Patricia Highsmith: Peanut Butter Granola

Patricia Highsmith - Peanut Butter Granola

If you’ve ever had a roommate, and especially if that roommate happens to be your significant other, you’ve undoubtedly had to come to terms with your SBB: secret single behavior. (Sure, it’s an old Sex and the City reference, but stay with me for a moment.) Your SBB are all the things you do when no one is around, like watching The Bachelor or drinking wine from a plastic novelty baseball cup. When my boyfriend (now fiancé!) moved in, I knew I couldn’t hide the truth for long. Eventually, he was going to see what I really eat.

“There is an ever more acute difference … between my inner self which I know is the real me, and the various faces of the outside world,” Patricia Highsmith wrote in 1947. To those meeting her for the first time, Highsmith was a classic 30-under-30 success story: a Barnard graduate whose first novel, Strangers on a Train, was immediately adapted into the iconic Hitchcock film upon publication. She was fluent in several languages, and traveled to pied-à-terres in London and Paris. But Highsmith’s pedigree belied some serious secret single behavior of her own … especially where food was concerned.

Although her family moved to New York when she was 12, Highsmith’s culinary tastes stayed rooted in her Fort Worth, Texas childhood. “Her favourite food was the traditional cooking of the South—cornbread, collard greens, spare ribs, black-eyed peas and peanut butter,” Andrew Wilson writes in his biography, Beautiful Shadow. She ate breakfast at all times of the day, preferring cereal to any three-course meal.

But when friends would visit, Highsmith played the part of the consummate hostess, preparing complicated dishes for her guests rather than serving Cheerios. It didn’t always go well. One evening, Highsmith served up a roast beef that she left “two hours too long in the oven,” leaving her visitors to chew on the leathery result. Another friend recalled opening the fridge in Highsmith’s Paris apartment to grab a snack: “All there was was peanut butter and vodka.”

Highsmith never tried harder to mask her secret single behavior than when she was cooking for her lovers, like the Parisian Monique Buffet. “Every time Monique visited Moncourt, Pat made a côte de bœuf or a lapin and a salad … although she wouldn’t eat a bite herself.”

But you can only conceal your secret self for so long; when she was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1993, Highsmith finally let her secret out. “She would carry jars of peanut butter around in her handbag, as that’s all she could eat,” Wilson tells us. Breakfast, her favorite meal of the day, became the only one she ate. Like Tom Ripley, one of Highsmith’s most famous creations, discovers, keeping our single behavior secret is exhausting; it quickly becomes a burden. Sharing it is scary but when you’re no longer alone, the load feels that much lighter.highsmith2

highsmith1

Reading about Highsmith’s SSB, I couldn’t help but wonder (SATC returns!): Did we share the same culinary DNA? Because while I don’t share her love of small portions, I’ve definitely overcooked a roast; I adore breakfast for dinner; and I have a ridiculous obsession with peanut butter. And as my boyfriend’s move-in date approached, I was terrified he’d discover all of these things and more: that sometimes dinner means yogurt and granola together in a giant mug while watching The Amazing Race. 

Of course, he did discover them—just as I discovered that he “cooks” by making a gigantic pot of pasta on Sunday and eating it over the course of the entire week. Our secret food behaviors are just as unique on a small scale as they are universal: we all have one. Combining Highsmith’s two favorite foods—peanut butter and cereal—seemed like the perfect way to honor this realization, a celebration of our secret tastes.

(Adapted from Table for Two, this time with even more peanuts)

4 tablespoons peanut butter
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup unsalted peanuts

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a saucepan over low heat, stir together peanut butter and honey. Remove from heat, then stir in cinnamon and vanilla. Stir in oats and peanuts until coated.
  3. Spread mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden (it will still be slightly wet).
  4. Let cool 15 minutes to harden and fully dry.

19 thoughts on “Patricia Highsmith: Peanut Butter Granola

  1. Hi there, welcome back! I have missed your blogs terribly! I checked in from time to time to make sure I was not missing out on everything. I was so worried about you! I reckon that your blog is one of the best of internet.

  2. Lisa-Marie Haugmoen

    I’m always so happy when I see a new post from you! It is always so informative and I’m always amazed at the content. Not only do you provide us with a glimpse into the life and mind to a person but also provide a great recipe! Thank you so much!

  3. My boyfriend and I don’t live together but plan to in the near future. Luckily we both already know we eat way more PB&J than average folk. But, I know I’ve got other SSB that he probably won’t find out about before we cohabit! 🙂 Thanks for the recipe.

  4. helenwilbers

    I’m glad to see you’ve returned! The dining commons at my college has the saddest, least substantial granola I’ve ever encountered in my life–I’m going to have to make some of this and probably snack on it dry until it’s completely gone. My SSB? Definitely hoarding up delicious things for a “special treat” and then forgetting about them and getting mad when someone else eats them.

    1. Oh my gosh, can I ever relate to this. I have a terrible habit of immediately eating “up for grabs” desserts in the office kitchen so I don’t miss out … and then am too full to eat real food. Someone send help.

  5. Hey, welcome back! I’m glad you returned.

    For some strange reason, Highsmith bears an eerie resemblance to my aunt. Also, I am a huge film buff, so anything tied to Hitchcock is good by me. And yum, the granola… looks delicious. The thing is though, the fact that the director (though he deserved it) got more fame in the future while Highsmith sorta-kinda didn’t is very sad, come to think of it. I can think of others like her… the guy who wrote the novel that was behind “Jaws” or that guy who was behind that novel that inspired the movie “The Graduate”. Perhaps you could do them too? They’re a bit obscure, but I think you can manage it

    Why haven’t you done any playwrights yet, living or dead? They’d be fascinating figures to outline their food lives, that’s for sure. Arthur Miller, since he was a very complex man, I think he should be the first one that you tackle. So what do you think. You could also do musical theater people as well… like Sondheim or blah blah blah.

    I have never heard of “Patty” Highsmith before, I’m going to check her out afterwards. You have a great way of writing about authors and their food habits, that’s for sure.

  6. Hey, welcome back! I’m glad you returned.

    For some strange reason, Highsmith bears an eerie resemblance to my aunt. Also, I am a huge film buff, so anything tied to Hitchcock is good by me. And yum, the granola… looks delicious. The thing is though, the fact that the director (though he deserved it) got more fame in the future while Highsmith sorta-kinda didn’t is very sad, come to think of it. I can think of others like her… the guy who wrote the novel that was behind “Jaws” or that guy who was behind that novel that inspired the movie “The Graduate”. Perhaps you could do them too? They’re a bit obscure, but I think you can manage it.

    Why haven’t you done any playwrights yet, living or dead? They’d be fascinating figures to outline their food lives, that’s for sure. Arthur Miller, since he was a very complex man, I think he should be the first one that you tackle. So what do you think. You could also do musical theater people as well… like Sondheim or blah blah blah.

    I have never heard of “Patty” Highsmith before, I’m going to check her out afterwards. You have a great way of writing about authors and their food habits, that’s for sure.

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