National Peanut Butter Lover's Day: The History of the PB&J Sandwich!
On March 1 annually, National Peanut Butter Lover's Day is celebrated to honor peanut butter's perfection and versatility!
Peanuts have origins that go far back into human history - some researchers believe that peanuts have been domesticated by humans for thousands of years. However, it wasn't turned into the modern food we call peanut butter until more recently.
Before we get into the PB&J itself, we have to dive in on the delicious details of one of the key ingredients:
Peanuts were first grown in South America and were being grounded into paste. Global trade then introduced peanuts to Europe, then to the Philippines, China, the East Indies, and beyond beginning in the mid 1500s.
In the 1700s, enslaved Africans brought peanuts back to the Americas and, a century later, they were an integral crop in the south. During the Civil War, Confederate troops were given peanut rations; it marked the first time the military created spikes in peanut consumption.
In the late 1800s, there was a burst of peanut-related innovations. First, in 1884, after some basic experimenting with peanut paste, Marcellus Gilmore Edson, was granted a patent for peanut butter paste. Then, in the mid 1890s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg applied for a patent to create a nut paste.
On the application he claimed that the resulting substance “has a decidedly meaty flavor and, with a little salt added, is a very agreeable article of food … It may be used as a substitute for meat or ordinary butter and utilized in various other ways as a new article of food.” - via Mental Floss
So, how did peanut butter become an ingredient in the all-time famous PB&J sandwich in America?
Julia Davis Chandler published the first peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe in 1901 in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. She wrote, “For variety, some day try making little sandwiches, or bread fingers, of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste, whatever brand you prefer, and currant or crab-apple jelly for the other. The combination is delicious, and, so far as I know, original.”
A 1920s spike in the commercial peanut industry made the spread more affordable and more of a family food rather than strictly being a part of high society. Manufacturers also started adding a bit of sugar to the mix, which appealed kids' palates of course! The PB&J sandwich became a family staple during the Great Depression, when it served as a belly-filling, high protein, inexpensive meal.
However, it was World War II that truly made the PB&J a household name. From 1941 to 1945, both peanut butter and jelly appeared on the U.S military's ration menus. Some believe that soldiers began combining the 2 to make peanut butter more appetizing. When the soldiers returned home, they reached for the familiar comfort food of PB&J again.
Rationing also played a big role in the popularity of PB&J: Many staples like butter and sugar were rationed, but peanut butter was not.
Today, we have many variations on the classic PB&J, including ones that are made with different types of nut butters!