How a PB&J Came to Be

The history of this humble sandwich stretches from the medieval Crusades to 1940s Europe.

John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, did not invent the combination of bread and meat (or whatever) that bears his name. But the contribution of this British lord and ne'er-do-well was perhaps more significant: He made the humble meal fashionable. One day in 1763, he ordered that slices of meat between pieces of bread be brought to him so he could keep gambling for 24 hours straight. Word of the noble's taste in food spread, and soon "sandwiches" were popular across Europe.

HAVE you ever heard the expression "The greatest invention since sliced bread"? It used to be that if you wanted a slice of bread - even from a bakery - you had to cut it yourself. Iowa-born salesman and inventor O.F. Rohwedder built a mechanical slicer in 1927, but the sliced loaves were sloppy-looking and didn't sell. In November 1928, St. Louis baker Gustav Papendick put the sliced loaves in cardboard trays to support them as they were wrapped. Now the bread was a grand success. In less than a year, the bread industry was revolutionized.

FOR thousands of years, most flour was brown, whole-wheat flour. Kernels of wheat were pulverized between stone wheels powered by water, wind, or steam. A little white flour was extracted, but it was reserved for the church. The surplus was sold to the nobility. White bread was the bread of privilege. A new milling technique changed all that. A 200-year-old design using corrugated metal rollers was perfected by millers near Budapest, Hungary, in the late 1800s. The Hungarian Method, as it was called, separated the bran (outer shell) and germ from the endosperm. The endosperm produces white flour, now available to everyone.

WE know a lot about peanut butter, but there's one thing we don't know: who invented it. (No, it wasn't George Washington Carver, the black scientist who found so many uses for peanuts. Carver didn't begin his peanut research until 1914.) It is widely believed that a doctor in St. Louis developed peanut butter in 1890 as a cheap, protein-rich food that his elderly patients without teeth could eat. George Bayle Jr., a merchant, ground the peanut butter for the mystery doctor and sold the surplus for 6 cents a pound. John Harvey Kellogg (of corn flakes fame) patented the first commercial process for making peanut butter. In his 1895 patent, Kellogg described the result as "a pasty adhesive substance that is for convenience of distinction termed nut butter."

TO make jelly, you need sugar. Sugar preserves the fruit, keeping it from spoiling. To make sugar, you need sugar cane. Sugar cane probably first grew on an island in the Asian Pacific. Merchant sailors brought it west, and by AD 700, cane sugar was in the bakeries of Baghdad. Through trial and error, jellies (made from fruit juice) and jams (with juice and pulp) were developed. European crusaders (AD 1000-1200) returned home with jellies, jams, and cane sugar. By the late Middle Ages, the fruit spreads were popular across Europe. Books on jam-making appeared in the late 1600s. In America today, jelly made from native Concord grapes is the most popular.

NOW you know how sandwiches, white (sliced) bread, jelly, and peanut butter came to be. But when did they all get together? That's another mystery. But we do know when the sandwich became popular.

Peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches were on the United States Army ration menus in World War II, says the Peanut Advisory Board in Atlanta. Returning GIs made peanut butter and jelly sales soar. Food historians haven't found any ads or other mentions of PB&Js before the 1940s. Their best guess at its origin is the late 1930s.

Ask your grandparents when they first ate a PB&J. Then write and tell us about it!

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