I won’t let March get away from us without recognizing National Peanut Month.
On one level this might seem trivial, but if any legume deserves a month in a spotlight, it is the peanut. Roasted, salted, unsalted or mashed, the peanut is versatile, tasty and healthy (relatively speaking, anyway). Plus in its buttered form, the peanut is half of that all-American treat and frequent school lunch centerpiece: the humble peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
As someone who has given a lot of thought to school lunches, you can never forget about those brown-baggers; the kids who weren’t picking up what the lunch ladies were laying down. Now, I don’t know how many kids brought PB&J back in the early days. But, nowadays the average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating high school (according to the National Peanut Board). Not bad for a sandwich that began to pick up steam only after World War II. (Remember: prepackaged sliced bread, an integral part of PB&J land, wasn’t widely available until the 1920s.)
A truly great PB&J sandwich needs great ingredients. When I’m taking visitors around Gateway Market and they ask for some of my favorite items, I always stop at the aisle with the peanut butter, jams and jellies. We have some truly outstanding natural peanut butters at Gateway. My favorite is made with two ingredients: Virginia peanuts and sea salt. Called “Cream-Nut” and made by the Koeze Company of Grand Rapids, MI., this peanut butter has a straight-up, powerful peanut taste (the way real peanut butter should).
You know how much I love history. Well, the Koeze Company was founded in 1910, which is only seven years after the peanut-butter making machine was patented by a doctor in St. Louis. Koeze Company’s Cream-Nut comes in smooth and crunchy, but be warned: because the company is made with old-school machinery, the smooth does have a grainy texture to it. So this would not be the peanut butter for you if you like peanut butter silky smooth. While that old-school manufacturing offers a classic taste, it isn’t made to pump out today’s industrial volumes of peanut butter. Back in 2008, Gourmet Magazine reported that Koeze Company produced about 100,000 jars a year, compared to Jif (under the Smuckers umbrella) which rolls out about 125,000 jars every day.
This might be the ultimate peanut butter for a simple, straight-forward PB&J sandwich. You can use your favorite bread, but if you really want to go old-school try using South Union Bakery’s Pullman White bread. We use a recipe from the early 1900s for this bread.
Almost everyone will have his or her own PB&J style, so I won’t go into a lot of detail here. What I will say is that if you’re going to spring for an upscale peanut butter, you might as well marry that peanut butter with a top shelf jam or jelly. Gateway Market has an extensive selection of outstanding jams and jellies, including locally-made, small-batch preserves from Clear Creek Orchard in Collins, IA. One thing I would recommend, unless there’s no tearing you away for soft bread, is lightly toasting the Pullman bread. It will give your PB&J a chewy-crunchy texture.
When it comes right down to it, it’s hard to beat old-fashioned comfort food and fond memories of school lunches; let’s all toast National Peanut Month this week with a classic PB&J!