Random thoughts – Where did the peanut butter and jelly sandwich come from?

Bottle Cap Brew Blog - Jackie BluesteelPeople love their PB&J. The National Peanut Board says that kids in the U.S. will eat more than 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before they graduate from high school. So, where did they come from? Unfortunately, it turns out that nobody held a press conference to unveil the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for consumers, a la Steve Jobs and his latest and greatest iPhone. Looks like we’ll have to break this down.

To make a sandwich, you first need some bread. The website Physorg.com (which sounds more like a Star Trek fan site than a site devoted to archaeology) cites a study that found people probably ate flatbread 30,000 years ago. Tales of meat on that flatbread (technically a sandwich) also go back thousands of years, too. While ancient flatbread may be okay for some, I’m more about convenience. How about some sliced bread?

Well, in 2009 Chillicothenews.com (home of the Constitution-Tribune) reprinted an article from July 6, 1928 heralding the Chillicothe Baking Co. in Chillicothe, Mo., as the first bakers in the world to sell sliced bread to the public. While difficult to verify, this at least brings the creation of modern sandwiches into the 20th century.

This is where you say, “What about that Earl of Sandwich guy? Wasn’t he around way before that?”

John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, was around way before that – from 1718 to 1792 to be exact. He actually didn’t invent sandwiches (see second paragraph), but made them popular, mainly because he didn’t want to leave the gambling table to eat so he routinely just slapped some meat on some bread to chow down. But we’re getting off track here.

Peanut better (or paste) has been around for a long time, too. Peanuts are native to the Americas and the Aztecs were using it hundreds of years ago, but a machine for making peanut butter (and producing it at commercial scales) wasn’t patented until 1903 by Ambrose Straub. He was also from Missouri, same as those bakers who supposedly came up with sliced bread. Hmm.

Jelly, or some combination of smooshing/cooking/preserving fruits has been around forever, too. But, where does it leave us?

Theoretically, the Ancient Aztecs could have eaten PB&J three times a day if they were so inclined, but if you want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like the ones we see today, (and for this story we do) you need:

  1. Store-bought, sliced bread.
  2. Peanut butter and jelly that is also purchased in a store.

That puts us in the 1900s. Kitchenproject.com (the place I probably should have visited first) says that Julia Davis Chandler published references to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 1901 – obviously before our dates for sliced bread and commercial peanut butter. Kitchenproject.com also says it wasn’t until World War II that the sandwiches really took off – as they were given to soldiers as a quick, easy source of nutrition. Whatscookingamerica.net has a similar timeline.

Here’s what we’re going with:

  • PB&J has been around for a long time.
  • Modern PB&J showed up sometime in the early 1900s.
  • The popularity of PB&J took off around WWII.
  • Today, Americans consume enough peanut butter to make 10 billion sandwiches a year. (This stat also thanks to the National Peanut Board)

“Random Thoughts” is written by Jackie Bluesteel. It is a monthly article looking at an obscure, yet interesting topic – much like the “did you know” discussions people may have at a bar.

Copyright 2011 The Bottle Cap Brew Blog

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