PB & ?

Something a little different from the cynicism of the past couple of weeks.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is arguably the centerpiece of the classic American lunch. If you grew up in the U.S., you probably can’t begin to count the number of PB&Js you’ve eaten. There’s a reason for that success: the combination of the rich, slightly salty PB wraps the sweetness of the J; at the same time, the tart aftertaste of the J cuts the unctuousness of the PB. Complementary pairs.

You’ve probably got your favorite variation, the one you go to automatically; the one you eat every day for a week without a qualm. White bread, chunky peanut butter, and grape jelly. Whole wheat, creamy organic, and homemade ginger-apricot jam. But no matter how much you like your favorite, every so often you need a little variety, right?

To my mind, one of the most fascinating things about the PB&J is that most people are only willing to consider changing one of the three ingredients. Change the bread? No way. Change the peanut butter? Are you insane‽ In both cases, people might reluctantly change brands, but not the style. Fans of crunchy will turn up their noses at creamy. Those who prefer a “natural” peanut butter flee from pre-stirred varieties.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of room for experimentation with the “jelly” element. Even the change of mouth feel in switching from jelly to jam can be enough to satisfy your desire for novelty. Apple jelly is different from apple jam, and apple butter is different from either.

But what if you want to go further? Break from convention, abandon the J, and let your taste buds roam free*? What combines well with the immutable pairing of PB and bread?

* OK, that’s a disturbing image.

You could try marmalade. You could. I won’t stop you. I don’t think you’ll enjoy it, though. It would take an unusually strong peanut butter to stand up to marmalade and make a balanced PB&M.

Allow me to make a couple of suggestions.

Honey–Sometimes you just want to rot your teeth*. Honey cranks up the sweetness level beyond the ability of jelly, without the guilty feelings that sprinkling your sandwich with processed sugar would bring. And there’s as much variety in flavors of honey as in jellies.

* Let’s face it: 90% of us are never going to brush after lunch.

Cream cheese–Feeling sugared out? Try cream cheese. Not one of the abominations that come mixed with smoked salmon, chives, strawberries, or, God help us, pumpkin. What are you, sick? Just a simple, pure schmear. It works better with crunchy peanut butter, so you get a bit of textural contrast, but even with creamy PB, the slight bite of the cheese plays nicely against the smooth legume.

OK, the floor is open. What do you all use when you want to break free of the standard PB&J?

9 thoughts on “PB & ?

  1. As an inveterate addict to ginger, there’s a suggestion. Mashed-up ginger root, or if you tend toward the sweet, mashed-up candied ginger. Maybe even crumbled ginger snap cookies. Of course ginger jelly is also available, but that would technically be pb and j, so not eligible for this nomination.

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    • Hmm. I’m a ginger fancier as well, and I wouldn’t dream of making peanut sauce without a generous dose of ginger, but I’m dubious about raw, unsweetened ginger in a sandwich.

      Ginger snap cookies sound rather better–though I’d be inclined to make something oreo-like: a blob of PB between two cookies sounds better than crumbled cookies between slices of bread.

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  2. Advised by a gaggle of friends with nothing better to do than oversee my nutritional needs, I switched, years ago, from my beloved Skippy PB to what is affectionately referred to around our house as “hippie shit” PB- that is, PB that contains nothing but peanuts. I have silently resented it, ever since, and, in fact, it is only now that I am able to say out loud, and in public, that i miss the added sugar that I grew up with. “HS” PB tastes okay, once you’ve stirred it up enough, I guess, but it’s not what my Grandma spread on my after-school sandwiches (with grape jelly), and I always feel like I’m rebuking her, somehow. Clearly, this is a subject fraught with deep and profound meaning, and I’m glad you’ve brought it up.

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    • Oh, dear. I’m in no position to take a stand on the issue, as I’ve been eating low-fat PB (or, more precisely, “peanut spread”) for a number of years. It’s not bad, but I find it a bit too sweet.

      That said, non-HS PBs keep very well. I don’t think your nutritional needs would be seriously compromised if you kept an emergency jar of Skippy around for the occasional late afternoon snack.

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  3. PB and Jelly is to us British an American thing. Jelly? That’s what you call jello. Who’d want a peanut butter sandwich with jelly? Oh Jam! Only kidding! In the UK we have one or the other. A peanut butter sandwich (I prefer wholemeal granary bread with unsweeted PB and no added non peanut oil. A little salt’s fine!) or a jam sandwich! Combine the two? Never! Though I did try it once and couldn’t eat it!

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    • Yet another example of our nations being separated by a common language. šŸ˜‰

      I suspect most Americans would find a jam sandwich too sweet. Or maybe not, considering how much sugar goes into most packaged foods. But definitely not a possibility many of us would consider.

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  4. Pingback: Versatile Sauce | Koi Scribblings

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