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Sunday, 10 June 2012

The PB&J That Never Happened

No…sadly this isn’t about Peanut Butter and Jelly.
Well it is.
But it isn’t.
It is about Peanut Butter.
It is about Jelly (well, sort of Jelly)
But it’s not about Peanut Butter and Jelly.
It isn’t.
It almost was.
But it isn’t.

See, here’s the thing.
I met an old undergraduate classmate the other day – the very lovely Kimberly Broker. She had emailed a few weeks ago, saying she’d be visiting London where her husband was doing a research project on something – the specifics of which she explained to me, but I really can’t explain back to you because I don’t think I’m clever enough to even explain it properly. Oh, all right. If you must know it was something to do with the influence of the Royal Navy on Shakespeare….

Dost thou SEA what I mean?

Every day of my life I encounter people cleverer than me.
Such a problem.

The other day, I read that a 14-year old girl won the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee crown for correctly spelling “guetapens.”

What, in the name of love, is geutapens?

I don’t know how to pronounce “geutapens,” let alone spell it. As for what it means – Uh. Duh.

Which, my dearest friends, is why she gets “$30,000 in cash, a trophy, a $2,500 savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship, $2,600 in reference works from the Encyclopedia Britannica and an online language course.”

And I get to tell you about the Peanut Better and Jelly Sandwich that never happened.

(Not that I’m envious or anything) (Just saying)

Anyway, so back to the lovely Kimberly Broker. Yes, so she said she was going to be in London with her clever husband and asked if I was free to meet up.
So, of course I said, yes. I’m always free.
And then she asked if I knew of Borough Market.
And I laughed. And I thought, why here’s a girl after my own heart.
So we agreed to meet for lunch at Borough Market. And we did. And we ate and we drank and we had a lovely old time.

And when I saw her again, after all these years, I remembered just why she’d (inadvertently) broken so many hearts back in the day. She just has that serene sort of beauty about her. That, and the fact that she’s called Kimberly “Broker.”

For e.g.
“Oh, no – what happened to your heart?
“Kimberly broke-her…”

(sorry Kim, couldn’t resist that one :D)

Anyway, Kim has nothing much to do with Peanut Butter and Jelly, except for the fact that meeting her took me all the way back to my college days. And suddenly, I found myself drowning in a flood of memories. Which is an absolutely dreadful choice of words because  “drowning in a flood of memories,” sounds awful and horrible. But it was quite the opposite actually. I loved college. One of the best times of my life. No doubt about that.

So, I shall amend accordingly:
So - and suddenly I found myself “riding on a candy-train of memories”?
How’s that?
Does that sound a bit happier?

Anyway, anyway.

Now what does all this have anything to do with Peanut Butter and Jelly, you ask.

I’m telling you, I’m telling you. Gawddd, where’s the patience?

Well…let’s rewind back to 1996.
Now, it so transpired that soon (very, very soon, in fact) after I started college, my friends and classmates discovered my boundless love for food. (To be fair, I do spend an inordinate amount of time talking about food, and well, such things do not stay in the closet very long anyway.) 

So almost as soon as I admitted that – yes, I do enjoy food very much indeed – all the said friends and classmates (and some randoms as well) took to stopping me in the middle of the tree-lined campus streets and discussing food with great gusto. Which was all just too excellent for words. But then I started to notice a rather curious thing. During these many discussions about food – with friends, classmates and said randoms – we would always inevitably arrive at the following three characters from our Great English Alphabet.

P, B and J

More specifically, I would be asked the following rhetorical question – “Don’t you just love PB&J, isn’t it just the best?

So, of course, for the first-many times, I thought these lovely people from the lovely state of Ohio just had, for some unknown reason that I’m not clever enough to comprehend, a particular kinship to the letters P, B and J

(Oh, I don’t know, I love A, M, and I for example. For totally unrelated reasons)

But then – as I began to observe the trend that the said letters were always centered around an otherwise obvious discussion about food – I managed to put two-and-two together. I’m cleverer than you’ll think, you know.

Aha! I said (in my head). P, B and J is some new and wonderful kind of American Food.
And I was so excited I couldn’t stop shaking.

So, naturally, I asked what on earth PB&J was.

And, naturally, I was told that PB&J was Peanut Butter and Jelly.

I stopped shaking.

Because how anything called “Peanut Butter” could possibly go with Jelly was beyond my comprehension.

For many reasons:

First and foremost, much like “geutapens” – I didn't have the faintest idea what Peanut Butter was. To give credit where credit is due, I probably could have spelled it correctly, but that was hardly the point. The point was that I didn’t even know that peanuts made butter. The only butter I knew of, came from cows.

See, I grew up in India and so I’m familiar with all manners of Indian food. That is more or less to be expected. Slightly more weird is that having been born into a family of Pretentious Bengali Anglophiles, I’m also intimately familiar with British food. You see, my grandfather worked for the Indian railways – which for most of his working life, was actually the British railways – and so in their house, I was always served English meals by the English cook. Who wasn’t English at all. He was actually a short little Bengali chap with a thin moustache and a middle parting. But he cooked English food like a true champion. And I mean, the whole nine yards – proper sit-down, 3-course, soup-main-dessert English meals…(yes, very anglophilic, I know).

But as a result – quiz me on the inner makings of Roast Lamb & Mint or Chicken & Leek pie, and I promise not to let you down.

But American Food? PB&J?
This, I don’t claim to have even the faintest imitation of knowledge about.

Then there was that little matter of Jelly.
And this of course, introduced into the mix, a whole new layer of complexity. Or in other words, the elusive animal better known as the American Language.

Which, after 12 years in that wonderful country, I still fail to completely grasp.

Because Jelly to me is the cold, wobbly stuff one eats with custard.

Which is clearly not the Jelly of PB fame.
The Jelly of PB fame is actually Jam.
And my Jelly is actually Jell-o.

And if you’re confused, well tell me about it!

And while we’re on the topic and all, maybe some of my American friends can please explain something to me:

Which is why you guys take simple monosyllabic words, which already exist, and then go through all the trouble to re-name them, so that the resulting new word, actually becomes longer?

So ‘flat’ become ‘a-part-ment’ and ‘lift’ becomes ‘el-e-va-tor’ and ‘jam’ becomes ‘jel-ly.’

And this is from a nation where Robert has become Bob and Theodore has become Teddy and James has become Jim. And John (although it’s not shorter and sounds nothing like it) has become Jack.


But we won’t go there right now. To the elucidation of why John has become Jack I mean.

Instead, where we will go (finally) is to PB&J.

Which is actually PB&Jam.

Which, in turn, puts me in an even deeper pickle because it makes me think – if there’s anything that seems less likely to go with Peanut Butter, than Jelly – it’s Jam.

I mean, really.

And I’m not un-daring with food. I get the concept of flavour combinations, I’ve read Niki Segnit’s Flavour Thesaurus cover to cover and I’ve even written a piece on it. But this combination? It distresses me.

Peanuts are salty and oily and buttery and well – nutty.
And jam? Jam is sweet and a bit tart. And fruity.
And well – East is East and West is West. And never the twain shall meet!!

And so, I am somewhat ashamed to report that amoung all the various glorious items of the edible variety that I consumed in my glorious time in that glorious nation – this famous everyman’s-favourite was notably absent.

But that was when I was young and stupid.

So now…now that everything’s changed (!!) and given that I just met Kim and rode the candy train of memories back to my days in America, I thought – What the hey! Let’s give the old classic a shot.

And so I take:

- 675g Unsalted peanuts
- 2 ½ tbsp Sesame Oil
- Salt to taste

And this is what I do:

Chuck everything into a food processor and blend till I arrive at the consistency I want. I think the crunchier versions taste infinitely better, but it’s a very personal choice – I like texture in my food, but you may not, and that’s cool :)

Anyway, so there was my butter (from peanuts, not cows) done.

Now, for the jam. And so sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to call it jelly. Just like I’m never going to call poor Bob, Baaarb. Just not gonna happen.

So, for my jam, I take:

- 1kg raspberries
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 750g sugar (the ratio of sugar to raspberries is usually 1:1, but Im not a fan of anything too sweet, so I’m cutting down on the sugar a lot. Plus, I like to watch my waistline. That last part is a joke.)

And here’s what I do:

Place half the raspberries into a pan and add the lemon juice. I mash the berries to a pulp (just beat the poor things mercilessly) over the heat, then leave to cook for 5 minutes. Now I run this through a sieve over a bowl, and drain off all the juice. Then I work the pulp through the sieve until I am left with just the seeds.

Next, I chuck the seeds and tip the juice and pulp back into the pan and stir in the sugar till it dissolves. I heat it gently, then add the remaining whole raspberries. Finally, I bring it to a boil, and keep the boil for 5 minutes.

(You can test if the jam has set by putting a teaspoon of it on a cold plate – it should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. If it doesn't, boil for another 2 mins, then test again.)

This is yummy, yummy jam guys – bold and chunky with proper pieces of fruit.  This couldn’t be further away from the over-sweetened, tasteless gloopy stuff you get on supermarket shelves.

I mean, if we want to OD on sugar, folks, then at least let’s make it worth it!

Anyway, so now it’s time to put it all together.

So I take some bread – a just bought, freshly baked, wholemeal loaf, chewy and crusty and just the way bread should be.

And I layer on the jam – ruby red and chock full of raspberries.
And then I begin to layer on the peanut butter.

And then suddenly…

I stop.

I stop in mid-air, knife in hand. Frozen like a statue of Napoleon in bronze.

Houston we have a problem.

I can’t do it.
I just can’t do it.

I absolutely – honest to goodness, cross my heart – want to do it.


I absolutely – honest to goodness, cross my heart – cannot see how these two things can go together.

It would appear that nothing much has changed. 
I’m older but still as stupid.

It’s my loss, I know.

My palette against that of an entire nation.
There must be something wrong with me. (You think?)

So: as I said at the outset….

No…sadly this isn’t about Peanut Butter and Jelly.
Well it is.
But it isn’t.
It is about Peanut Butter.
It is about Jelly. (well, sort of Jelly)
But it’s not about Peanut Butter and Jelly.
It isn’t.
It almost was.
But it isn’t.

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