When did peanut butter first get together with jelly? In a March 3 Monitor article ("How a PB&J Came to Be,"), writer Suman Bandrapalli interviewed food historians who said the sandwich probably dates to the late 1930s. Historians haven't found any published mention of the sandwich before the 1940s.
It's clear that World War II boosted the sandwich's popularity. PB&Js were on the ration menus of American soldiers. When the soldiers came home, they brought back a taste for PB&J.
We thought the 1930s seemed late for the first peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. So we appealed to Monitor readers to share their research or their memories.
Sure enough: According to the letters we received, PB&J dates back at least to the 1920s and probably to the 1910s.
"I was born in 1913," a woman from North Carolina wrote, "and we had [PB&Js] all during my childhood." She recalls that "When we five children would take our lunches to group picnics, we were the only ones who had PB and J sandwiches. Our friends loved them whenever we shared them."
Her mother had been at the Battle Creek, Mich., sanatorium run by the brothers of John Kellogg. (It was Kellogg who patented the first commercial process for making peanut butter, in 1895.) The sanatorium promoted "healthful and nutritious" foods. Her mother may have first had peanut butter and jelly there.
A woman from Bakersfield, Calif., wrote to say that she was born in 1904. She remembers from her childhood that peanut butter was sold by the pound and came in quart-sized cardboard containers.
The oil in the peanut butter would rise to the top, so it would have to be stirred vigorously to mix in the oil.
Barbara Larsen of Sister Bay, Wis., wrote that PB&Js "were on most menus as long as I remember, starting about 1933. They were what I ordered without fail at W.T. Grant and F.W. Woolworth lunch counters in Milwaukee, Wis."
Hylie Flournoy of Waco, Texas, called her grandmother after she read the article. Her grandmother recalled living with her Aunt Ethel in Tempson, Texas. Aunt Ethel would buy peanut butter in gallon buckets to make school lunches for the five children she took care of.
Did they eat jelly on those sandwiches? Not usually, according to the grandmother. Aunt Ethel had to make her own jelly, so it was a luxury. That was in 1919 and 1920.
Ralph Bower of Goshen, Ind., wanted to tell about Albert Franceschini, who owned The Chocolate Shop in Fowler, Ind., "the local hangout for students. Al had a small electric hot plate on which he made toasted sandwiches," including toasted PB&Js. "He'd butter both sides of the bread and toast one side; then spread the toasted side with the filling. Then he'd assemble them and toast the outsides. They were exceptionally popular." He served them as early as 1928.
Helen Follett of Waterford, Conn., was prompted to tell us this story of her mother's wedding:
"My mother served peanut-butter sandwiches at her wedding reception in Marysville, Kan., on June 16, 1909. [She] had gone to the [St. Louis] World's Fair that year where she heard about peanut butter and determined to serve this up-to-the-minute innovation at her wedding reception as a great surprise to the guests. She had to order the jars of peanut butter from Chicago."