How does one go about the exacting task of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Well, there is much to be considered. A responsible person begins this undertaking only after he or she has spent sufficient time preparing mentally, physically, and emotionally for what lies ahead. Those who have entered into the act haphazardly, with careless regard for the many variables involved, have done so to their own detriment.
What follows is by no means an exhaustive exploration of how to make a suitable peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or PB&J in colloquial terms). To fully express the many intricacies of peanut butter and jelly sandwich making would fill volumes. This document is only meant to serve as a basic introduction to the core principles of PB&J making. Hopefully, it will help to dispel some of the myths and mysteries that often shroud the practice.
Do not expect to become proficient overnight. It takes years upon years of arduous study to become an expert. Upon completing this text, you should be able to create peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the elementary level. This is analogous to the study of medicine: Without enduring the rigors of an advanced medical education, you would not be qualified to perform surgery, but with a modicum of guidance, you could learn to properly administer a Band-Aid. Of course, comparing surgery to PB&J making is a bit extreme; the latter is far more complicated than the former.
Let us begin. Your first task is to answer the following question: “Do you really want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” Are you certain you wouldn’t prefer grilled cheese, a tuna melt, or perhaps turkey with Brie and sun-dried tomatoes? Perhaps you want a wrap or panini. But let us assume for the purposes of this essay that these alternatives are not options, and that whether or not it’s what you really want, you must make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Questions abound.
Consider your ingredients carefully. Will you use jelly, or opt for jam or preserves? If you choose either of the latter, you are then technically making a “peanut butter and jam” or “peanut butter and preserves” sandwich, but convention allows for the classification of “peanut butter and jelly” to be used in their stead. As with all of the ingredients in your sandwich, there is a clear hierarchy, and it is unfortunate (but true) that depending on which ingredients you select, people will judge you. Consider judiciously which flavor of spread you will choose. Will it be grape, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, blueberry, or some combination of the aforementioned? Children and sandwich makers with unexceptional palates will want to choose one of the basic (also referred to as primary) flavors, while advanced sandwich makers might make a more sophisticated selection.
Will the peanut butter be salted or unsalted — organic or not organic? Will you choose creamy, crunchy, or extra crunchy? Maybe you have a peanut allergy and it can’t be peanut butter at all. If this is the case, you may want to read the companion piece entitled, “How to Make a Soy Nut Butter and Jelly or Sunflower Seed Butter and Jelly Sandwich.”
It is helpful to compare making your choice of bread to constructing a building’s foundation. Using improper materials or heedlessly rushing the process will have disastrous results. Will you use white, wheat, whole wheat, honey wheat, oat, honey oat, oatmeal, 7 grain, 12, grain, or 15 grain bread? Which begs the question, is it socially acceptable to eat white bread anymore?
With your core ingredients chosen, you must now focus your attentions on the nuances of peanut butter and jelly sandwich assembly. What will be the ratio of peanut butter (or peanut butter substitute) to jelly? Will you apply one more liberally, or maintain a strict 50:50 ratio? Which will you spread across the bread first, the peanut butter or the jelly? Will you use the same knife for both the peanut butter and the jelly (risking possible cross contamination), or use a separate knife for each one?
Brace yourself. The time has now come to make the crucial “crust or no crust” decision. Proceed with caution. Many diplomatic efforts have come to scandal and ruin due to the inappropriate presence or absence of crust. Alas, the potential land mines do not end here. Will you cut the sandwich in half or leave it whole? And if you choose to cut the sandwich in half, will you cut it horizontally, vertically, or on a diagonal? There is also the sometimes-controversial option of cutting the peanut butter sandwich into fourths. This tends to be a common practice among those who prefer their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches sans crust.
Will you accompany your peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a beverage? If you choose milk, will it be whole, reduced-fat, low-fat, or fat-free? Will you choose a flavored milk like chocolate or strawberry? (This is not advised.) Perhaps you are lactose intolerant and require a milk substitute. If you choose water, will it be bottled, filtered, or straight from the tap? Will it be cold, cool, or at room temperature? Will you add ice? You should familiarize yourself with the traditional beverage and PB&J pairings. For instance, sodas, juices and other sweet drinks are rarely recommended, as they tend to compete with the sweetness of the jelly (jam or preserve).
Location, location, location. Where will you put the sandwich once it is created? Will you put it on a plate? If yes, paper, plastic, ceramic, or melamine? Perhaps you don’t feel like bothering with a plate (especially if it means you’ll just have to wash it later). You may decide to put your sandwich on a paper towel or napkin. Only one of these options is acceptable, and if you don’t know which one it is, then perhaps you’re not as ready for peanut butter and jelly sandwich making as you think.
If you will not be able to consume your sandwich right away, or if you need to transport it to another location, you will need to protect it from the elements. You may enclose your sandwich in aluminum foil, plastic wrap, wax paper, or parchment paper. You may alternatively place it in a sandwich bag. If this is the case, you will have to choose a type of bag closure. There are varieties that fold closed, zip closed, and slide closed. New sandwich bag technologies are being invented with persistent regularity, and it is important that you stay up to date on the advances being made. You wouldn’t want to suffer the humiliation of being caught with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich covering that has become obsolete or passé.
As you can see, there are many variables to consider when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is not for the weak-willed, the careless, or the easily distracted. It is a practice to which many are drawn only to be met with failure. A person could easily (and understandably) become overwhelmed by the task and decide to make soup instead.
This post originally appeared on Write Away.