In searching through my ever-expanding cookbook collection, I was stunned to find no recipes guiding anyone to making the perfect Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. I began to wonder if this was something that one was supposed to inherently know. I grew up, of course, on Mussbrot or jelly sandwiches. I was even allowed to drink coffee from the time I gave up the bottle. With plenty of room in my cup for fresh cream and sugar, coffee made the perfect drink for dunking cookies, cake, or jelly bread, but I never remember having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my lunch sack. All my sandwiches were made simply with only jam, jelly, or preserves. In fact, I cannot recall a jar of peanut butter ever being in our pantry.
Texans grow 190,000 acres of peanuts, but mostly in the panhandle these days. They used to be grown here — if not for peanuts, for hay. I remember a tenant farmer storing bales of these in our barn. Sandwiched within them were occasionally a few peanuts. These, I dug out. Some, still a bit green, tasted so delicious! Gillespie County, with its sandy soils, was ideal for growing them. We even had a peanut factory located in the huge buildings southeast of the old fairgrounds. My aunt worked there. Here, peanuts were cracked and shelled, and an assortment of conveyors hurried them to large flat screened shakers. Her task among the oscillating belts was to make a final inspection along a well-lighted section. Finally, cleaned and sacked they were ready to be shipped to the Skippy plant in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Peanuts are not nuts at all. They are legumes divided into four kinds. The Virginia, the largest with a distinctive crunch and ideal for snacking. The Spanish, a smaller nut recognized by their red skins and nutty flavor and used for candy. The Runner accounts for 80% of all peanuts grown in the U.S. and is used mostly for peanut butter, and The Valencia which have 3 kernels, a sweet flavor, and are often used to make all-natural peanut butter.
It might be difficult to believe, but there once existed an America without peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Not just the country—the continent. And that was a very sad state of affairs. Then again, people didn’t know what they were missing. A scant century ago, mortals roamed the earth unaware of the perfect pairing that awaited, a combination that would soon appease the palates of children and haute chefs alike. It took some good old American innovation to form a most perfect union and turn it into a national sandwich obsession. Surprisingly, peanut butter was a recent creation. Here’s how it all came to be:
According to Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, by Andrew F. Smith, Peanut Butter Sandwich recipes “burst onto the culinary scene” with articles in women’s magazines. In May 1896, Good Housekeeping, a magazine meant to assist women in being better housewives, published a new recipe urging homemakers to use a meat grinder to make peanut butter and spread the results on bread – ideally bolstered with mayonnaise or Worcestershire sauce or even spiced with cayenne or paprika. The following month, the culinary magazine, Table Talk, published a “Peanut Butter Sandwich” recipe. A revolution of sorts was beginning. Another recipe appeared in the Boston Cooking School Magazine in 1901; it called for “three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste”, and a jelly for the other. It is the original recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Ground nut butters and pastes were already found in cuisines the world over, but John Harvey Kellogg of Battle Creek, Michigan, began touting pulverized peanuts as a health food. Its popularity spread among the American upper crust, and by 1897, Kellogg had formed the Sanitas Nut Food Company, which sold a foodstuff called Peanut Butter. It was originally promoted as a substitute for butter, cream, and meat, as well as a soup, cereal and beverage component, and a vegetable dressing – apparently it covered all the bases.
In the early 1900s, the Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, once thought intended for a wealthier set, was adopted down through the class structure as the price of peanut butter dropped, making it more affordable to more people. It became even more popular with the advent of sliced bread in the 1920s, which allowed children to make their own sandwiches easily. Surely bread had existed since time immemorial and across boundaries intercontinental — and ground-up nuts and cooked-down, sugared preserves as well, but no one had thought of combining it all together before then. Then, during WWII, both peanut butter and jelly was part of every U.S. soldiers’ military ration list. The Army also bought up Welch’s entire run of Grapelade, (grape jelly) to go with it. Nutrient-dense peanut butter and bread were part of the standard rations, and when the boys returned home, they brought back their newly acquired taste for the combination of Peanut Butter and Jelly, and it became a national obsession. The peanut lobby wasted no time in spreading itself around. Demand for the combination went through the roof.
Here is a recipe that I uncovered, it even includes butter:
12 slices of bread
2 tbsp. of your favorite jam or jelly (Fischer & Wieser we hope)
½ cup peanut butter
Spread half the bread slices with butter
Cover with jam or jelly
Spread the remaining halves with peanut butter.
Top with peanut butter covered bread.