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|l||The PB & J
Is there any better food combination than peanut butter and jelly? Quite possibly, but I personally can't imagine it. This, though, is somewhat of a biased opinion - I happen to love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I always have. In fact peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are part of my daily diet; I consume on average one per day. They're quick, easy, and nutritious.
What's not to like? A well-made PB & J has multiple levels of flavors and textures - the intense and creamy, almost smoky flavor of ground roasted peanuts layered with fresh, sugared fruit spread, and sandwiched between toasted fresh-made whole wheat or whole-grain bread.
All right, maybe that's romanticizing the ordinary just a little too much, but a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on toast is undeniably a great marriage of taste and texture.
It often surprises people when they hear of a professional cook eating such "common foods," as if it is some dirty little secret ("Joe eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? But he's a chef!").
It's not as if I'm sneaking into a golden-arched restaurant, which I detest on many levels (not just the crappy food, but on a larger scale how they are devolving our nation's palate).
Besides, if a chef's diet consisted primarily of what he or she cooked in restaurants -demi-glace and wine reduction sauces, cream, etc. - they would be as big as a house, not to mention have serious digestive problems.
While the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is definitely an American original it surprises me that it is such a recent addition to our culinary repertoire. Leavened bread, of course, has been in existence some 6000 years, and the popularity of the sandwich in general has been known since 1763 when one John Montague began to eat his meals between two slices of bread (good ole John was also the Earl of Sandwich, hence the food's name, as you already know from Saturday Night Live).
And the method of preserving fruits in sugar, such as jellies, jams, and marmalades, has been in existence almost as long as leavened bread. Though, historically speaking, the use of peanuts as a common foodstuff is relatively new. Peanut butter was first introduced as an inexpensive, flavorful, and good source of protein at the St. Louis World's fair in 1890, and the famous and industrious scientist George Washington Carver began researching multi uses for peanuts around 1914.
I sometimes wonder then, usually while happily eating a PB & J, why this awesome combination took so long to become popular?
Some food historians claim the famous sandwich in mention had its beginnings in the early 1930's, but as far as I can tell it originated during or around the time of the Second World War. During that time staples such as butter, cheese, and meat, were of course, in short supply, and at the same time a common snack for children was bread and butter, and sometimes jelly.
To compensate for the lack of butter, mothers began to use peanut butter, which was in plentiful supply. Not surprisingly, kids liked it. In addition, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were supposedly also on certain GI ration menus. When these GIs returned home they still wanted this sweet and savory snack. The rest, as they say, is history.
If you really think about it, a well-made peanut butter and jelly sandwich - one that is constructed of good and wholesome ingredients - can actually be a type of gourmet food (the word "gourmet," after all, is simply a matter of opinion). It can also be a very healthy meal or snack. Consider the elements. Let's start with peanut butter. In a 1999 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition nutritionists confided that a diet high in peanuts can lower bad cholesterol. In fact, it stated that peanuts could have a more positive effect on a person's cholesterol level than a "low fat" diet. In a study that compared diets high in monounsaturated fat (the fat found in peanuts) against some low fat diets, it was concluded that diets high in monounsaturated fats are far superior than many low fat diets in regard to heart health.
When purchasing ingredients for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, like any other meal, purchase the best. In the case of peanut butter buy the natural type. Read the label, the ingredient list should simply state "peanuts" (and sometimes salt). Sugar in peanut butter is unnecessary; your sandwich will be sweetened with jelly. There is sometimes a thin layer of oil floating on the top of quality peanut butter. This is actually a good sign because natural peanut butters do not contain any sort of emulsifiers or stabilizers, and some of the oil separates from the peanuts and floats to the surface of the jar. Simply stir it in before using it. One of the worst ways to ruin a good PB & J sandwich is to use low or reduced fat peanut butter. Who knows what the fat is replaced with, and personally I would rather consume a small amount of something pure than some sort of unnatural emulsion.
If jelly is of good quality, with minimal, natural, and recognizable ingredients, it too can be a reasonably healthy food - processed fruit, with a little sugar and pectin. There are even jellies available without sugar (sweetened with fruit juice), and those with pieces of the actual fruit in them, such as preserves and marmalades, are an extra boon.
The one component that can make or break any sandwich is bread; if you begin with quality bread almost anything can be made into a delicious sandwich. Of course homemade bread is the best sandwich bread - making it nurtures both the body and soul. But there are plenty of quality loaves to be had at any number of local bakeries.
This category, of course, does not include the spongy-soft, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth supermarket bread. That type of bread has no place in serious sandwich making, unless you're planning a retro 70s party. But that's another menu.
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