Surprises in the peanut butter

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I didn’t know what to expect when I covered the 2018 Suffolk Peanut Fest Peanut Butter Sculpture Contest on Saturday. Sticky hands, odd-looking creations and maybe a few impressive ideas for sculpting.

I sure didn’t expect to end up as hungry as I was from the pervasive smell of sweet, delicious peanut butter (as a diabetic, that cut me deeply). But the contest was a creative success regardless of my growling stomach.

The 16 contestants fought back the heat and the clock to make a lineup of fun caricatures. There was a Navy ship made complete with the anchor insignia and creamy N-A-V-Y letters. Two John Deere tractors made an appearance, seemingly independent of one another. I guess the tractors at the festival made an impression on some competitors.

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Lisa Griffin searched online for sculpture ideas ahead of the event and wound up making a peanut butter and banana sandwich — entirely of peanut butter, of course. Her rendition on Saturday won honorable mention and was quite detailed.

Each competitor had plans that quickly changed when their material loosened and fell apart under the sun. Peanut Fest princesses laughed as they looked at their fingers covered in peanut butter. I was surprised there were enough moist towelettes to go around at the end of it.

“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.

It really was something you need to experience to fully understand, because it’s hard to get your mind wrapped around the idea of using peanut butter like clay. You think you get idea — it’s soft, malleable and can be pressed into any shape — but actually playing with the food can be a wholly different experience.

There’s the aforementioned aroma that tells your brain it’s lunch time. There are the individual pieces of peanut butter that stick too well to your hand and fall out of shape, right when you have your art just as you want it to be. All of these factors are against you while the announcer is counting down the clock.

Producers Peanut Company President James Pond, whose company provides the art material every year, said, “Some of these people will really surprise you with what they can do with a block of peanut butter.” But as it turned out, the winner wasn’t all that surprising.

It was Jordyn Hack’s miniature Planters NUTmobile and a Mr. Peanut to go with it. The Planters employee was just across from the competition spot and volunteered at the last minute to join. Like the John Deere tractors, her inspiration was in view: the 24-foot long Planters NUTmobile that she rode into Suffolk on.

“I didn’t know I could do so much with a block of peanut butter, and I love peanut butter,” she said, which is a good thing considering her job.

Congratulations to this year’s winners, and a special thanks to all of the competitors for building up my appetite.