Happy Peanut Butter & Jelly Day!

Today, April 2nd, is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day.

Whether this is a real holiday or a bogus one, it gives me a chance to write about two of my favorite foods and two of my favorite people.

If you are from overseas, you find American peanut butter “ghastly,” to quote British writer Annie Hill. It’s gooey and sticky and full of sugar and hydrogenated oils and artificial-sounding ingredients. That’s about 98% of the American peanut butter market, and I find it ghastly, too.

But there’s another kind. In some stores, you walk up to a machine that holds raw peanuts in the top. You put your container under the spigot, push a button, and simple ground peanut paste comes out.

We don’t have a place like that around here, so we buy natural peanut butter in jars. The ingredient list is simply “peanuts, salt.” It’s less convenient than the “ghastly” stuff, becauseĀ  the nut butter separates from the oil. When you get it home, you have to stir it, or shake it, or do something to mix it back up again.

And then there’s the jelly. There are two kinds of jelly, too. There’s the cheap stuff, full of high-fructose corn syrup and food coloring and a tiny bit of fruit for texture. And there’s the good stuff: Homemade.

In the early 90’s, Barry and I had the good fortune to live with writer Elizabeth Bolton, known to us as Barbie, at Hill Farm, outside Portland, Oregon. Barbie was constantly whipping up batches of jam based on whatever ingredients came her way. A free crate of kiwis? Kiwi jam. Blackberries everywhere? Blackberry jam. Plums, pears, apples, blueberries — each represented another batch of jam to spread on Barbie’s mouth-watering homemade bread. Elderberry jelly was her specialty.

A few years after she passed away, we visited Hill Farm. In the pantry, tears came to my eyes as I saw the rows and rows of jam jars, some with the custom logo I’d designed and her distinctive handwriting. Even though she was gone, she was still feeding us.

Barbie’s jam-making skill was passed along to her son, Michael, who lives in Southern California. He and his family make a special jam, too — burnt kumquat, from fruit grown on their property. Barry and I have one jar left, and it’s so special, we’re saving it until Flutterby is launched. That jar is more important than champagne, and we’ll probably have to write a special christening ceremony for the boat that includes a bite of it for Neptune.

Michael planted an elderberry bush a few years ago, and it recently bore enough fruit for jam. So he did a very special thing. He made up a batch of jelly, and into it, he put a spoonful of jelly from one of his mother’s jars. He plans to use her jelly until it’s all gone, and then, he’ll seed each batch with a spoonful from one of his jars. So there will always be a tiny amount of Barbie’s jelly in every one of his jars of deep purple elderberry jelly.

We have her homemade bread recipe, so we can even make the correct substrate for it. Barbie’s been gone for over 10 years now, but she’ll always be feeding us, thanks to Michael and his homemade jelly. Yum.

Here are a couple of fun things to do with peanut butter and jelly: 1) Take a whole wheat tortilla and spread it with peanut butter and jelly. Peel a nice, ripe banana that’s the same length as the diameter of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla around the banana and enjoy. 2) Make a PB&J on bread. Then grill it until the bread is browned and crisp in butter in a skillet or on a griddle. According to the folks at Graceland, this was one of Elvis Presley’s favorite foods.

Easter’s right around the corner, too. Don’t forget about Barbie’s Goldenrod Eggs, to use up those extra hard-boiled, colored eggs.