National PB&J Day

Right after April Fool’s Day, April 2nd is a sweet day that sticks to the roof of your mouth. So I learned from bon appétit magazine this morning, with this (somewhat puzzling) photo:


(The photo is part of a big ad push to get people to subscribe to the magazine, but I’ve extracted the photo so we can study it without distractions.)

And from the National Calendar Day site, proclaiming the holiday (though nobody seems to have any idea who created it or why they chose April 2nd):


#2 has something closer to the classic American PB&J (though it uses wholewheat bread rather than white bread). #1 has white bread, but it’s yummy-crunchy-looking white bread, probably sourdough..

#1 looks, in fact, like a pile of non-standard variants of PB&J — probably versions that avoid actual peanut butter, because of its allergenic potential. And two layers have what look like cheese in them.

But on to standard PB&J. From Wikipedia:

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or PB&J, popular in the United States, includes one or more layers of peanut butter and one or more layers of either jelly or jam on bread. Sometimes the sandwich is eaten open-faced or with one slice of bread folded over (effectively a “half sandwich”). The type of fruit preserve should balance the texture and sweetness of the peanut butter, while the bread should not overwhelm the filling. If the peanut butter is not spread on each slice of bread, the sandwich will become soggy.

Variations on the sandwich can be created by changing the jam or jelly to honey and instead of peanut butter, someone may use almond butter or another nut butter. Even spreads like cream cheese or chocolate spread can be used in place of the peanut butter. When marshmallow fluff is substituted for the jam or jelly, the sandwich becomes a fluffernutter.

A 2002 survey showed the average American will have eaten 1,500 of these sandwiches before high school graduation. [No wonder PB&J has its own national holiday!]

… Peanut butter was originally paired with a diverse set of foods, such as pimento, nasturtium, cheese, celery, watercress, and toasted crackers. In a Good Housekeeping article published in May 1896, a recipe “urged homemakers to use a meat grinder to make peanut butter and spread the result on bread.” The following month, the culinary magazine Table Talk published a “peanut butter sandwich recipe.”

The first reference [to]  peanut butter paired with jelly on bread to be published in the United States was by Julia Davis Chandler in 1901 in the Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. In the early 1900s, this sandwich was adopted down the class structure as the price of peanut butter dropped. It became popular with children by the 1920s as manufacturers began adding sugar to the peanut butter.

During World War II, it is said that both peanut butter and jelly were found on US soldiers’ military ration list, as claimed by the Peanut Board.

Crucial fact here: PB&J really took off when peanut became sweet (almost as sweet as jellies or james), at which point the whole package is really really sweet, the equivalent of candy, especially since much ordinary white bread in the U.S. is also sweet, from the high-fructose corn syrup in it. This apparently suits lots of American kids, but I’ve never dealt well with PB&J.

Problem 1. It’s just too damn sweet. As a kid, I liked candy, especially chocolate candy, and cake and cookies., but I disliked sweet stuff in places where I didn’t expect it. So I never ate sugary cereals (corn flakes and Cheerios were my favorites) ,

PB&J can be improved (for my taste) by using unsweetened peanut butter, but it’s still sweet.

Problem 2. It’s not an acceptable main dish. As a kid, I never had a PB&J sandwich for lunch: a candy-equivalent as the main dish for lunch is just unacceptable. Though jams on breadstuffs are fine as an afternoon snack, or in the UK, for tea (scones with clotted cream and jam are fabulous for tea).

A PB&J sandwich, maybe just half of one, would have been ok as a lunch dessert, though I preferred fresh fruit or, occasionally, a piece of fudge. But the main part of lunch would involve meat, fish, cheese, vegetables, and rice or pasta, in some combination. (As a kid, I really really liked raw vegetables of all kinds, and cheese, and I was happy to eat them as is, or turn them into salad.)

Problem 3. The classic American PB&J comes on soft white bread (Wonder Bread or a cousin), and I’ve never liked this kind of bread. This can be fixed, of course, by using a non-sweet bread with more texture and taste.

Problem 4. The classic American PB&J has grape jelly as the J, and I’ve always detested commercial grape jelly: to me, it has a nasty chemical taste, and (like all jellies) a slippery, uninteresting texture,  This can be fixed, of course, by using another type of jelly, or, better, by using a jam: strawberry, raspberry, or, best of all, intense blackberry.

Surprise! On the National Calendar Day site, this culinary suggestion:

It may be a good day to try something different. Following are a few ideas to help you out! Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes, Peanut Butter and Jelly French Toast, Peanut Butter and Jelly Pie, Peanut Butter and Jelly Sushi, Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies, Peanut Butter and Jelly Donuts, Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes, Peanut Butter and Jelly Fudge

As the Sesame Street song goes, “One of these things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn’t belong”. All the suggestions have PB&J in sweet preparations (cupcakes, French toast, pie, cookies, donuts, pancakes, fudge; and you could imagine a peanut butter cake with jam filling). But then there’s PB&J sushi.

This one I figured out right away. PB&J sushi isn’t sushi: the compound PB&J sushi isn’t subsective, but resembloid, describing a foodstuff that resembles (in this case, looks like) sushi. But it has no fish or other seafood or any vegetable ingredient (cucumber, carrot, avocado, whatever), it has no nori, and it has no rice (sushi rice or any other kind) — and of course no soy sauce, vinegar, or wasabi. It’s merely a PB&J sandwich — bread, peanut butter, and jelly — configured to look like sushi rolls, for the sake of kids who wouldn’t touch the real stuff.


Recipe from a food site, with commercial names suppressed (estimated to take about 3 minutes to make 8 pieces of faux-sushi (faushi?)):

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons strawberry jelly
2 slices bread

REMOVE crusts from bread. With a rolling pin or large soup can, completely flatten bread.

SPREAD 1 tablespoon peanut butter and 1 tablespoon fruit spread on each slice of bread

ROLL each slice into a tight spiral. Cut each spiral into 4 pieces.

As for me, bring on the salmon-avocado maki.

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