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Peanut butter and mayonnaise: two beloved sandwich toppings that have been around since the 1800s and 1700s, respectively. Peanut butter is often paired with jams, jellies, honey, and bananas, whereas mayonnaise is typically reserved for more savory sandwiches, like a turkey or roast beef.
But what if I told you that not only are peanut butter and mayo sandwiches a thing, but they’re wildly popular? Does that thought make you gag? Or maybe it sends you running to the kitchen to whip one up for yourself?
Let’s take a look back at where this strange combination got started. Just like with every other food, someone had to be the first person to try it, so what brave soul first thought to slather peanut butter and mayo between two slices of bread?
It was likely born from the Great Depression, when poor families didn’t have much on hand and needed to combine what little food they did have into meals that were high in calories and easy on the palette. Of course, necessity is often the mother of invention, and what started as a utilitarian food quickly evolved into something people enjoyed eating on a regular basis. As someone who has grown up in the South, I can tell you that people down here love their mayo. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Southern families in the early 20th century were putting mayonnaise on just about everything in an attempt to make it better.
Today, the peanut butter and mayo sandwich (often referred to as a PBM) endures on, with an entire Facebook group and several Reddit threads devoted to singing its praises. There’s no denying, however, that it’s not the phenomenon it once was. PBMs hit peak popularity in the time between the Great Depression and the 1960s – all leading up to this gem of an ad that Skippy and Hellmann’s ran together:
Forget Infinity War, this is the crossover event of the century. They even tried to spritz it up with fancy toppings like bacon, apples, and hard-boiled eggs. You might be able to convince me to try peanut butter and mayo, but throw a pickle on that bad boy and you’ve lost me.
If this combo still sounds nasty to you despite people eating it and enjoying it, you’re not alone. The Independent recently conducted a reader poll that revealed 62 percent of its readers would never try a PBM.
But for those who love it, PBMs are more than just a sandwich…they’re a tradition. Athens, GA native Burns Sullivan told the Huffington Post that his great-grandmother would always send his great-grandfather out to work in the fields with a peanut butter and mayo sandwich.
“It was always government white bread, untoasted, specifically Duke’s mayonnaise and peanut butter,” said Sullivan. He went on to say that, “…there’s a rift in the family on smooth or crunchy [peanut butter]. My dad swears that crunchy is best, but claims that when my great-grandparents were eating them, it was creamy.” Sullivan currently works as a sous chef at Farm in Bluffton, South Carolina, though I don’t think we’ll be seeing PBMs on the menu anytime soon.
Sullivan was lucky enough to meet his great-grandmother, who he says lived until she was 102 years old, and sample one of her famous PBMs with iceberg lettuce.
“I’m not going to do it justice, because it is — I don’t know if I’d say it’s great — but it’s a pretty good sandwich,” said Sullivan. “It’s like a sour peanut butter. The lettuce is there purely for texture, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth, anyway. It doesn’t make it sound very tasty, but, I promise, it’s decent.”
While he may not have done the best job of selling us on the flavor, Sullivan’s reasoning makes sense. To someone who’s never had it before, a PBM sounds like a random mashup of ingredients that could taste anywhere from decent to horrendous. But for Sullivan and many others like him, the PBM is a doorway to the past – a way for you to taste exactly what your ancestors ate while they were working the fields, enduring the Great Depression, or simply after-school snacking in the 1960s.
So, even if it doesn’t quite sound like your type of thing, don’t knock it ’til you try it. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s just peanut butter and mayo.