Revisiting The Perfect PB And J

We’ve gotten carryout for dinner several times during our shut-in period, but lunch — with one exception — has been a homemade affair.  That means that I’ve eaten more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over the past few weeks than I’ve probably eaten in the last 10 years.  My regular consumption of this legendary member of the sandwich family has increased my already high regard for this brilliant culinary invention, and also made me reflect on the elements of the perfect PB and J.  

As with any sandwich, bread is a key element.  Although I cut my teeth on PB and Js made with Wonder Bread, my adult tastes definitely favor a hearty wheat bread, preferably with a few seeds.  I like the bread toasted, too, because the toasting gives the sandwich an additional texture and crunch, and the warmth from the toasting makes it easier to get a uniform spread on the peanut butter, without ripping the bread to shreds. Making sure the spread is uniform, and also appropriately thin, also is important in order to avoid the dribble factor when biting into the sandwich.

As for the peanut butter, I’m an advocate for crunchy, also for texture reasons.  My jelly tastes, just like my tastes in bread, have changed since childhood.  Back then, the jelly was inevitably grape jelly, with an occasional foray into strawberry jam on special occasions.  Now, I favor raspberry or blueberry jams or preserves, also spread carefully to avoid running the risk of dropping a blob onto your pants or shirt front.  In fairness, however, I think there is only one wrong choice on the jelly:  orange marmalade.  I once new someone who zealously argued that orange marmalade was the preferred ingredient for a PB and J.  (I think that person has long since been committed.)

Cut the sandwich diagonally, serve with a glass of ice cold whole milk, and you’ve got a pretty good homemade lunch that makes the shut-in period more agreeable.

A Vanity Plate I Can Get Behind

IMG_2944Most vanity plates seem like a waste of money to me.  If you’re going to use your vanity plate to make a public declaration about your support for the Greatest Sandwich Ever Conceived, however, I can definitely understand that — especially now, when my effort to avoid carbs means that the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is like the forbidden fruit.  But a man can dream, can’t he?  I’ll take mine with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam and cut diagonally, thank you very much.

The Rules For PB And J Sandwiches

Some time ago Richard posted his rules for revising movies.  I thought listing the rules was a good idea and I decided to do the same for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches:

1.  No orange marmalade permitted. Some years ago I was interviewing a candidate for a position at the law firm and asked him what he thought was the best PB and J combo.  He said the jelly had to be orange marmalade.  Just the thought of it made me gag.  Orange marmalade, the veiny, goopy concoction, combined with peanut butter?  Heresy!  You might as well use marmite.

2. Keep it neat. I hate it when people make the sandwich with too much jelly.  We can argue about whether you should use grape jelly or strawberry preserves, creamy or crunchy peanut butter, white bread or wheat — but can we all agree that the sandwich should be constructed so that you can take a bite without jelly leaking out the sides and falling onto your lap?  It’s messy and wasteful.  A great sandwich is a well-constructed sandwich, and you should be able to enjoy every morsel without scraping ingredients off your pants leg.

3.  It’s a sandwich, not a dessert. I don’t get people who put bananas, sugar, and similar items in their PB and Js.  Don’t make the sandwich into some sickeningly sweet combination, and don’t try to overpower or mask the peanut taste.  Let the peanuts leave their mark on your taste buds!

4.  No fancy bread, please. In many restaurants (and even in Subways) they try to jazz up routine sandwiches by putting things on focaccia bread, oregano/cheese flatbread, and similar high brow breads.   Please resist the temptation to experiment with weird breads when you make your PB and J.  The bread is an important component of the sandwich, but it cannot and should not be the focus.

5.  Keep your butter to yourself. When I was a kid I went to a friend’s house for lunch.  His Mom served PB and Js that she prepared by first slathering butter on the bread on the jelly side of the sandwich.  I asked about it and she politely explained that the butter acted as a kind of barrier against dreaded seepage of the jelly through the bread.  I think the butter makes the sandwich a bit too slimy, plus I think a little seepage is a good thing.  Meaningful interaction between the bread, the jelly, and the peanut butter should not be avoided, but encouraged and celebrated.

The Perfect PB and J

The Perfect PB And J

Tonight when I drove home I was thinking of the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I’m not sure why, but as I was crossing Long Street on my way to the parking garage the thought of the perfect PB & J insinuated itself into my head and there it has stayed, firmly lodged at the forefront of my consciousness.

The perfect PB & J

What is the perfect PB and J?  My definition has changed over time.  When I was 12 I would have argued vigorously that the perfect PB & J was made with Wonder Bread, plain peanut butter, and grape jelly.  When Mom packed my lunch for school that combination was my sandwich of choice.  The concoction was prepared, cut horizontally, and put into a Glad bag, and by the time I ate it during lunch period the grape jelly had thoroughly seeped into the Wonder Bread, infusing every pore and leaving it a purple, wet, spongy slice of grape-y goodness that squished out jelly when when you bit down on it.  Wash it down with a pint of whole milk that cost 2 cents and top it off with a Twinkie and you had the perfect school meal.

Now I have a different view, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a chance to eat another of Mom’s grape specials once more.  These days my preferred PB & J is made with a heavy grain wheat bread, toasted so as to better ensure even spreading of crunchy peanut butter and strawberry preserves.   This sandwich is a sweet and tasty masterpiece of different textures, combining the crunchy toasted bread, chopped peanuts, gummy peanut butter, and occasional globs of jam with those tiny strawberry seeds.   The coarse wheat bread is needed to stand up to the crunchy peanut butter, which would tear ordinary white bread to shreds during the spreading process.  And, for the middle-aged guy, wheat bread and strawberry preserves at least seem healthier than bleached white bread and sugary, processed grape jelly.