Monday, January 09, 2006

Peanut Butter and Jelly

I took my son to a birthday party over the weekend. The kids ran and bounced in one of those blow-up jumpy things, drank some punch, and then ran and bounced some more. After a few hours of play time everyone was called to lunch: Barbeque and all of the usual accoutrements for the adults, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the children.

My son grabbed a couple of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I made a plate of barbeque, although I was eyeballing his plate. Being an adult and wanting to make sure that each of the children got a sandwich, I resisted the pbj temptation and stuck with the grown up food. It was either that, or I just didn’t want to embarrass myself by eating kids food while there was plenty of “grown up food” available. More than likely it was the latter rather than the former.

In a conversation with a New Orleans food writer, legendary restaurateur, Dick Brennan, posed the question: “You know why kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? It’s because they’re good.” Who am I to argue with a Brennan?

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I ate them almost everyday for the first six years of my life. They were just about all I would eat. I still eat them today. I own three restaurants and can eat whatever I want for lunch, but I go home a few days every month and eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with my wife.

For me, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich needs just a few easily acquired accompaniments to be the ultimate quickie lunch— an ice-cold glass of milk and a few Fritos corn chips. Fritos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches go together like… well… like peanut butter and jelly.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich would have been the perfect school lunch, except that school milk was never cold enough. Milk has to be at the just-above-freezing stage to properly accompany a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is law: Red wine: 63 degrees, white wine: 53 degrees, milk: 35 degrees, no more, no less.

As a kid, I ate triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I invented the three-layer sandwich way before McDonald’s came up with the Big Mac. Today, my children eat frozen, pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They prefer the frozen ones to fresh. Unfortunately the frozen sandwiches don’t come in triple-decker sizes and my kids don’t know what they’re missing.

Early on I liked the crust cut off of my sandwiches. Today Ironkids makes crustless bread. My grandmother always cut the crusts off for me. There is just no end to a grandmother’s love.

Once, my mother was all out of grape jelly and had to use orange marmalade on my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I like orange marmalade on buttered English muffins but it is blasphemous to put orange marmalade on a six-year old’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The criteria by which I select jelly has changed over the years. Early on I was only interested in the jelly-jar glass that the jelly came in. I had a full collection of Archies jelly-jar glasses. My mother was a Bama jelly woman. She swore by it. Today I use one of those all-fruit jellies.

For years, Jif was my peanut butter of choice. I had eaten Peter Pan on occasion, and in emergency situations, had eaten Skippy, but a 44-year old man has no business eating a product named “Skippy” (I have to draw the line somewhere).

Five years ago I wrote a column about peanut butter. I assembled a small panel and meticulously taste-tested all of the peanut butters available in my local grocery store. I was certain that my beloved Jif would win the day, easily. Ultimately, Reese’s (of chocolate-peanut-butter cup fame) won the taste testing by a mile. Today we only eat Reese’s. All hail George Washington Carver.

In this world you are either smooth eater or chunky eater. It’s like boxers or jockeys, one doesn’t vacillate between the two. I like it smooth. My brother was a chunky guy.

The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is comfort food to a six-year old. It is comforting food, even today.

No comments: