Frugality, the King of Rock-n-Roll & 1st Degree Burns
How history and rumors twisted themselves together to create my ultimate "sarnie" of the 70s, the Grilled PB&J
Watching last week's installment of James May's "Sarnies of the 70s" brought me back to my childhood, which like James' was also in that specific decade. Since I'm not British, Australian or anything else but 'Murrican, it shouldn't surprise you that I was not eating crab spreads, Marmite, Vegemite or even Nutella. These days you can obtain any of these (especially Nutella) here rather easily, but the sandwich I was raised on, based on ingredient availability, was good old Peanut Butter and Jelly, or PB&J for short.
The standard model PB&J, with white bread, grape jelly and peanut butter of unspecific texture. Hope it's crunchy.
PB&J 101: Mom would smear one piece of Wonder white bread with peanut butter (crunchy only; creamy was for girls & wimps). She would then spread either grape jelly or strawberry preserves on the other piece of bread, and lay the PB slice atop the J. We were not brand-dedicated. Over the years I have become an avowed Skippy peanut butter man although my wife is even more devoted to her Jif. Back in the day, however, we really couldn't tell the difference, so we got either the generic store brand or one of the name brands if it was on discount.
As for the J part, 95% of the shelf was either grape jelly or strawberry preserves; thus based on supply and economies of scale, they were the cheapest of choices. I have always preferred cherry preserves but the only way I could ever get them was to sneak the jar in the cart while Mom wasn't looking and hope she didn't notice once she took it out of the cart onto the belt at the checkout. As soon as it was morally feasible, she chose to leave me at home alone while she shopped for groceries, because I had gotten so clever at shopping cart circumvention.
All was well and good until 1977 or so, when Elvis Presley died. After the fact, the talk shows, tabloids, and shock jocks on the radio begun discussing his gluttonous eating habits, probably because he could no longer suppress their public disclosure. It was then that the world first heard of the Elvis sandwich, and to my still forming adolescent mind, the contents of this heart-stopping behemoth boggled. Did it have peanut butter? Jelly? Banana? Cheese? Bacon, oh dear God was there bacon?
One thing was absolutely certain, however: it was grilled, like a grilled cheese.
For illustrative purposes, a grilled cheese sandwich prepared in an iron skillet. I understand that we didn't really need a picture of a grilled cheese sandwich for illustrative purposes. But, it's grilled cheese!
As it turns out, the Ultimate Elvis Sandwich (a topic for another post) involved ALL of the above! But I didn't know that at the time, and based on the stories and rumors, I did some quick food calculus to suss out what portion of Elvis' legacy I wanted to uphold, and which to toss out. By then I was making my own lunches, so my specific frying pan prowess was a consideration.
Banana gets squishy when heated, which I still think is disgusting. Screw Bananas Foster! There was never any leftover bacon just lying around to be used, and Mom wasn't going to let me fry a batch by myself. Grease fires! The last and hardest decision I made was the omission of cheese, because I love grilled cheese, but when I made a grilled PB&J&C, the combined oils of the peanuts and the cheese oozed down my arm. This was followed by a panicked Mom lecture along with an application of Unguentine, a foul-smelling salve whose only purpose it served was to let one and all know that you were a burn victim.
Crispy edges, buttery tops, and gooey center. Ahh. The finest thing to happen to a glass of cold milk since the chocolate chip cookie.
We reached a detente once I learned to prepare a relatively self-contained grilled pb&j by judiciously adjusting the thickness of the spreading. Thus, the ultimate childhood sandwich came to our family, and to this day, a couple of times a year, I fry one up. The house fills with the wonderful odors of cow butter and peanut butter. As I bite into my molten masterpiece, my wife follows behind with her can of air freshener, because she can't STAND the smell of fried food in our house.
She's a Ginger. Go figure.
Happy Christmas Eve's Eve! Simply....haaaving...a wonderful Christmastime. It will end soon.