There is a sandwich called the PB&M. In its most classic iteration, it's made with peanut butter and mayonnaise on white bread.
Every couple of years, the internet remembers it exists, and goes completely wild.
It all began in 2014, when Jed Portman (then, a writer at Garden & Gun) heard about the sandwich from Georgia farmer Brandon Chonko, who regularly deployed tweets on the subject. It sounded crazy. Chonko wrote in 2013, "my grandma used to full our gullets with em. Covington ga. A sandwich time may have forgotten but I never did. God awful." (In early December 2014, in response to a tweet from The New York Times' Julia Moskin that her peanut butter cookies were "not Christmassy," Chonko replied, "add mayo.")
Portman mentioned it to his grandparents in North Carolina one Thanksgiving for a lark. He was floored to learn that the PB&M was not only a Southern classic, but also his grandfather's favorite food. He wrote a story about the sandwich for Garden & Gun, positing a probable origin story: "Newspaper clippings from the national heyday of the peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwich, a period that seems to have begun in the 1930s and continued through the 1960s, provide evidence that the practice of adding mayonnaise to peanut butter could have originated as a way of transforming rough-hewn nut butters into spreadable pastes."
The piece was widely read. Novelty tee-shirts ensued. ("We sold a fair amount of them for two guys who weren’t really trying," said Chonko.) Chef Ed Lee even wears one on the cover of his James Beard Award–winning cookbook, Buttermilk Graffiti.
"Five years ago, when G&G first published this story, local and farm-fresh were the food-world watchwords," Garden & Gun's Executive Managing Editor Phillip Rhodes wrote to me. "It felt refreshing and fun to produce stories with a gently contrarian point of view: stories about foods with heavily packaged convenience ingredients like canned biscuits for sonker, Tang for Russian tea, or canned tomato juice for aspic. It punctured some of the earnestness of the time. That’s one reason why I think the story took off."
And the internet hasn't dropped it, since.
Take last year. In March, Buzzfeed resurfaced the PB&M in a post replete with reaction gifs (though, no mention of Portman). Staffers sampled a bunch of varieties uncovered through what they write is a 1960s-era ad from Skippy and Hellmann's: the "Double Crunch" (bacon and pickles), the "Crazy Combo" (salami, sliced eggs, and onions), and others. A few months later, the sandwich tore across Twitter and made the food media rounds again.
And just this week, the PB&M made another comeback on r/foodhacks, courtesy of a user called BlastPalace. BlastPalace posted a video titled "BEST BUDGET SANDWICH EVER?" showcasing a chopped celery riff on the classic. One reddit user wrote: "This is an abomination." Another: "Nope. No thank you, sir."
So, why won't the internet let this sandwich go?
"Of all of the stories we’ve done in this vein, Jed’s PB&M still resonates the most with readers—both with those who recall the combination fondly from their own lives and those who find it intriguing or even gross," wrote Rhodes. "The story found an audience immediately."
In other words, the PB&M has got all the good makings of an evergreen meme: a compelling provenance, the element of surprise, and lots of room for controversy.
When I asked Chonko if, after all this time, he likes the sandwich—whether he'd have one right now, for a snack—he said, "I would not. I didn’t care for them. I only had them a couple times." He had not heard of this most recent rendering with chopped celery. The way his grandmother Sarah Kirkland used to make them in Covington, GA, they contained only mayonnaise and smooth peanut butter.
I confessed that, unable to sit on the sidelines of this great debate any longer—and, above all, curious if the PB&M with celery really is the "BEST BUDGET SANDWICH EVER"—I tried and loved the sandwich in all its formats. That I found something about the velvety, sour-sweet combination totally irresistible. Especially with the celery crunch.
"Maybe I ought to try one again," he said.
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