The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is a staple for children in the United States. However, peanut butter is combined in sandwiches with a variety of other spreads and foods. Many of these variant sandwiches are part of family traditions, in part because the combinations often sound unpalatable to those not raised on the food.

For example, my father occasionally made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for me when I was a kid, and I have made sure that my daughter gets the occasional peanut butter and banana (peanut butter and banana sandwiches are somewhat well-known because Elvis liked to fry and eat them). Another friend of mine is waiting for the day when he and his dad can feed his children their first peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich, a tradition in their family. There are any number of other combinations--I'm aware of people who add honey, raisins, and tuna fish to their peanut butter sandwiches.

This is actually quite good.

Take some Black Russian bread or a dark pumpernickel. Spread butter on two slices. Edge to edge. Now some peanut butter on one side. Top this with some chopped garlic, preferably roasted. Add a few slices of a sharp extra old cheddar. Mound some sprouts, preferably onion or radish on top and then put the other piece of bread down on the stuff and slice in half.

Eat with a kosher dill and some vegetable juice.

Trust me.

The rest of the world eats peanut butter with chillies, garlic and so on. Americans treat it like a dessert topping, which is interesting and exotic. But please try this and you might find other ways of enjoying peanut butter.

Okay then. Humour me.

I think of peanut butter at a type of bean spread, since that's what peanuts are. So, I frequently eat it with ketchup, tabasco, that Indian chili paste stuff, or salsa. If I can't find any bread, I roll it in buritto skins. I also like to eat it frozen, without any bread at all, chipping it off with a knife in big chunks of peanut buttery goodness. When you eat it that way, it kind of tastes like Reese's cups, which are also good frozen. The one thing I wouldn't recommend doing with peanut butter is anything that would cause it to melt. Then the oil separates out and it just looks nasty.

You want fast food? Here's fast food. Heat a flour tortilla over the flames of your stove, so it's warm and crispy in places, and spread peanut butter on it (the heat should make it spread better). I like chunky peanut butter for this: it helps diversify the texture. Drizzle a little honey on it, then add chopped scallions, really finely chopped garlic, sesame seeds (toasted if you've got'em) and soy sauce. Roll it up, put the lid back on the peanut butter and the cutting board by the sink, and run out the door.

There's a restaurant in New York City that is based on variations on peanut butter sandwiches: they have "The Elvis" (and the Elvis Plus, with bacon), chicken-peanut butter satay, peanut butter milkshakes - peanut butter and jelly, of course, and many other things. Try it, but only on an absolutely empty stomach. They go VERY heavy on the peanut butter. It is, as TAFKAH assesses, a sign of and encouragement to excess, and can be found at 240 Sullivan St. between West 3rd and Bleeker - i suspect those of you with peanut allergies wight want to avoid that area altogether.

Put some smooth-style pb in a bowl. (All-natural is best, but at the very least get unsweetened 'cause sweetened pb will be nasty fixed this way.) Pour in a dollop of white corn syrup./Karo. Beat/stir quickly until the consistency changes. Put on cooled toast. Mm, yummy.

In England, people don't eat PB&J sandwiches. They eat peanut butter on bread with other stuff, like nutella, as described by hatless above. And they eat jam on bread with other stuff, like cream cheese, for one. When I was staying with my English foreign exchange student, her mother asked me what kind of sandwich I'd like her to pack me for lunch. She ran down the list of possible ingredients, naming at least 12 different meats, cheeses and condiments and not putting peanut butter and jelly anywhere near eachother in the list. I told her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be fine, thinking that would be easiest and would certainly suffice. Her entire family looked at me like I was from another country or something. Well, yeah.

So anyway, although she crinkled her nose in disgusted dismay throughout its preparation, she completed my request and I brought my lunch with me to school. When it came time to eat, I found that she had used three slices of bread, spreading peanut butter on one, jelly on the other, and then separating the two with another slice in the center, as if she couldn't bring herself to let the two spreads touch eachother. For the duration of my trip, I ate nutella on my sandwiches, and its a delicacy I have introduced many of my fellow Americans to since I've been home.

Peanut butter: that smooth and satiny concotion, so creamy it melts on your tongue, or excitingly chunky with unexpected peanuts. I invented my own personal peanut butter sandwich variation when I was 8 or so, just after I was allowed to start experimenting in the kitchen.

First, I must explain that my mother does not keep a gourmet kitchen, with pine nuts and lentils and proscuitto galore; our spice cabinet has had the same jars of spices since my parents bought the house, which was in 1979. It is a basic kitchen, a kitchen that, if incapable of illuminating your taste buds, will at the very least fill your stomach. So I did the best I could with what our kitchen had, and considering I was only 8 this recipe really isn't that bad.

Super Sandwich

Lightly toast rye bread in toaster, so that it is slightly crisp and golden brown. Schmear peanut butter liberally on each slice. Lay lettuce leaves over each slice so that it acts as a base. Lay one layer only of tomato slices on lettuce leaves (too many tomatoes will make it too hard to bite through). Add pickle slices on top of the tomatoes, and carefully place the halves of the sandwich together (if you used enough peanut butter, it won't fall apart).

Many people balk at the idea of eating dill pickles on a peanut butter sandwich, but the lettuce and tomatoes act as a taste barrier, making the pickle juice-peanut butter combination surprisingly subtle. I would suggest not eating this sandwich with jelly (jam for non-Americans), since it goops up the whole construction; also, unlike peanut butter and pickles, jelly and pickles really doesn't work.

Here's the breakfast version of the PBJ. Perfect for getting up in the morning, and it's a good source of protein in the morning if you don't like eggs or just don't have the time to cook eggs. I came up with the idea in school. Still eat them almost every day.

Cut a cinnamon-raisin english muffin in half. I prefer Sun-Maid brand raisin English Muffins. Toast both halves to desired browness. Spread peanut butter and preserves on each half. You can put the two halves of the english muffin back together, or you can eat each half separately. Your choice.

The breakfast PBJ, though, should only be part of your complete breakfast. Be sure to serve it with your favorite breakfast beverage. I find a tall cold glass of orange juice to be the perfect chaser. Cut sliced bananas on top of each half for added completeness.

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