Jilly watched as her host mother shredded cheddar cheese and melt it on top of the freshly baked apple pie. Silently appalled, she politely asked, “Why would you do that?” Jilly is from New Zealand, and very fond of her host family. She has yet, though, to understand some of the combinations of foods she sees American’s eating. Jilly’s host mom replied, “I don’t know where the tradition started, but apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze!”
Where do we get some of our traditions? Peanut butter with jelly. Or worse. With bananas! How about waffles and chicken? Jello with mayonnaise? One student even remarked that Root Beer was a flavor he simply would never understand, especially when adding ice cream. He asked why we would distort such a lovely food by adding root beer!?
Let’s begin with peanut butter, an interesting food to begin with. In 1896, Good Housekeeping urged readers to use a meat grinder to mash the peanuts into a butter that could be served on bread. In 1901, Julie Davis Chandler, contributing author to the Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics suggested adding a layer of jam to the bread and peanut butter idea. By the 1920’s, this became a popular food item with children, and even was added into the rations of American soldiers in World War 1.
But when on earth did we decide that bananas were a good addition to peanut butter? Well, “we” is a relative term. This became an American tradition when pop star, Elvis Presley requested it. His public requests at cafes and restaurants across the United States for a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich made it a favorite among fans, and also a great menu booster for the establishments that would serve it. Contrary to popular belief, Elvis did not add bacon to his sandwich favorite. That came along later, and is less well-known than its grandparent sandwich.
Jello. An American table staple! Jello, once a delicacy that was served as flavored gelatin in wealthy households, has become an American favorite. There are recipes that span every season and holiday, and are delightful from early childhood to adulthood. But why mayonnaise? Unable to determine exactly when mayonnaise ended up on the plate with jello, the closest determination could be when celery and carrots were added to orange and lime jellos. That’s a whole other world of strange American food!
One of the more interesting stories relayed came from a Swedish exchange student who could not understand why Americans would ever allow root beer to touch their lips. This is one of America’s favorite soft drinks, especially paired with vanilla ice cream! Upon further questioning, it would seem that many travelers to the United States feel quite the same way, finding the flavor of root beer disgusting. This one we will just chock up to differences of cultural culinary opinion. Americans love their root beer.
We as Americans, do seem to share some interesting food choices. But culturally, our tastes vary across the world. What about sweet and sour chicken? And sushi? Blood pudding? Shepherd’s Pie? Chocolate laced with cayenne pepper? Unique to our cultures and ethnic backgrounds are our taste buds. Isn’t it intriguing? Next time you ask someone to try something new, remember, the task may not be as easy to swallow as it seems.