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Home > Magazine > Cooking > The Perfect PBJ! ---the evolution of an ideal outdoor cuisine

The Perfect PBJ! ---the evolution of an ideal outdoor cuisine
May 15, 2007

by Steve Frederick

It comes. I approach perfection--it is so close I can taste it! And, lord, I have come to know the taste of imperfection well enough.

The breakthrough came suddenly, as they so often do--I cannot put a finger to the moment or source. I know only that, though the puzzle has completely possessed my mind on so many occasions, the solution seemed born not of my mind but unbidden from my very hands! As I worked at my table, assembling the latest of a long line of samples, almost unconsciously, without volition, I reached not for the smooth, nor the chunky, but for both! Ah, sweet madness! Has it come at last?

But no, I see in a flash of insight, that one might spread a thin layer of creamy, sealing the pores of one slice of bread, making it impervious to the seeping sogginess of the jam. And, ah! A thicker layer of chunky upon the other slice of bread--can it be so simple? I spoon jam onto the slice that I've sealed with creamy, carefully sculpting it evenly to within (but not beyond! That way lies the dreaded sandwich slide and I have no wish to revisit that torment!) 1/4 inch of the edges. And then I match the two slices to form...the sandwich.

It has the heft and heartiness I desire but will it travel well? I slide it carefully into the sandwich bag and then into the saddlebag, with cell phone, tube and tools. With trembling hands I dress: Wool, lycra, lorica...I'm ready!

Happy rolling miles later, I've almost forgotten as I often do, that the painstaking care with which I've prepared my experiment will soon be put to the test. I ease into a green roadside park and thence to a picnic table. The time has come! Fearfully I unbuckle the saddlebag's strap--will my efforts again be for naught? At first inspection the sandwich appears intact, slightly warm and yielding from our two hour journey. I ease it from the sandwich bag, and..alas! My finger are sticky with jam. Curse you, treacherous treacle! Can nothing contain your deceptive sweetness? I consume the sample as disappointment again consumes my soul.

As I dejectedly pick at the last thin bit of crust I see it suddenly, in my mind, a vision-blinding in its intensity! Of course! When one applies the chunky, one must apply it concavely, with a thicker layer at the perimeter to contain the jam! And press the sandwich firmly together, to seal the creamy and chunky at the edges--a gasket! A dam! A levee to stand against the strawberry hurricane of Smucker's finest! I must rush home and try again! But tomorrow--I am weary from today's efforts. Tomorrow, and ever always, I must try again--I approach perfection...the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

[DOES ANYONE HAVE A PICNIC PHOTO TO GO WITH THIS ESSAY? If so, please just post it below!]

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