Mark Overbay from Big Spoon Roasters pens this guest post for Trailfoody about how he discovered the secret behind his signature rich, fragrant, hand-roasted nut butter. It’s a key ingredient in the Apricot Pepita Nut Butter Bar, which is featured in May’s Trailfoody.
I had the idea for Big Spoon Roasters on a crisp fall day in October 2010. It was a Saturday. After a bike ride across the rolling hills of Durham and Orange counties, I was in the backyard of the house I had just bought (my first) sanding pieces of quarter-round to match the finish of the house’s original 1950s hardwood floors. I had eaten a good pre-ride breakfast and a filling post-ride lunch, but all that sanding with a revved up metabolism made my stomach growl with hunger around 3 o’clock.
I craved exactly one thing – my favorite snack – freshly sliced apples generously spread with peanut butter. By volume, the peanut butter to apple ratio is approximately 1:1. The best.
A Craft with Roots from Zimbabwe
For some reason, I didn’t automatically go into the kitchen, slice an apple, and spoon out a dollop of the “all natural,” organic peanut butter from the local natural foods co-op in my pantry. Instead, I thought about the delicious, fresh-roasted, handmade peanut butter I had learned to make as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zimbabwe some ten years earlier. I thought about its roasty intensity and perfectly coarse texture; about the care that went into selecting and preparing the ingredients; and the craft of making it, passed down for generations.
After harvest, peanuts were roasted over open backyard fires and crushed by hand between stones as coarse salt was added to taste. Some families added a touch of local honey and fresh coconut oil to complement the salt and smooth out the texture. The rich, fragrant, mouthwatering result was a revelation to me, a lifelong peanut butter lover.
“The rich, fragrant, mouthwatering result was a revelation to me, a lifelong peanut butter lover.”
Giving Birth to Hand-Crafted Peanut Butter in the U.S.
That flavor, though. That’s what I remembered the most and, at that moment, craved more than any food I had ever craved before. I remember thinking, in the middle of the craft food explosion that was happening in the U.S. at the time, someone must be making fresh-roasted, handmade peanut butter; I just hadn’t discovered them yet.
But, not a single business in the country was roasting, milling, and mixing nut butters to order. Marketing terms like “small batch,” “natural,” “gourmet,” and “delicious” abounded, but everything was being made on a huge, industrial scale and chock full of sugars, stabilizers, and in many cases, the environmental catastrophe that is commercial palm oil.
A Reflection of Values
We would focus on the craft of making the absolute best possible version of nut butter, no matter how long, painstaking, or costly the process of doing so might be. It would set new, higher standards for ingredient integrity, flavor, and freshness. Every ingredient would be the best in class, no exceptions, and every ounce of nut butter would be made to order. We would never compromise on quality or sustainability. We’d put the food first and package only in jars made of glass and steel. We’d use biodegradable paper labels with non-toxic inks. When we hire people to help me, we’d pay them living wages and offer robust benefits. We’d guarantee satisfaction. We’d give an increasing percentage of profits to charities every year. We’d offer a safe, welcoming environment to all people. We’d partner only with wholesale customers who share our values and treat them like partners.
In short, we’d be the change we want to see in the world.
A Nod to Dad; A Mind Toward Health
The business would also be an homage to my dad, Gary “Big Spoon” Overbay, who has battled with type 2 diabetes for more than two decades. One day when I was six years old, I walked into the family kitchen to find my dad having one of his favorite snacks – a big spoonful of peanut butter straight from the jar. I blurted out, “big spoon!” and the nickname stuck.
To help him manage his diabetes, I sought out to become an amateur nutritionist and even spent years working at the American Diabetes Association’s national office helping translate clinical research into consumer-friendly information. In many ways, my initial interest in nutrition, food, and cooking stemmed from a desire to help my dad, and Big Spoon Roasters is a direct extension of that aim.
Nut Butter to Energy Bars
My wife and partner, Megan, and I love nothing more than being outside on trails, beaches, and playing fields with our dogs, and as former competitive endurance athletes, we have spent much of our lives looking for the tastiest, most nutritious portable snacks.
In other words, we were early adopters of Powerbars, Clif Bars, and the like, and we’ve since bought and tried every bar out there. While lots of bars offered the basic nutrients we needed to curb hunger on the fly, we found most of them to be either packed with sugar, made mostly of the same 2-3 dried fruits, and lacking in texture and flavor. We wanted something that was not only delicious and nutritious, but also low-glycemic and packed with complete protein and heart-healthy fiber.
Megan is a talented baker, and before we even started Big Spoon Roasters, she had been making homemade energy bars from scratch using peanut butter as the main ingredient, primarily just for us, as well as some close friends who became obsessed with them. She started using Big Spoon’s Peanut Butter as the base for her bar recipes, and the people who tasted the new Big Spoon Nut Butter Bars basically lost their minds about how good they were and inspired us to figure out how to scale up their production and sell the bars, as well.
We’re honored that Trailfoody has included one of our Handcrafted Nut Butter Bars in this box. Born from the same hunger for real, fresh, and wholesome food that created our nut butters, our bars represent the kind of homemade quality and ingredient standards that we simply couldn’t find anywhere else. They are truly a labor of love, but we think the quality is worth every ounce of effort.
We hope you agree!