IT'S time to stop thinking of peanut butter as ``kid stuff.'' One of the fastest-growing segments of peanut-butter consumption is adults who eat peanut butter for breakfast as a quick, easy, protein substitute for bacon and eggs, says J. Tyron Spearman, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

For breakfast, they spread it on toasted English muffins or on toast. At other times of day some eat it directly from the jar or sandwich it between chocolate chip cookies or chocolate sandwich cookies. Others spread it on celery sticks or crackers. One fan favors peanut butter with corn chips.

In his latest nonfiction book, ``Right Reason'' (Doubleday), William F. Buckley Jr. devotes a whole chapter to peanut butter.

``When I was first married and made plain to my wife that I expected peanut butter for breakfast every day of my life, including Ash Wednesday, she thought me quite mad (for the wrong reasons),'' Buckley writes.

``She has not come round, really, and this is a source of great sadness to me because one wants to share one's pleasures.''

Why are so many adults rediscovering their appetite for peanut butter? Industry sources say the main reason is that the taste brings back wonderful childhood memories.

The second annual product preference study in Supermarket Business magazine indicated peanut butter had the broadest appeal in households of 35- to 44-year-olds, whose consumption of it is 47 percent above the national average.

Even teen-agers, who usually consider peanut butter childish, are returning to it. Their motivation is much like their elders. They like the taste and it's easy and quick to eat.

It should come as no surprise that, according to many surveys, peanut butter and jelly is the most popular kind of sandwich in the United States. But perhaps many people don't realize that the average American school child eats more than 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during his or her 12 years of elementary and high school.

In the United States, 65 percent of the peanut-butter fans prefer creamy style peanut butter with the remaining 35 percent going for the crunchy.

Peanut butter and peanuts are almost universal ingredients in cookies, granola bars, breakfast products, and candy bars. Spearman says they will be used more and more in new snack products designed to appeal to ``grazers'' -- the growing number of people who nibble all day instead of eating the traditional three square meals.

New product introductions in 1985 have included honey-flavored, honey-roasted, and nacho-flavored peanuts, low-calorie peanuts, and aseptically packaged peanut butter with a two-year shelf life. But for best quality, the industry generally recommends storing jar-packed peanut butter no more than a year, and using it within a few months after opening.

The US is the leading per capita consumer of peanut butter, putting away about eight pounds a year per person. Canada, which is in second place, eats about one-third as much, or about three pounds per person per year.

In Europe, France, and Spain people prefer roasted peanuts. Only in the Netherlands is peanut butter popular. The Dutch eat almost as much of it as Americans, Spearman says, mostly in sauces for Indonesian cooking.

While most people tend to think of peanut butter as a uniquely American product, the nuts themselves are widely grown. In fact, the US produces only about 10 percent of the world peanut crop, yet is the leading exporter of edible peanuts, according to the Peanut Farmer, a trade publication.

Other growers include Argentina, China, and Sudan.

In the US some of the best ideas for using peanuts and peanut butter come from the growers and their families. Peanut Butter Barbecue Sauce is a family tradition with the Tuckers of Smithville, Ga.

``The recipe came from an old gentleman who used to live in Leslie, a nearby town,'' says Phyllis Tucker. ``I reduced the mustard and vinegar, cut down the amount of salt, and added a little more lemon juice.''

Mrs. Tucker uses it on charcoal-barbecued chicken and spareribs. It can also be brushed over broiled foods. Phyllis Tucker's Peanut Butter Barbecue Sauce 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 3 tablespoons mayonnaise 3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter 1 tablespoon mustard 1 tablespoon cooking oil 2 teaspoons salt 1/4 cup vinegar Juice of 1 lemon 2 teaspoons black pepper

Combine ingredients well. Bring to boil in small saucepan. Using a brush, coat chicken parts or spareribs on all sides before grilling or broiling. Brush on additional sauce during cooking.

If you have leftover sauce, heat to boiling and serve with cooked poultry or ribs. Makes about 1 cup, enough for 3 to 4 pounds of chicken parts.

The sauce's high fat content makes it burn easily; broiling is best done several inches below heat source. For less fatty results, remove and discard chicken skin and coat raw meat with sauce. Phyllis Tucker's Cauliflower Peanut Casserole 1 medium cauliflower, separated into flowerettes 1 cup sliced onion 3 tablespoons peanut oil 3 tablespoons flour 1 1/2 cups milk 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional) Dash of pepper 1/2 cup roasted peanuts

Blanch cauliflower and onion in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain and arrange in 1 1/2-quart casserole.

In a skillet over medium heat, blend peanut oil and flour. Add milk, stirring constantly, and bring to boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Blend in 1/2 cup of cheese, the peanut butter, salt, and pepper. Pour over vegetables.

Top with chopped peanuts. Bake 30 minutes in a 350-degree F. oven, topping the casserole with remaining 1/2 cup cheese 5 minutes before end of baking. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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