PB, and J.
Peanut, peanut butter….and jelly!
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches.
Peanut butter and jelly is the sandwich of my life. My comfort food. The delicacy I associate, above all things, with pure culinary bliss. It’s the food of my childhood, of my days in school, of a lifetime spent with my legs hanging over the cold metal of the long lunch table. And when the sandwich is made to my liking, it feels more decadent than chocolate cake.
Back before peanut butter was banned in schools, and kids with nut allergies were delegated to remote, off the grid lunchroom tables, there was the good, old classic PB&J sandwich. Each lunch hour, I would pull out my crumpled brown paper bag, move aside the apple and Chewy granola bar, and reach for the aluminum foil wrapper that contained my most cherished possession that day, and every day. Inside that bag was the comfort and love from my mother, wrapped inside a shiny, wrapper. Every day she made me peanut butter with grape jelly on whole-wheat bread. Sometimes it would be toasted, but mostly not. The sandwich bread would be soft, a little squished from being nestled among the books in my backpack, or, of course, the apple. Sometimes the apple would press into the sandwich, leaving a perfect mold of the fruit embossed into the shape. Other times the sandwich would survive unscathed. But it never mattered. I ate it anyway it came to me. Each time the sticky, salty peanut butter hit the sweet tang of the grape jelly, it always lifted my spirits.
My mom used to make this sandwich for me every day. Every. Day. Until I was a junior in high school. Yes, you read that right: a junior in high school. By that time, I could drive and had to participate in obligatory teenage activities such as going to the “popular deli” for lunch. That’s what the cool older kids did. But, for the most part, I insisted that the ritual not end.
Sometimes I’d make my own PB&J, trying to find the perfect balance of jelly to nut ratio. And crunchy peanut butter? I wouldn’t touch it. Give me a Jiffy smooth spread any day of the week. If it fought my teeth, the whole thing was ruined. The real art of the sandwich is finding the right balance. Based on the thickness of the bread, you have to have sufficient topping. The peanut butter must not overwhelm the flavor or cause your tongue to seal to the roof of your mouth. The jelly shouldn’t drip out the sides or water down the thicker topping. And never, EVER, mix the two in the jars. (I think once Jiffy made a mixed version of PB&J and my mother made me try it. Never again.) The two jars should never unite, and they should certainly never be cross-contaminated! I learned that early on. If there was too much jelly, you need to wipe the knife off before putting it back into the peanut butter jar. Otherwise, you’d never get the jam out of the folds of peanut butter. Not that I’d mind. I would have eaten it anyway. But when you’re the youngest of four kids, you learn not to make too many waves.
I remember packing these sandwiches for the beach in the summers. If I went with friends or my family, I often had a little PB&J to look forward to. Sand would creep in, the grit crunching unpleasantly in my mouth when I bit down. I didn’t eat hot dogs or things like that. But if I scored some snack money, I would sometimes slip Lays potato chips in between the folds, amid the orange and purple mix of textures. The chips would add a hit of salty flavor amid the smooth, a touch of crunch amid the soft. It was the perfect addition to my addiction.
And it still is.
In recent years toast has become trendy, and with that, it’s brought all kinds of toppings. As an adult, I didn’t buy bread anymore, and when I did, it was toast with peanut butter. I never owned jelly. In fact, I don’t really like jelly. Especially on toast. It seems like a waste when you have such a tasty spread like butter. No, it was butter or peanut butter for toast. Or peanut butter and jelly. Never just jelly. So for many years, my childhood lunch companion was forgotten.
But then, while living in San Francisco, our favorite cafe (Réveille Coffee Co., if you must know) started making almond butter and jelly sandwiches on thick slabs of toast. It wasn’t grape jelly, but it was homemade strawberry, and the sweetness that countered the almond butter made it exceptionally delicious. It was PB&J 2.0 – the adult version that was hip and cool, appropriate for a tech-savvy San Francisco millennial. But to me, it was heaven. Albeit a little irresponsible…
Now I know how much sugar is in peanut butter and jelly, and while I don’t let it worry me all that much, I also don’t eat it as often as I did growing up. When I pick up two pieces of whole wheat bread, slather on the organic, oil-separating-in-the-container, peanut butter, and top it with classic grape jelly, I’m acknowledging that it’s a treat. A snack that I never grew out of. A sandwich that has been my longest companion.
In a world full of food choices, the simple always won out for me. It has always been you, peanut butter and jelly. And probably always will be.
Is there a sandwich or snack that is reminiscent of your childhood? Did you ever grow tired of it? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below! And be sure to check out this hilarious clip of Celine Dion admitting to her peanut butter addiction, which funnily enough, came out the same day I wrote the rough draft of this article!