Peanut Butter and Jelly

Colin - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Entered on March 3, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
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The taste will never age. That sweet, creamy peanut butter complimented by the gooey, undeniably messy jam. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich harnesses a shelter found rarely in other places. This is not a shelter in the literal sense, but in a mental world of tranquility and escape. It’s an evasion to daily responsibilities from buying groceries to math homework to you-name-it. Many people would be quick to call it an elementary food, but what lies between wheat could be a biography of sorts depending on the person. I believe in the complexity of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

For me, the blueprints call for Home Pride wheat bread, JIF creamy peanut butter, and Welch’s grape jam because it spreads much easier than jelly. I’m exceptionally generous when applying the components, so much that the little clumps of jam have to fight for real estate on my bread. The peanut butter has to be spread perfectly, so that the knife’s ridges are laid out evenly across the canvas and point in the same direction. I always finish with the peanut butter so I can lick the knife clean when I’m done, usually with a little extra for a bonus. Next comes that familiar yet friendly sound of the Zip-Loc bag to house my main course and protect it from anything that could potentially ruin a perfectly scrumptious sandwich. In the back of my mind I always wish it would flatten to a pancake in my backpack. Recovering a smashed PB&J is quite the upgrade from the standard non-soggy sandwich, and never seems to damper my anticipation towards that first taste.

Everyone has their own style for eating a sandwich, and I might venture to say that most take the straightforward approach by disregarding the orientation of their bites until all that remains are laps littered with crumbs. Not this guy. I like to take it slow and enjoy the precious morsel. The best way to go is to eat all around the outside. That way, the crust is history, and the chewy, creamy middle sends little invites to each taste bud saying, “RSVP ASAP.” That reminds me of when mom used to cut the crusts off to feed my spoiled eating habits.

Come to think of it, the PB&J was the first meal I had ever managed to scrape up for myself. It really is a childhood food. Remember recess, Razor scooters, and the mentality that it would take a lifetime to reach the twelfth grade? I remember experimenting with those Harry Potter jellybeans, and seeing my buddy’s face turn sour when that booger-flavored one found its way to his mouth. Life was pretty carefree before high school, no real goals coupled with aimless walks outside. Back when the big Snoopy still lived in the Mall of America, back when we ate all of the marshmallows in our Lucky Charms, and threw out the rest of the bowl. Back when girls had cooties and bicycles had training wheels. It seems like every time I bite into this sandwich, I escape the burdens of a part-time job, filling my gas tank, or deciding my future. It is a stress reliever and mind pleaser that offers my brain sticky notes telling me not to forget what it means to live life through the eyes of a child.

The subtleties that lie within the PB&J are often overlooked, but I harness them all with every bite: the childhood summers, the friends, the relationships. Sandwiches are the poetry of the culinary world, and this one is a free verse. Don’t take the peanut butter and jelly sandwich for granted because it will always be there, and it does not discriminate. There is a vast history to this simple recipe, but the history is that of the consumer.