America is a melting pot. And when you think of our collective food culture, not many aspects are originally American. Hot dogs, the staple food of our Fourth of July? Originated in Germany as Frankfurters or Wieners. Apple pie? First printed recipe is English (not to mention, Dutch apple pies are called Dutch for a reason). Whatever else you can think of, there is a strong likelihood that it was brought here from another place.
Now comes the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the components of which, I grant you, are not American in origin. Jam, jellies, preserves, etc., originated from many places—I don’t think any one place can lay claim to that invention. Peanut butter is similarly ancient in that recipes using peanuts ground into paste were used by the Aztecs and Incans in North America and by the Oromo and Amhara in Ethiopia. And the bread? Well bread is bread and as old as civilization. To be fair, sliced bread, the best thing since bread (I guess), is American. And it turns out, sliced bread had a major impact on the eating habits of our country by popularizing the sandwich. But I can say with certainty, that people are perfectly capable of making one loaf of bread into many slices without the need of whatever industrial process that was invented to make sliced bread. All this history is to say, when you add up those components, you get something truly, originally American: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is called the stalwart prow of the ship that fed a generation during the Great Depression. To this day, the combination is simple yet elegant. Simple enough for any kid to slap peanut butter and jelly between two slices, yet elegant enough to provide wholesome nutrition that also tastes pretty damn good. The variations are seemingly endless. Add sliced banana for some razzle dazzle. Use raspberry jam instead of grape if you have strong feelings about grape. Add marshmallows if you feel like getting a sugar high. Use cookie butter if you are allergic to nuts. Desecrate the sanctity of the classic sandwich with pickles. Do what you want, do it your way, just do it yourself. Is that not the American Dreamtm encapsulated within a sandwich?
April 2nd is the National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. For old times’ sake, celebrate with the best recipe to be written yet. Here’s my classic tried and true:
2 slices of bread – any kind is good, but if you can’t get a sourdough made from century old starter and hand kneaded by a monk that part-times as bread maker in San Francisco, store-bought is fine too.
1 blob of peanut butter – you define what a blob looks like.
1 blob of grape jelly – see peanut butter.
Assemble together, condiment touching condiment.
Cut diagonally into triangles because they just taste better.