly. Maybe she needed to rethink having Eloise over so often.
“I was kinda wantin’ to watch that entertainment program over here since my TV’s on the blink,” Eloise said. “Do you mind?”
Ruth shuffled back to the pantry and gathered two lightweight TV trays to set up in the den to hold their food. She turned on the TV just as a familiar young face appeared on the screen.
“Do you like that Molly Silas?” Eloise said. “I don’t much care for her.”
Ruth grinned. “I need a refill. How ’bout you?” Eloise, her eyes glued to the screen, nodded and handed over her teacup.
Ruth was still in the kitchen when Eloise called out, “Hey, did you hear about Bruce Jenner?”
“Give me strength, Lord,” Ruth said. And just for good measure, she reached in the can for a few peanuts before rejoining her friend. It was, after all, much better to eat nuts than to be nuts.