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Kitchen Histories: The Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

Sep 17, 2013

by Sarah Lohman

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Sarah Lohman is a historic gastronomist. She recreates historic recipes as a way to make a personal connection with the past, as well as to inspire her contemporary cooking. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Four Pounds Flour. In this series, Lohman combs Etsy for items that speak to America’s culinary past.

I first bit into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in high school. It was a tentative bite from a friend’s sandwich in the lunchroom, one I declared to be nothing special. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate this lunchbox staple, but in retrospect, it seems impossible for someone born and raised in the American Midwest to have gone 16 years without eating a PB&J. But for some reason, my mom preferred to make me tuna salad, and my dad, peanut butter and honey.

Peanut butter and jelly is considered an inseparable combo in the United States. Search Etsy, and you’ll find not only handmade delectables celebrating that most American flavor combination, but also jewelry, apparel, and romantic greeting cards celebrating their timeless union.

Although it seems like the world didn’t exist before PB&J, the sandwich is only about 100 years old. Someone had to invent peanut butter in the first place, let alone slather it on bread with jelly.

The history of peanut butter starts at least 3,000 years ago in present day Peru, where the Incas ground native peanuts into paste. The results were used as a sauce for meats like chicken and as a flavoring in pork soups, at least after the Europeans showed up and introduced domesticated animals. It’s difficult to know how the native populations used peanuts before then.

Flash forward to the 19th century: Americans are enjoying boiled peanuts and peanut soup, and peanuts are grown as a crop throughout the South. In 1895, a man named John Harvey Kellogg — yes, of Corn Flakes fame — patents a “Process of Preparing Nut Meal.” Kellogg was a vegetarian who actively promoted a meat-free lifestyle, but Kellogg felt that he couldn’t convert a meat-devouring Victorian public without a suitable substitute for animal flesh. His nut butters, including peanut butter, were considered tasty and filling, and he used these butters to produce one of the earliest “meat analogs,” Protose. Even George Washington Carver, in his seminal 1916 paper, “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Uses for Human Consumption,” suggests recipes for Mock Chicken and Veal alongside his recommendations for peanut doughnuts and peanut macaroni and cheese.

packing_peanut_butter

Library of Congress

Factory workers packing peanut butter, circa 1915.

Kellogg was a masterful promoter of his food ideals, and his health spa, The Battle Creek Sanitarium, became extremely fashionable amongst the upper classes. The rich and famous began making his peanut butters at home and later buying his commercialized version to use as a sandwich spread. This original peanut butter was more like the fresh ground stuff you can get at specialty stores today: thick, sometimes salty, but seldom sweet. It was used in savory combinations as commonly as sweet: with pimentos or watercress in fancy New York City tea rooms, or blended with sweetened condensed milk for better spreadability in the home. The peanut butter and hot sauce sandwich was popular through World War II (it’s making a comeback using Sriracha).

But in November 1901, the match was made in heaven: The Boston Cooking School Magazine, released by the influential, middle-class cooking school of the same name, produced an article titled “Peanuts and Pralines”:

“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.”

Cooking journals and cookbooks tend to lag behind what the general public is already doing, but this is the earliest reference known to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and as the author states, “so far as I know, original.”

The greatest advantage of peanut butter was that despite its fancy reputation, it was extremely cheap. It became a great equalizer amongst the classes, and to this day, a PB&J is consumed by rich and poor alike.

September is the perfect time of year to try out the original recipe for PB&J because crabapples are in season. While they are too small and tart for regular consumption, they’re ideal for making jelly, particularly because their peels contain a large quantity of pectin, the chemical that makes jelly gel. Historically, people sometimes threw crabapples in with any jelly to help it set.

I bought my jelly fresh made from Jammin’ with Devyn, who uses wild-harvested fruit like chokeberries and elderberries to make their jelly, and I spread it between bread with smooth ground peanut butter. It tastes just like a peanut butter and jelly should.

Search Peanut Butter and Jelly on Etsy

Peanut Butter and Jelly BFF ring set. Best friend gift.
Peanut Butter and Jelly BFF ring set. Best friend gift.
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Peanut Butter and Jelly Epic Vegan Lip Balm
Peanut Butter and Jelly Epic Vegan Lip Balm
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Old Fashioned Homemade Crabapple Jelly
Old Fashioned Homemade Crabapple Jelly
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1 Featured Comment

  • Spirit76

    Bill Mitchell from ThingsNAntiques said 5 years ago Featured

    I am 80 years old, and during the Great Depression, my brother and I lived on Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches. We became very creative, because just plain old PB&J, we started sprikling our peanut butter spread with Ovaltine flakes along with our strawberry jam, then, on other occassions we would add lettuce, and instead of jam we would put bread & butter pickles. If you would like to hear about our Beer Floats. Yes, real dark beer and ice cream, I will let you know about that scrumptuous delight. After creating it in about 1982, we introduced it on our auntie's 90th birthday at the Del Coronado Hotel. She loved it and asked for a second one:)

82 comments

  • edieandglo

    kelly hickey from edieandglo said 5 years ago

    YUM! Now off to make some peanut soup-thanks for the inspiration and very fun read.

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 5 years ago

    Love this! Peanut Butter is definately one of my weaknesses :) So good!

  • handmadebycecilia

    Cecilia Escobar from HandmadebyCecilia said 5 years ago

    This is so funny. My daughters love PB&J and have them often for lunch. I didn't grow up with this "unique" classic statement though, but I enjoy I bite here and there. Thanks for the article!

  • amysfunkyfibers

    Amy Gunderson from amysfunkyfibers said 5 years ago

    Just love peanut butter- one of my favorite sandwiches is a toastie- grilled with butter slathered on each side-

  • lovelygifts

    Linda from lovelygifts said 5 years ago

    Interesting article! Still love PB&J!

  • heatherllevin

    Heather Levin from petticoatplease said 5 years ago

    I love that you included early peanut butter combinations, like peanut butter and hot sauce! I'm trying that at lunch today. Yum!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 5 years ago

    Loved it with Marshmallow Fluff growing up!

  • 777carolala

    Caroline Barbosa from OldSoulVintageLtd said 5 years ago

    Very interesting history of the pb & j. We now live out in the country with mom and pop country shops all around selling their apples, jams and honey. Looking forward to finding some fresh jelly!

  • iwantpizzanow

    Kate from DrawertoDrawer said 5 years ago

    Food & history- two of my favourite subjects! I like my pb&js with bananas sometimes, but I think I need to start experimenting. Great post!

  • vintagejane

    Stacey McCaffrey from vintagejane said 5 years ago

    There is no better classic! YUM!

  • amberike

    Amber Ikemoto from FromtheHeartbyAmber said 5 years ago

    Remember "GOOBER" I used to pack that in my lunch as a kid. We thought it was so cool.

  • lovesyoustationeryco

    Jenn Fisher from LovesYouStationeryCo said 5 years ago

    I love PB&J, my Hubby and I first said "I love you," while discussing PB&J awesomeness on the phone! This article is great and I loved learning a bit of history about the best sandwich ever!

  • EdelweissPost

    Patrick from EdelweissPost said 5 years ago

    As Florence Fabricant once said, Peanut butter is the pâté of childhood.

  • jmyerscho

    Jacqueline Myers-Cho from TheHappyMonsters said 5 years ago

    yum !!!!! Love it

  • GrowingOldTogether

    GrowingOldTogether from GrowingOldTogether said 5 years ago

    Mmmmmmm... This pregnant girl is off to the kitchen!

  • agebo

    Ann Cosgrove from acbcDesign said 5 years ago

    Love these food history articles - always so interesting! Thanks for sharing!

  • joliefemme

    Diana from joliefemme said 5 years ago

    Fun! Great idea to revamp the classic with more gourmet jelly flavors! Love the historical background!

  • DesignerPillowShop

    Samantha from DesignerPillowShop said 5 years ago

    Peanut butter is my favorite :)

  • dannylion

    Lauryn Quinn from thefrolickingfrog said 5 years ago

    PB&J has been my favorite forever! Never thought about discovering the history of it but glad I did! Such interesting info on Kellogg too! My husband and I were actually PB&J for Halloween one year and I founds lots of great stuff on Etsy for the costumes!

  • SewforYou

    Cynthia from SewforYou said 5 years ago

    What a fun and interesting article! My childhood was filled with PB&J sandwiches and they are still a favorite of mine!

  • happybdaytome

    happybdaytome from happybdaytome said 5 years ago

    Yummy and sweet !

  • carbaddict

    PHILO HOOKE from carbaddict said 5 years ago

    Kellogg was a heath nut????!!! Wow, wonder how he feels now from the beyond about his company making Frosted Flakes, fruit loops and pop tarts? Nice article, thank you.

  • HansHolzkopf

    Natalie from HansHolzkopf said 5 years ago

    I love love love this!!! Yuuuuummmmmmmyyyyy!!!

  • debvasbinder

    Deb Vasbinder from BabyCuteBaby said 5 years ago

    Interesting article - I like my p & j with a layer of potato chips inside.

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 5 years ago

    Interesting article! Thanks for sharing !

  • BeautifulTrims

    Shikha from ArtsyCraftsyShoppe said 5 years ago

    I like peanut butter!

  • conmismanos

    Laura Ortiz-Spiegel from conmismanos said 5 years ago

    Love the "gastrohistorical" information! When I saw the Sirarcha reference, I had to mention my PB& Jalapeno Jelly Sandwich. I takes a certain person to like it...

  • OurBrand

    Katy and Kyle from OurBrand said 5 years ago

    now i want a pb and j!!!

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 5 years ago

    Love this!

  • Nikifashion

    Natalia from Nikifashion said 5 years ago

    Great article!

  • TheGlowingSkin

    TheGlowingSkin from TheGlowingSkin said 5 years ago

    Yum! Love is like peanut butter and jelly.

  • guiltfreedecadence

    Anna M. from GuiltfreeDecadence said 5 years ago

    Yummy! Reminds me of the peanut butter and jelly key chains I make for here :-)

  • Agasart

    Aga from AgasJourney said 5 years ago

    lovely post. thank you for sharing

  • laurastark

    Laura Stark from laurastark said 5 years ago

    Peanut butter and jelly always hits the spot!

  • CalicoJunoJewelry

    Lea Marino from CalicoJunoJewelry said 5 years ago

    So delish! Great post!

  • Motleycouture

    Motleycouture from Motleycouture said 5 years ago

    Love PBJ! Eat it almost everyday!

  • TheEnchantedSlipper

    J Breault from TheEnchantedSlipper said 5 years ago

    Peanut butter in Jelly is a staple in this house. My 14 year old is such a picky eater but has a huge appetite. PB&J sure comes in handy. Great article!

  • owlgypsy

    Christina Young from owlgypsy said 5 years ago

    What an adorable read! I love me some pb&j!

  • trodus

    trodus from trodus said 5 years ago

    My school lunch was peanut butter on Mrs Baird's white bread, a little bag of Fritos, some celery and carrot sticks, an orange or apple and ginger snaps; from grades 1 - 12, I munched away at this lunch, I still like a peanut butter sandwich. But please! No Jelly.

  • riskybeads

    Lori from riskybeads said 5 years ago

    I love PB&J and eat it quite often. I've even been guilty of making a PB&J beaded bracelet. There's something very comforting about the combination and along with a tall cold glass of milk, it's nearly perfection!

  • LetterKayDesigns

    LetterKayDesigns from LetterKayDesigns said 5 years ago

    One of my favorites!

  • ParisCabinet

    JD Kohler from ParisCabinet said 5 years ago

    Love love love an open face sandwich of toast with peanut butter covered with slices of bananas then topped with grape jelly, it glistens and makes it a visual delight and the taste is WOW! An unusual recipe I found years ago was for spaghetti with a sauce of peanut butter, cream and soy sauce, sounds odd but it is very good.

  • Spirit76

    Bill Mitchell from ThingsNAntiques said 5 years ago Featured

    I am 80 years old, and during the Great Depression, my brother and I lived on Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches. We became very creative, because just plain old PB&J, we started sprikling our peanut butter spread with Ovaltine flakes along with our strawberry jam, then, on other occassions we would add lettuce, and instead of jam we would put bread & butter pickles. If you would like to hear about our Beer Floats. Yes, real dark beer and ice cream, I will let you know about that scrumptuous delight. After creating it in about 1982, we introduced it on our auntie's 90th birthday at the Del Coronado Hotel. She loved it and asked for a second one:)

  • PinesVintageClothing

    Pine from GoodOldVintageOnline said 5 years ago

    Great post! Luv weird history like this. Can't wait to share this blog with my partner. He would waste away to nothing without pb&j! I kind of want one now after reading this ;) Would love to try the crabapple jelly.

  • fairladyfashions

    Emily Hill from emmyshoppe said 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! I've always been a ridiculous fan of PB&J. I say "ridiculous" because often times at a restaraunt, I have the urge to order a PB&J off the kids menu. It will be much easier when/if I have children. I can steal their PB&J and let them have my chicken parm. :)

  • brucepark

    Bruce Park from BruceParkArts said 5 years ago

    An awesome post I love hearing how things got started. PB&J is a standard in our home, passing it down from one generation to the next.

  • JenSanCandles

    Jennifer and Sandra from JenSanHomeAndBody said 5 years ago

    Nothing beats peanut butter and jelly on a toasted bagel. I especially love to substitute guava jelly for the traditional grape.

  • tigersanddragons

    tigersanddragons from TigersandDragons said 5 years ago

    I also grew up on peanut butter and honey sandwiches, which I find far too sweet now. The peanut butter and banana sandwich is my favourite way to temper the richness of peanut butter. These days many schools ban peanut products; there is PEA-butter and sunflower seed butter for those with allergies.

  • LetterKay

    Kayla from LetterKay said 5 years ago

    pb&j is one of my faves!

  • StylishKiddies

    StylishKiddies from StylishKiddies said 5 years ago

    Love you Blog and LOVE peanutbutter and jelly (grape) also Love your featured story

  • Jusadreamin

    Jusadreamin from Jusadreamin said 5 years ago

    LOVE peanutbutter and jelly THANKS for your blog

  • UsagiRabbit

    UsagiRabbit from UsagiRabbit said 5 years ago

    Those earrings are ADORABLE! Makes me want a pb&j right now ^_^

  • michele325

    Michele from MichelesAManoDesigns said 5 years ago

    I like PB&J now, but growing up it was Nutella sandwiches :) My kids will not eat Peanut Butter....wish they did, it makes such a great "go to" food when short on time. (or even to make for lunch!)

  • metroretrovintage

    metroretrovintage from MetroRetroVintage said 5 years ago

    Great article about peanut butter and the amazing, if not elusive Protose! I have an old copy of 'Back to Eden' and wonder if there may be a similar recipe in there. I'm enjoying your blog as well Sarah -- thank you.

  • MariaHelenaPhoto

    maria helena from MariaHelenaPhoto said 5 years ago

    Now I have a craving for peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches, I think I'll have just the one...

  • MaggyMorrissey

    Margaret from GreenGooseGallery said 5 years ago

    Growing up in Ireland we didn't have peanut butter and jelly, but we did have Nutella! I also remember sugar sandwiches. Yes you read correctly, white bread with butter and sprinkled with sugar. I preferred Nutella :)

  • aressa

    aressa from OriginalBridalHanger said 5 years ago

    After my own heart.....I LOVE peanut butter and jelly!!! YUM....

  • mlezcano

    Mary Lezcano from BellaBboutique said 5 years ago

    I've only ever had peanut butter and grape jelly, this crabjelly seems to be where it's at.

  • Plastidermy

    Chris Evans from Plastidermy said 5 years ago

    I'm a vegetarian and it's really cool to see how peanut butter played such an important role in converting people's mentality on following that sort of diet.

  • busterandboo

    Buster and boo from busterandboo said 5 years ago

    I am eating a PB&J right now!

  • TheMarbleTea

    Allison Dey Malacaria from SweaterDoll said 5 years ago

    in the 60s, every kid climbed trees and their eyes looked to the sky not screens. A summer activity was crab apple war, apples mysteriously flying from tree to tree, kids hidden deep in their upper branches. (Crab apple trees are not very tall.) Crab apples and underripe apples can be cooked down for their pectin which helps fruit gel and preserves your homemade jam. This was wisdom learned from my grandma and an unplugged childhood.

  • Kam2012

    Kam from RiverGoddessBoutique said 5 years ago

    My partner has never tried peanut butter, let alone PB&J. I think I know what I'm making when it's my turn to make lunch! : )

  • catherinemaria

    Catherine Maria Charalambous from BouncyTree said 5 years ago

    I am 27 and still eat PB&J sammies at least once a week. There are certain things that are just meant to be and that is one of them.

  • HandiworkinGirls

    HandiworkinGirls from HandiworkinGirls said 5 years ago

    What a yummy history! PB&J is a family staple during the summer - our favorite jams are peach, raspberry, and strawberry, but really, anything works with peanut butter. :D

  • DuchessRed

    DuchessRed from DuchessRed said 5 years ago

    I love the article and the history of peanut butter... but you will find that there were domesticated animals in the Americas before Europeans arrived--some of them even edible. ;) I can only assume you mean animals like pigs, chickens, and goats. Thank you so much for sharing this! Long live PB&J.. and thank you for planting the seeds of PB and sriracha in my husband's gustatory queue.

  • rosenu2

    Mara from rosenu2 said 5 years ago

    Love Peanut Butter with lettuce, on crackers, garnishing celery sticks, Peanut butter popcorn balls .... But the best is of course with any flavor of jelly .... Grew up with it and will never out grow it .... Sweet Remembrances .... Thanks for the history lesson ....

  • thunderpeep

    Michelle Reaney from thunderpeep said 5 years ago

    how much fun is this article. I will enjoy my next PB&J sandwich that much more now. Thanks for sharing :)

  • TanithBLambi

    Tanith Lambi from BigshotBobo said 5 years ago

    I couldnt think of a more appropriate post to share this on, enjoy friends! https://www.etsy.com/listing/154481226/pb-j-slow-jammin-kitchen-foody-print?ref=shop_home_active

  • elliott0111

    Jeff Elliott from ElliottGlassArt said 5 years ago

    I like to prepare and eat GRILLED PB& J sandwiches. Very yummy.

  • topvistama

    topvistama from KleponDesign said 5 years ago

    First time I tried this combination of peanut butter and jelly was when I was bored after eating only peanut butter toast for a long time, then I tried to mix it with blueberry jams. It was so delicious! Love it!

  • fomina7

    Natulik from vyazalochka said 5 years ago

    My kids like to eat peanut butter and honey. Yummy Now we will try this one! Thanks :)))

  • TwistedDesigns

    Lindsay May from TwistedDesigns said 5 years ago

    The best combination ever created! My kids eat it daily.

  • dominna

    Katrina Dzerkale from Dominna said 5 years ago

    Peanut butter is one of the proofs that God loves us.

  • NirvanaRoad

    Lisa from NirvanaRoad said 5 years ago

    My absolute favorite sandwich.

  • CaseyNicole360

    Casey Nicco from VintageVerified said 5 years ago

    PBJ can be the best!!! Even as an adult, when the mood strikes me, I slow down when eating my pbj because it is SO GOOD!!!

  • MeAnBee

    Danielle from BusyGirlsBoutique said 5 years ago

    My go to comfort food! My dad ate one every day in his lunch until he retired. Now, just on "special" occasions. We cheers our sandwhich triangles, sit back and watch the game.

  • leafprintstudio

    Camille from leafprintstudio said 5 years ago

    It has to be on nice fresh bread with a glass of milk!

  • NinaRaizel

    Nina from NinaRaizel said 5 years ago

    Yum yum! I'm craving a PBJ so much right now! I'm vegetarian, so I basically live off peanut butter, weather it's in a tofu recipe, or on a slice of bread along side jelly. One of my favorite combos is toasted whole wheat bread, spread with peanut butter, layered with sliced banana, and drizzled with honey. So tasty!

  • onebadasscandle

    Ms. Betty from badasscandles said 5 years ago

    Okay, now I am hungry. Try putting butter on the outside of the sandwich and grill it just like a grilled cheese. They are amazing! Really amazing!

  • allikjian

    allikjian from MegaLUX said 5 years ago

    Great story! Love peanut butter sandwiches! Especially toasted with bananas. Check out my shop to see all my amazing nut butters.

  • antiquegal81

    Erika from SunflowerSewingBox said 5 years ago

    As a food lover and history enthusiast, I really enjoyed this article. PB&J is such a classic and the picks above make me wish I'd brought one to work for lunch!

  • korenkwan

    Koren Kwan from GarasuWonderland said 4 years ago

    Interesting article!

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