LAND O'LAKES — Betsy Altshuler collects peanut butter — jars and jars of peanut butter. Think 2,500 pounds of peanut butter collected in the past three years, mostly creamy style because that's what kids seem to like best but Altshuler won't say no to crunchy either. It's all for a good cause.
Altshuler, 73, sees families in need and she knows peanut butter is a complete protein that, when spread on bread, will satisfy an empty stomach with good nutrition. It's easily stored without refrigeration and can be used in creative ways from sandwiches to desserts.
"I feel sorry for hungry children in Sudan and Afghanistan, but I have starving children right in my back yard," she said, speaking of needy families served by the distribution efforts of Suncoast Harvest Food Bank, part of Feeding America Tampa Bay on Ehren Cutoff. That's where Altshuler's peanut butter ends up. From there it's channeled to food give-aways in Pasco, Hernando, Sumter and Citrus counties.
Altshuler goes to organizations that can donate peanut butter and she doesn't mince words.
"Give me your nuts or money and nobody gets hurt," is her punch line when addressing groups in the local area.
The organizations answer her plea with dozens of jars of peanut butter. Some businesses, like Lifestyle Fitness in Land O'Lakes, where Altshuler is a Silver Sneaker member, place a donation box for people to drop off jars of the nutty spread.
For her efforts Altshuler was honored at last month's meeting of the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation, the ACF Tampa Bay Chefs, for her dedication to the chapter's "Peanut Butter Power Drive." She received the Chapter President's Medal from President Paul Evans, a certificate of appreciation, red roses and a gift card.
Fred Lucardie, chairman of the board for ACF Tampa Bay Chefs, praised Altshuler's many years of service. She has been a member of the chapter since 1986, has served on the board of directors on several committees and volunteers for many of the chapter's community service events.
Altshuler's doesn't recall much about peanut butter as a child except she remembers stirring the oil on top to blend it all together. Her interest in food and good nutrition led her to a degree in food and food equipment merchandising at Drexel Institute of Technology, now Drexel University, in Philadelphia. Later she earned the equivalent of a master's degree in home economics education at the University of Maryland and taught for about 20 years in Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Georgia.
She and her husband moved to Florida in 1984, and with an interest in restaurants and foods, they became members of the American Culinary Federation. After her husband died, Altshuler started doing promotional with her business Out of the Box Promotions. That's one badge she wears and just under it is a second badge for Sophisticated Sweets, her own award-winning creations. Some include peanut butter.
Altshuler claimed one sizable monetary award from a chef's magazine in the early '90s for her "Breakfast with Elvis, French Style," a concoction of challah spread with creamy peanut butter, layered with a lengthwise sliced banana. The whole sandwich is soaked in a French toast mixture of eggs, milk and flavoring extract of choice (Altshuler suggests almond or peanut butter) and browned in butter.
She won another award in a Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream recipe contest for a simple dessert combining one part honey and one part peanut butter, stirred with one-fourth part bourbon, rum or liqueur of choice (for children, substitute non-alcoholic flavoring). Drizzle the sauce over scoops of Ben and Jerry's premium vanilla ice cream and top with a squirt of whipped cream.
The recipes are great fun, but delivering jars of peanut butter brings Altshuler the most pleasure.
"It's a simple thing but when I come out of here, I'm floating," she says, referring to the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank where jars and jars of peanut butter await hungry families.