The surprising history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich
As a kid, nothing warmed your heart more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with love by mom or dad. Maybe you liked yours without the crust, sliced into quarters, with crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth, or strawberry jam over grape. Regardless of your preference, parents are so good at crafting the perfect PB&J that you’d think one of them was responsible for inventing the sweet and salty staple.
The truth is, no one knows who deserves the PB&J “patent.” Some speculate a writer named Julia Davis Chandler may have had a hand in the sandwich creation. In the November 1901 issue of the Boston Cooking School magazine, she wrote in an article, “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.”
But it took fine-tuning the ingredients before people jumped on the PB&J bandwagon. Peanut butter, or “peanut paste,” as it was called back then, was originally thick and hard to swallow because manufacturers ground the nuts by hand. The buttery consistency wasn’t achieved until 1903, when the peanut grinder mill came along. In 1922, entrepreneur Joseph Rosefield discovered hydrogenation, a chemical process that kept peanut butter from separating and sticking to the tops of consumers’ mouths. He called it Skippy.
Soon there was a bonafide peanut butter industry and peanut butter jars started popping up on grocery store shelves for an affordable price. Amidst the Great Depression, many families started whipping up peanut butter sandwiches for a cheap meal that left stomachs satisfied.
Jelly and jam has been around for centuries, but it wasn’t until 1917 when jelly truly made its claim to fame, thanks to Paul Welch (yes, the son of the Welch’s Grape Juice creator) who introduced Grapelade, a jelly made from pureed Concord grapes.
Still, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich we know and love today didn’t truly come to fruition until World War II. The U.S. military ration menus featured jars of peanut butter and jelly and soldiers would spread both on pre-sliced bread for an energy boost. Once they arrived home, the trend continued and PB&J’s found a place on family lunch tables where they’ve been there ever since!
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