PB & J for today: More than just that soggy sandwich in your lunchbox

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters / Photo

Steve Peters

We think of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a cheap kids’ lunch. Yet this wasn’t always the case. In the late 1800s, peanut butter was considered a high-end condiment for serving with celery, cheese and crackers at tea time. The first mention of pairing peanut butter with jelly on bread wasn’t until 1901 in the Boston Cooking School Magazine. Though the concept didn’t catch on until sometime later.

As the 1900s progressed, three important developments in the birth of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich occurred. For starters, the invention and use of an automatic bread slicing machine caused the sale of sliced bread to take off in stores. Then, peanut butter became commercialized in the 1920s by companies such as Skippy. Its low cost and widespread availability, along with sliced bread, made it a staple protein during the Great Depression.

The final component, jelly, was certainly not new either. But Welch’s concord grape jelly was novel, and after it gained approval as a ration for soldiers in World War I, it was later included along with peanut butter and sliced bread for soldiers during World War II. The combination was inevitable, and when soldiers returned home from war, it’s said that they brought home a demand for the sandwich.

Although peanut butter and jelly was the most popular sandwich in school when I was a kid, these days many schools won’t allow peanuts due to allergies. Peanut allergies have steadily risen in children over the past couple of decades.

But that means there is more peanut butter for the rest of us. While I don’t eat too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches these days, I do enjoy the combination, as long as it’s not grape jelly. It’s the pairing of fat and fruit that just works.

That said, when I saw a peanut butter burger on a menu a few months ago, I skeptically gave it a try. Surprised to find it was good, I was then receptive to the idea of a peanut butter and jelly burger when I came across the recipe in a cookbook. It may sound like a stretch, but don’t let the name fool you. By no means is this a dumbed-down, childish play on a burger.

The peanut butter is whisked into a homemade mayonnaise (seriously, easier than you think) and it works by adding depth and mellowness that mayo typically lacks. The peanut flavor is quite subtle.

As for the jelly, let’s be clear: it’s bacon jam. With onions, garlic, apples, vinegar and spices, it’s almost more of a chutney, in fact. And the inclusion of bourbon makes it even more grown-up. Again, there’s a depth of flavor here that condiments such as ketchup utterly lack.

It’s time to forget the juvenile association we have with peanut butter and jelly. Most kids can’t bring them to school anymore anyway, and the combo didn’t even start with kids. Instead, like this burger, let’s consider how to use the classic flavor profile to create something new.

Peanut butter & jelly burgers
Serves 4

Bacon jam

  • 10 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Peanut butter mayo

  • 3-4 egg yolks
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup olive oil


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ¼ pounds ground turkey
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 burger buns, split and toasted
  • Tomatoes and lettuce, for serving (optional)

Place the bacon in a large pan over medium-high heat. Cook, about 10 minutes or until the bacon is crispy, while stirring often. When crisp, use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Keep about a tablespoon of the bacon fat in the pan and add the sliced onions. When softened, after about five or so minutes, add the remaining jam ingredients. Lower the heat and gently simmer for about 15 more minutes.

While the jam cooks, make the mayo. Place three yolks, cayenne, peanut butter and lemon juice in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. While whisking, stream in the olive oil until the mixture begins to thicken. It may take a few minutes. If it seems like it just won’t thicken, add in the fourth yolk. Alternatively, you can make the mayo in a blender or food processor and stream in the olive oil. Season with ¼ teaspoon of salt and set aside.

When the jam has reduced, remove from the heat and stir the bacon back in. Let cool. You can keep the jam chunky or briefly blend in a food processor.

Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat while you shape the burgers. In another large bowl, combine the ground meat with the bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce and salt. Use your hands to gently combine and shape the meat into four patties. Heat the oil in the pan and when hot, add the burgers. Cook the burgers for five minutes, then flip and cook for five more minutes on the other side. Both sides should be browned and crispy.

Assemble your peanut butter and jelly burgers by placing a burger on the bottom half of each bun and generously spooning over the mayo and bacon jam. Throw on any other toppings and dig in. Serve with a side of baked sweet potato fries to make it a meal.

Steve Peters

Steve Peters is a cook, gardener and baker living in Rutland.

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