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Peanut butter and WHAT?

Food For Thought

I could hardly believe my ears. Right there on national television, on the 5:30 p.m. news, someone was ranting about a strange new sandwich that had become popular. A woman, who apparently just sampled it expressed disgust, saying it definitely was not for her. This purportedly latest addition to that convenient innovation was age-old news to me. Sandwich lovers have devised countless combinations of fillings for the portable meal believed to have been invented by John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich and namesake of this informal repast, but I very much doubt there is any record of the inventor of the peanut butter and pickle version. One would assume, considering the number of uses for peanuts to be found in African and Mexican cooking, mashed peanuts mixed into a paste with other ingredients have been around for a long time– certainly longer than Americans have been able to purchase the ready-made product in grocery stores, and people surely put it between slices of bread long ago.
Sue Grafton’s sleuth Kinsey Millhone made her peanut butter sandwiches with bread and butter pickles, and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum preferred olives. I find it hard to believe some people never heard of such sandwiches and considered it newsworthy.
I’ve been enjoying peanut butter sandwiches practically since I cut my first teeth, and a large percentage of those sandwiches included pickles. I’ve used all kinds of pickles in the combination and defined two types as being superior. My first choice would be the thumb-sized 14-day, Open Jar Sweet Pickles my mother-in-law made every summer.
My second choice of pickles (the ones I chose before I discovered the Open Jar Pickles) would have to be the tissue-thin bread and butter pickles my own mother made, lavishly mixed with equally thin sliced onions and slivers of red bell peppers, in a sweet-sour spice-laden pickling solution. My mother sliced the cukes with a slicer attachment for her MixMaster. Years later when it was my turn to make pickles, I found no such attachments available for my kitchen mixer and discovered my grandmother’s old kraut cutter did an admirable job of slicing the cucumbers nice and thin. By the time food processors capable of performing that chore were available, I was so accustomed to the kraut cutter it remained the tool of choice.
On occasion, I resorted to thin-sliced dill pickles, drained sweet pickle relish, or Spanish olives as a substitute for my preferred pickles and find them adequate. Part of the gustatory pleasure of the combination is the contrast between the blandness of the peanut butter and the tartness of the pickles. In the case of a midnight raid when the refrigerator yielded no pickles of any kind, a lavish slathering of real mayonnaise is a tolerable substitute, but one still misses the crunchy satisfaction of biting into a crisp pickle.
A dearth of pickles is a modern-day problem which wouldn’t have existed in the days of our mothers and grandmothers. There were always more jars waiting on the shelves where housewives stored the canned, pickled and preserved fruits and vegetables their families ate during the winter. Sauerkraut, pickles and relishes, jams, jellies, preserves and applesauce were means of saving the bounty from garden and orchard to fill the need for fresh produce during the winter. The home freezer eliminated much of the work and a great deal of the need for the excess salt and sugar required for earlier methods of preserving those foods. Today, with fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round in the supermarkets, it is hardly necessary to can, pickle, freeze, or otherwise save the extra fruits and vegetables for winter.
During the 1930s, peanut butter became the sandwich of choice for lunch boxes, along with packaged cupcakes. With no school lunch and the noon meal being the main meal at our house, we went home for lunch. I don’t recall Mother ever serving peanut butter in any form as part of a meal. My peanut butter and pickle sandwiches seem to have been limited to snacks after school or at bedtime, or possibly those little bicycle-ride picnics my sisters and I indulged in during weekends or summer vacation. These days, those sandwiches are often a quick lunch or bedtime snack, sometimes replaced by my simplest recipe of all– Peanut Butter on a Spoon.