For peanut butter or worse

Published 8:18 pm Monday, October 8, 2018

The 16 contestants raced against both the clock and the afternoon heat to carve and shape their masterpieces. Each one had a nutty plan to win.

“They’re going to spend an afternoon sculpting a block of peanut butter,” said Peanut Fest Board of Directors member Ellie Holland before the start of the 2018 Suffolk Peanut Fest Peanut Butter Sculpture Contest on Saturday. “Don’t laugh. This is serious.”

A crowd had formed at the spot of the annual festival challenge outside and under the sun. Among the competitors were the 2018 Suffolk Peanut Fest Chairman Freddie Gardner, Peanut Fest Queen Bridget McKneely, other Peanut Fest princesses from Suffolk high schools and several other contestants.

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All of them received disposable gloves, knives, black aprons to keep and sizable blocks of peanut butter provided by Producers Peanut Company Inc., the competition’s sponsor. Competitors had just 10 minutes to sculpt a creamy, artistic piece.

“I don’t think there’s anything like it anywhere else,” said Suffolk Festivals Director Lisa Key. “This is very unique, unusual and fitting for our event.”

Producers Peanut Company President James Pond, who was one of the judges on Saturday, said that more hydrogenated vegetable oil was added to the peanut butter to help slow down the melting process during the competition. But melting was still inevitable, especially in the unseasonable heat and humidity.

“It won’t stop it, but it will slow it down just long enough so that they can create something,” he said.

Contestants frantically cut into their blocks to mold shapes and add details. Their work stations at the tables smelled savory as the time ticked away, and plans started to literally fall apart.

“It got really melty as soon as I started touching it, and it was really hard to work with after that,” said Peanut Princess from King’s Fork High School, Johanna Milburn.

“I tried to be creatively mentally,” said Peanut Princess from King’s Fork High School Audre Davis, her fingers sticky with peanut butter. “Like it all worked out in my mind.”

Their creativity made for a variety of sculptures like John Deere tractors, a Navy ship and insignia and a few Mr. Peanuts, naturally. David Miller’s plan was to make a baby coming out of a peanut shell to highlight the festival’s theme, “We are peanut born and peanut bred.”

“It depends on what the material does. It’s hot, and I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Miller said.

Lisa Griffin won honorable mention with her sculpted peanut butter and banana sandwich. Peanut Princess from Nansemond River High School Katherine Chafian took third place with her own peanut baby sculpture, and Peanut Princess from Lakeland High School Deja Grays placed second with a peanut rendition of perennial festival favorite, the Rad Hatter.

“Some of these people will really surprise you with what they can do with a block of peanut butter,” Pond said.

First place went to Jordyn Hack, who did her own Mr. Peanut to go with his NUTmobile. Hack is a Planters employee that was at the festival with the 24-foot long Planters’ NUTmobile that helped inspire her. She was also one of the competition’s last-minute volunteers.

She said she’ll always remember bringing Mr. Peanut to life at Peanut Fest 2018.

“I didn’t know I could do so much with a block of peanut butter, and I love peanut butter,” she said. “I guess I can be on the Food Network now.”