There’s probably no better snack than peanut butter and when it’s made from organic peanuts grown in volcanic soil, it’s even more indulgent.
No one knows that better than Lilian and her family since they spend the better part of a year roasting and grinding the peanuts from 10,000 plants grown on the hills near Volcan Agua. That’s why I found myself headed to the small town of San Miguel Escobar, just ten minutes from touristy Antigua yet simultaneously world’s away.
Lilian and her parents welcomed me into their home with big smiles. An unassuming property, it still had all the cozy touches of home, including gorgeous birds of paradise and other flowers in their garden.
Lilian’s father, Mercedes, has been planting and harvesting peanuts for years, but the whole family took interest in the peanut butter business four years ago. I, on the other hand, didn’t even know what peanut bushes looked like, despite eating more than my fair share of Virginia peanuts and creamy Jif throughout my life.
After learning about the farming process — peanuts grow underground for about five months and are harvested just once a year — Lilian and I set off to make our own peanut butter. Here, everything is done by hand with absolutely no additives, not even salt or sugar. The finished product is delicious and truly made with love. That wasn’t much of a surprise after feeling how much hospitality and love is in this home!
As expected, we started by shelling a basket of peanuts. Come to find out, I’ve been doing it the hard way all my life. Before long, I was expertly pinching the shell to expose two beautiful nuts inside and laughing with Lilian at the few that flew through the air when I accidentally used too much strength. Together we sorted the peanuts to ensure there were no bad ones and that they were all roughly the same size, an important consideration for them to roast evenly.
Our next step was roasting the peanuts. Lilian made sure the fire (yes, a wood fire under the stove) was just the right temperature and we poured all the peanuts into a massive metal dish. Stirring constantly so nothing burned, we waited for the skins to turn a dark purplish brown and the inside to develop the color we’re all used to. Like with toasting other nuts, your nose knows when they’re ready.
As we waited for the peanuts to cool so we could peel the skins off, Lilian and her mother told me more about their home, their town, and their business selling peanuts. They value education, something far too rare in Guatemala, and both Lilian and her sister have continued onto higher education. In the town of San Miguel Escobar, tourism has the potential to become big business and they’re working toward using that to their advantage.
And with views like the one from their rooftop, why wouldn’t a traveler want to visit their home?
Even though my livelihood doesn’t depend on peanut butter the way theirs do, we still had more work to do. When the peanuts are just the right temperature, the skins peel right off with a single swipe of the finger (when they’re too hot, they stick). We made quick work of the task and then Lilian showed me how to fan any loose skins that got trapped by pouring the peanuts through the air. Try as I might, I wasn’t coordinated for this step!
Grinding the peanuts is done by hand for a finer texture. I consider myself relatively strong, but I’ll admit this is tiring work. However, finding a rhythm for the wrist movements was easy. Eventually, all that work yielded a small amount of peanut butter.
For quality control (of course), we snacked on our freshly made peanut butter, bananas, and honey on fresh tortillas. Just like anywhere in the world, conversation flows easily when you’re sharing food. This is the moment that makes this workshop even more special. Sure, the peanut butter is great, but learning more about Guatemalan culture is the true reason to go.
If you’re interested…
De La Gente is an organization offering tours that encourage participation in local life by working side-by-side with families in San Miguel Escobar. Almost all the profits from the tours go directly to the local families, which provides them opportunities to be self-sufficient, continue their education, and sustainably expand their sales ventures.
The peanut butter workshop, in particular, lasts about an hour and a half and costs 100 quetzales per person (about US $12; add 100 quetzales per group for an optional translator) and includes a half jar of all-natural peanut butter to take home. Other tours, including coffee farming and artistic workshops, are available as well.
From Antigua, it’s a ten-minute taxi ride to the Plaza of San Miguel Escobar, where tours start. If you’re on a budget (or just looking for an authentic experience), you can take a chicken bus from the bus station behind Antigua’s market for 3 quetzales.
De La Gente provides directions, but the stop comes up faster than you think (hint: I missed the stop and had to backtrack on foot).
About 8-10 minutes into the ride, look for a white wall that ends at an intersection. There’s a cement bus stop labeled San Miguel Escobar and green road signs pointing into the town.
When you get off the bus, cross the street and walk up the intersection (following the green sign pointing to San Miguel Escobar). Take your first right (it’s up a ways) and the second left. You’re in the right spot when you see the yellow church…don’t worry about finding your guide because you’ll be the only gringo and they’ll find you immediately! In total, the walk takes about 10 minutes.
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What cultural interactions have you experienced in your travels?
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