Your First Peanut Butter and Jelly

super easy



Have you ever asked the question, what is a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich? If you live in the United States (and you don’t have a peanut allergy!), you likely have been eating them since you were very young. A 2002 survey by the Smucker Corporation Estimated that the average American eats 1,500 of these sandwiches by the time they graduate high school, which is roughly 80 to 90 per year. A primary reason for this is because the “Peanut Butter and Jelly” or PB & J is such a simple and self descriptive meal, that the full recipe is built into the name itself. However, the PB & J has a rich and varied history of innovation and experimentation. There are hundreds of different ways to make the sandwich. This manual will go over the origins of the PB & J, explain the story of why they are so wildly popular, and explore several notable recipes and examples. 


To make a PB & J is very simple. First, you must assemble the three ingredients, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a loaf of sliced bread. The only tool you will need is a butter knife to spread the peanut butter onto a single slice of bread. The flat side of the butter knife is specifically designed for spreading butter  evenly across bread. After cleaning your peanut butter coated knife, use it to apply a good helping of jelly to a second piece of bread. Once the two separate slices of bread have an even coating, one with peanut butter and the other with jelly, combine the two slices together. Completion of this process will provide you with a  bonafide Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich (PB &J) which you should eat immediately, as it will be delicious. 


Making a PB & J is so simple that it can be easily made by a child as young as five. The combination of fantastic sweet and savory flavors is universally appreciated. This is a large part of why they are so popular. The other major factor is price, as the PB & J is one of the most affordable and accessible sandwiches available. The average PB & J sandwich has about 2 oz of peanut butter, 1 oz of jelly and two slices of bread. A large jar of peanut butter is about 40 oz and costs $5 and a standard jelly jar has roughly 18 oz and costs $2, while a full loaf of bread with 20 slices can cost just $1. This means that for under $10, you can make approximately 20 PB & Js, which would be enough to feed a person for a week. To make the situation even better, peanut butter is a great source of fat and protein, while also being full of vitamins. Though jelly isn’t terribly healthy, it is a reasonable source of carbohydrates, and most bread in the United States is so enriched with various additives that it is essentially a “fluffy multi-vitamin. This makes the PB & J a relatively full macro-nutrient load, admittedly with a few too many carbohydrates, but balanced enough to allow a person to survive on approximately $1 a day in the United States.




All this sandwich math helps puts it in perspective and explains why the PB & J was able to gain a foothold during the Great Depression. It rapidly rose to prominence as a ration for soldiers during World War II. 


The earliest instance of peanut butter is a US patent in 1884 by Marcellus Gilmore Edson, though the butter wasn’t widely adopted until around 1900.  Smooth peanut butter wasn’t developed until 1922. It should be noted that many Asian cultures have been crushing peanuts into peanut sauces for hundreds of years, though this product has little in common with the peanut butter we are used to. The first reference to a sandwich containing peanut butter and jelly is from an article by Julia Davis Chandler in the Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics.


 “For variety, some day try making little sandwiches, or bread fingers, of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste, whatever brand you prefer, and currant or crab-apple jelly for the other. The combination is delicious, and, so far as I know, original. “ – Peanuts and Pralines By Julia Davis Chandler


PB&Js are not nearly as popular outside of the United States. They are a decidedly American cultural icon, much like vegemite sandwiches in Australia and Lutefisk in the Nordic countries, the PB & J simply does not seem to interest people of other cultures. The PB & J in this context is a very useful tool to understand that we live in a global society and that there is more to life than our own local values and customs. That said, the PB & J is a delicious sandwichiWith the sheer number of variations, it is likely that a configuration will develop that will be properly appreciated around the world. 


Sandwich #1 – Our first PB & J


We’ve dove into the history and context surrounding this wonderful sandwich, now we will discover how to make the best version of the iconic PB & J. First start with bread selection, as it is the foundation of any sandwich. A simple sandwich bread, in either white or wheat is very appropriate for a standard PB & J. From a structural perspective, the bread is often a weak point that can compromise the entire recipe. It is necessary for the bread to be firm and not too fluffy, or it will become soaked through by the jelly. For the peanut butter, most Americans prefer the creamy type, so that is what will go into the recipe, though there is rising evidence that the crunchy variety has mild preference on the West Coast. Jelly selection is the most complex and intimate ingredient to choose from of the three. Preserved fruit spreads have been around in some form for hundreds of years and there are hundreds of options to choose from. Further complicating the matter, is that many people seem to use jam and jelly interchangeably, despite their different structure. For this sandwich, we will use a very common sweet grape jelly, as this is the type that helped skyrocket the PB & J into the public spotlight. It should be noted that the current most popular “jelly” choice in the United States is actually strawberry jam. 


Now it is time to discover their optimal ratio. Most sliced bread is approximately half an inch thick. If you slice it yourself it can be any thickness you’d like, and these instructions may require adjustment. Since people prefer to purchase sliced bread, it will be the core number to plan around. I tested 8 different configurations of peanut butter to jelly to discover which provided the most delicious and flavorful combination. Our goal was for the jelly to be fully tasted alongside the peanut butter, and for neither ingredient to overwhelm the other. The results of our test showed that 5 parts peanut butter to 3 parts jelly allowed the two flavor profiles to be fully enjoyed together.

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