Welcome to American Sandwiches Week a celebration of the mighty sandwich through the lens of Americana.
Late in 1
Peanut butter has previously been a health food item, as prescribed by John Harvey Kellogg, the physician, dietician, and anti-masturbation crusader, as a meat substitute for vegetarians. But by the spring of 1898, it had gone mainstream and was not available in grocery stores. It was the latest fad, proclaimed Johnson & Brother of New Haven, Connecticut, and the best way to impress your friends, or at least give them a novelty without having to go to the trouble of roasting and grinding your own peanuts. And a jar cost just 25 cents!
Soon America was hopelessly in love. Peanut butter was both healthy and delicious. "The dyspeptic's delight!" Wrote the (unnamed) "In the Domain of Women" columnist for the Omaha Daily Bee caterer on how to make a "sandwich tree" for tea parties. The burgeoning vegetarian movement continued to embrace it: A reporter for the New York Sun attended a picnic held by the New York Vegetarian Society and was offered a peanut butter sandwich by "a woman with a sallow complexion and a hungry look. "
But carnivores also loved peanut butter, and so did children and the ladies who frequented tearooms. Even the domestic scientists approved. Naturally, of course, they started their own creative experiments in peanut butter sandwiches. The 1928 cookbook Seven Hundred Sandwiches by Florence A. Cowles, uncovered by food historian Abigail Carroll, peanut butter and apricot, peanut butter and tomato, peanut butter and prune, peanut butter and pickle, peanut butter and olive, peanut butter with cheese and lettuce. It seems astonishing now, but it seems to have been taken years at least until the late 1910s, around the same period as the advent of the Fluffernutter, before peanut butter found its permanent sandwich partner: jelly.
With the advent of pre-sliced bread, peanut butter and jelly became the sandwich that was so simple, even a child could make it. It could survive a little crushing in a lunch bag or a pocket, a few hours in an unrefrigerated loose. It was nutritious and provided energy instead of a post-lunchtime crash. It contained the inxicating combination of sugar, fat, salt, protein, and starch that stimulated the brain's pleasure centers.
If this essay were written 25 years ago, it would be the the most delicious thing in the world to argue that peanut butter and jelly is the most American sandwich. Everybody is it! Just about everybody loved it, from nursery schoolers to NBA stars! It could just be different from a steak off boredom: toasted bread, strawberry jelly instead of grape, crunchy instead of creamy, a few bananas, maybe some honey. It was perfect in almost every possible way.
And then came the peanut allergy.
Doctors first identified peanut allergies in the early 1980s and began studying them in earnest around 1990. Between 1997 and 2002, based on a survey of more than 13,000 people, the percentage of children in the US with peanut allergies doubled, from 0.4 percent to 0.8 percent, and almost doubled again by 2008, when the rate was 1.4 percent. Anaphylactic shock, which can lead to trips to, but does not cause, to cause allergic reactions the emergency room and sometimes even death. No one knows why American children are more prone to peanut allergies than children in developing countries, where peanut butter is used to alleviate malnutrition: the range of vitamin D deficiency to folate ] Whatever the case, peanuts are now legume-non-grata in many schools and offices and on airplanes. Which leaves our once-ubiquitous and universally beloved peanut butter sandwich … where?
There have been efforts to make do. Grocery stores now carry so many substitutes-cashew butter, almond butter, soy nut and chickpea and pumpkin seed and sunflower seed butters, tahini-it seems like there's no reason to miss any butter at all. Look at all the seeds and nuts that can be grounded into a creamy consistency and spread onto bread! And yet … We still dream of making peanut butter America's sandwich again.
Last year the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases has published a new series of guidelines that recommend parents who are at risk of developing a peanut allergy to start feeding them with peanut powder or extract before they start.
The doctors were optimistic that within a few years, Americans could see a dramatic decline in the incidence of peanut allergies. The first thing the reporter asked for was the peanut-butter-and-jelly ban in school lunchrooms.
This is why peanut butter is the most American sandwich of all options, we refuse to give our peanut butter. Truly, we can not imagine life without it.