Since I’ve never gotten around to writing about my history and fascination with peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, it’s good to know that Peter Timony, a man of similar PBJ tastes and convictions, has.
For those who don’t know Peter, he is one half of the sibling team currently dominating Zuda Comics with their excellent Night Owls comic strip. I highly recommend checking out this nifty comedy-adventure series, along with all the other online goodies Zuda has to offer.
Take it away, Peter!
PEANUT BUTTER JELLY TIME
When I was a kid, I would go to school with a brown paper bag that had my lunch in it. Most of the time it was Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches, and I HATED them.
For one thing, my mother, though an excellent cook, made terrible sandwiches. When we didn’t have Peanut Butter and Jelly, we could look forward to a solitary slice of stinky wet liverwurst, one measly slice of processed cheese-like-food, and a squirt of yellow mustard, often thrown haphazardly between two slices of gritty whole wheat bread. You would think that with this as the alternative, opening the lunch bag to find Peanut Butter and Jelly would be GREAT!
However, Mom made the worst PB&J ever.
To be fair, there were seven kids, so she didn’t have a whole lot of time to make lunches; she would just slap them together. She also made lunch for Dad.
What could be so bad? Well, for starters, the peanut butter was obviously to much of a chore to spread, so the majority stayed in the middle, leaving the edges dry. The jelly was unceremoniously lumped on top, and Mom’s unending supply of whole wheat bread held it all together. Also, I don’t know if this is true, but I suspect Mom liked to pound the sandwiches flat after wrapping them in plastic and before putting them in the lunch bag. Whenever lunch time rolled around, and we reached into our bags to pull out our sandwiches, we would discover a wafer thin mess, with Welch’s grape jelly oozing out of every pore. This was especially distressful when we would see the other children that had PB&J pull shiny white sandwiches out of lunch boxes and bags. Why is their bread so soft and fluffy and white? Why is mine crunchy and brown and flat and soaked? And look! Their sandwiches have the crusts cut off! Can you imagine?
After I got out of school, it was years before I ate peanut butter and jelly again.
These days, however, I’ve rediscovered the joys of PB&J! It’s a great way to quickly sate one’s hunger, and it’s cheap too. I’ve come to realize that the only reason Mom’s PB&J sammiches sucked so hard is because she didn’t put any thought into it. She bought the biggest cheapest bucket of peanut butter and the biggest cheapest vat of jelly. More care should go into your ingredient selection, I think.
Here are some tips towards improving your Peanut Butter and Jelly experience.
1. KNOW THY PEANUTS
It is largely believed that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter, although that isn’t technically true. He did come up with over 300 uses for peanuts, and that was just one of them. He was like that shrimp guy in Forrest Gump, if you were to substitute peanuts for shrimp. He did help popularize peanuts as a southern crop that could reinvigorate soil that had been depleted by cotton crops. He was also big on sweet potatoes.
With the rise in popularity of the peanut came the rise in popularity of peanut butter. Other nuts, such as almonds and cashews, didn’t have a George Washington Carver to speak up for them, and so their butters aren’t as popular.
When I buy peanut butter, the first thing I do is look at the ingredients. For example, the list of ingredients on a jar of Jiffy read like this: PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP SOLIDS, SUGAR AND SOY PROTIEN, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), SALT, MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, MOLASSES, NIACINAMIDE, FOLIC ACID, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, MAGNESIUM OXIDE, ZINC OXIDE, FERRIC ORTHOPHOSPHATE, AND COPPER SULFATE.
I don’t know what half of that stuff even is. I’m sure it’s all safe, but seriously, is there any reason why my jar of peanut butter should have a list of ingredients that looks like a bottle of shampoo? Zinc Oxide? Really? What the hell is a Rapeseed? The peanut butter I buy, whether crunchy or smooth, has an ingredient list that looks like this: PEANUTS, SALT.
Incidentally, if you’re going to buy the all-natural peanut butter, some separation of peanut oil may occur. You may be tempted to create some low-fat peanut butter by dumping out the oil, but don’t do it! If you do, your peanut butter will become hard and un-spreadable. The best thing to do is to mix it all up with a butter knife.
There are other types of butters out there too, and I would recommend at least trying some of them. Almond butters, cashew butters, hazelnut (or as the British call them, Filberts) butter. For those afflicted with severe peanut allergies or know someone who does, try Sun Butter, which is made of sunflower seeds and is completely safe, and delicious!
2. GRAPE ISN’T THE ONLY TYPE OF JELLY
As for jelly, why buy the econo-sized barrel of grape jelly when there is so much variety out there? I’ve had peanut butter sandwiches with grape, raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, apricot, gooseberry, fig, mango, cloudberry, currant, pear, apple, pomegranate, blueberry lime, strawberry kiwi and even jalapeño. I’ve even used marmalades. Some tasted better than others, but it is amazing what mixing up your jellys can do.
3. IT AIN’T A SANDWICH WITHOUT BREAD
Even though I didn’t like the whole wheat as a kid, some people might appreciate it. Potato bread, sour dough or even hamburger rolls are all great for PB&J. For peanut butter and jelly, I like a bread that isn’t too thick, but if you go too thin, it can make a mess. Take for example, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Burrito! Take one warm flour tortilla, spread peanut butter on it, top with jelly and roll it up.
4. PREVENTING SOGGY SAMMICHES
Pay attention, because I am about to reveal the ultimate secret towards making the best possible PB&J sandwich. It is so simple and so easy, and you’ll never have to worry about the jelly leaking through the bread again!
First, spread a thin layer of peanut butter on BOTH pieces of bread. Then add the jelly to one piece of bread and place the other on top, peanut butter side down, natch. TA-DA! The peanut butter acts as a moisture barrier, preventing the jelly from leaking into the bread.
5. DON’T EAT IT YET!
There are ways to dress up the sandwich a little bit. You could cut the crusts off (if you have time and don’t need to prepare seven lunches). You could cut them into pleasing little wedges and serve them with tea, or arrange them on a plate and serve them as hors d’ oeuvres.
Have you ever cooked a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? The result will AMAZE you. The peanut butter becomes warm and soft and liquidy. Whenever you cook a PB&J, you intensify it’s flavor. This Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich goes to 11!
Try grilling it, the same way you would make a grilled cheese sandwich.
Or, here’s a fun idea… mix a batch of funnel cake batter, cut your sandwich into wedges, dip the wedges in the batter and deep fry them until golden brown. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and now you have deep fried Peanut Butter and Jelly! So delicious… so decadent!
In these uncertain times, when money is tight and the pantries are mostly bare, you may find that you have to survive on cheap foods like Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches for example. But we might as well enjoy ourselves while we’re at it!