Peanut Butter and Jelly

The young Kiwi schoolboy watched, first with a quizzical expression, then with astonishment. Soon it would be me that was surprised.

I thought my actions were hum-drum; something I’d done hundreds of times and a typical American wouldn’t think twice about. It was simple. I started by spreading peanut butter on one slice of bread, then I spread jelly on a second slice, eliciting the quizzical look, then I slapped the two slices together. At that stage, by the boy’s expression you’d have thought I just poured pickle juice in a glass of milk.

After a brief conversation I learned that in his experience, while peanut butter sandwiches were common and jelly sandwiches were common, combining the two – a standard meal for any American kid, was something he thought rather strange.

So how did an American come to befuddle a Kiwi kid in the first place?

It helped that we were in New Zealand, but if that’s not sufficiently far away, our location was a remote mountain hut, a two-day hike into the Routeburn Track.

Back in 1985, before Lord of the Rings made New Zealand’s beauty common knowledge, I’d somehow gotten the scoop and opted to spend three weeks checking it out. As part of the excursion I included a backcountry hike in the Fiordland region of the South Island; two and a half days on the Routeburn Track.

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The Routeburn is a 32-kilometer hike, climbing up from a valley floor, through beech forests, up above the tree line to rugged cliffs, and back down again.

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At least that’s what they tell me. Frankly, my memories of what happened 31 years ago are a tad shaky. I do remember the weather started off good but went downhill faster than I did on the second half of the hike. Once I got up into the high country the view across the valley to the cliffs opposite was usually obscured, with the occasional break hinting at something truly spectacular.

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It wasn’t all cliffs, it flattened out in places too.

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Big and impressive is nice, but sometimes small and impressive is nice too.

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The trail was generally in good shape, although with the rain it sometimes resembled a miniature version of a babbling brook, complete with little “boulders” and snags. Dry feet at the end of a day’s hike were but a fantasy.

Although memories of the trail are dim, I have vivid memories of one section. Rocky babbling brook trail, 10-degree pitch upward, sheer cliff on one side, trail about 18″ wide – roughly the width of my backpack, and a sheer dropoff on the other side. And this is not one of those places that provide handy railings.

Fortunately, I didn’t encounter another hiker coming my way. Every step was a tentative, make damn sure you don’t slip foot placement. I also discovered how long I can hold my breath walking uphill wearing a backpack.

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So what does one do at the end of a day’s hike in this soggy, rocky, glorious countryside if you want to get a good night’s sleep without waking up looking like a prune? Why you stay in a hut! There are four of them stashed in various spots.

When I first encountered the term “hut”, I had the impression it meant small, humble dwelling barely large enough to support two people laying down without elbowing each other in the ribs. These trail huts, while they are no threat to the Hilton, are just a tad bigger.

I first noticed this when I stumbled into one, and following my nose to a stove noticed row after row of soggy boots, all hopeful of drying out at least a little before another day’s trek.

The heat source was a new experience for me. Following my nose was more than a euphemism – when I entered the hut a distinct odor permeated the air. I learned the fragrance of burning coal.

After adding my boots to the collection I noticed many of the others belonged to a group of school kids. Kind of hard to miss, they’re not the quietest folks around. It was one of those lads that, come dinner time, experienced my advanced lesson in making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With luck, by now he’s gotten over the trauma from my bizarre combination of ingredients.

After a dry night’s sleep (once all the teenagers finally shut up) I wandered out of the hut and noticed a dull roar from a different direction. It turned out the hut had a waterfall in its back yard.

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As the hike ran towards its finish the weather improved, by the time I was done and heading towards Queenstown it was clear and sunny. It was my fate to do the Routeburn in its dramatic wet phase.

And once I was back in civilization it was time to restock on those PB & J essentials. I learned the Kiwis were not, in fact, unfamiliar with the idea of combining those two ingredients.  There, on the grocery store shelf was the evidence: in the same jar, swirled together, peanut butter and jelly.


Publishers Note: I’ll be taking a break from posting for the next couple of weeks, but not to worry, there will be more stories on the flip side.

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44 thoughts on “Peanut Butter and Jelly

  1. Fantastic post Dave, the photos are exemplary! I think that is the first time I’ve ever used this word, but a little of this Kiwi magic you uncovered back in ’85. Incredible scenery and description of this wonderland. The only thing I question, is why would you spread jelly on the other slice of bread, and not on the peanut butter itself?!? It is like you “poured pickle juice in a glass of milk” 🙂
    Cheers to a great week ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Randall. I don’t I’ve used that word in a post either. I had my doubts how the photos would turn out. I scanned them from slides, as that’s what I shot back in those days, and had to digitally clean up a fair amount of dust and grime.

      As for the PB & J methodology, I find if I spread the jelly on the bare bread it slides around less, and it’s easier to make. Different strokes…

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  2. I was befuddled when I first encountered PB & J in the US in the 1970s, and particularly so by the sight of the two swirled together in the same jar. I was soon won over, but lost the taste for it when I returned to NZ. It was probably pretty new here when you spotted some in a supermarket in the 1980s.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At the time I’d never seen PB & J swirled together in a jar before – I thought it was an NZ thing, and even here I’ve only seen it once or twice. Interesting how something that seems like it would be a standard cultural norm isn’t always. That’s one of the things that makes travel interesting.

      For what it’s worth, I quite liked the NZ meat pies…

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      1. I have a vivid memory of seeing purple grape jelly swirled with golden peanut butter in Missoula, MT. Grape jelly was also a novelty to me.

        Our meat pies are even better now! There are gourmet brands in the supermarkets, not expensive. Washed down with a good craft beer… Luxury.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. fantastic Blog, Dave. And love the pictures.
    As to the PBJ, German eating is so rigid- meat or cheese openface for breakfast or supper, warm meal for lunch, there is no chance to eat pbj.
    Although, since I do it anyway, (nut butter for six times the us price at a reform house-sometimes you just get the urge, and French baguette, since no white bread here) my husband will eat along.(if i just refuse to cook that day)
    But only on black bread and without jelly. And never in public
    Can’t wait to see what you write next.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like an amazing experience Dave. You captured it so well in words and stunning images. I’ve never seen PB&J on sale in Europe, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t sell. My own personal fave at the moment is peanut butter and sweet chili sauce. Perhaps a far eastern cousin of the PBJ sandwich.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That actually sounds pretty good, I may have to try it. It reminds me a bit of a variation I ran into up in Canada. A Dutch fellow who runs a
      scuba diving lodge up there had a preference for peanut butter on toast with siracha (a Thai hot sauce.) In either case, kind of a tasty variation on Thai satay sauce.

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  5. You are much braver than me! I would never have managed the part of the trail with the rock on one side and the sheer drop off on the other side, even if it had been three feet wide. But I’m glad you were, because it sounds as though the hike was worth it, soggy boots and all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it was a little like being between a rock and a hard place, I didn’t have much choice. Fortunately, I’m not afraid of heights if I feel like I’m in control of my situation, but it was still a be very careful event I remember all these years later.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad I like your blog posts in general because I really hate PB&J, so I would not have read this otherwise! 🙂 (Mainly kidding.) I am really impressed with the quality of the old photos. I dredged up my NZ photos for a post a little while ago, and they were pretty disappointing, especially when viewed with the memories in mind of the incredibly scenery there. Sounds like a great trek you did!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Based on some of the comments I’ve been getting, it looks like much of the world would pass on PB&J – as ubiquitous as is it here, especially for kids lunches, this has been an eye opener. Glad you decided to check out the post anyway – hopefully the definitely not PB&J opening shot hinted at the rest of the post.

      Now that I’ve proven to myself the old slides are a viable source I may have to go snooping through them for more old time story ideas. This one was triggered by a passing comment from another follower.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. pinklightsabre

    Nicely done Dave! 31 years ago…good memory recall! I like the notion of the coal burning in the huts, that’s good. Would prefer it peat, like the Scots do, but that’s where my mind and senses go. Enjoy your break and I look forward to your return next month. Bill

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the prompt Bill. Turned out it was kind of fun bumping down memory lane, insofar as I could still see the road. And now I know the old slides are a viable option for dredging up old stories, although they did need a bit of work to clean up.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m Australian, and I had only heard about peanut butter jelly sandwiches through American to shows and movies. Up until my 20s I honestly thought you guys were smearing bread with peanut butter then tipping Jello on it!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We use ‘jelly’ for what is essentially jam, but has had the seeds, etc strained out in the cooking process. Realistically, while we call ’em peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, most of the time they’re really peanut butter and jam sandwiches. (I like mine with strawberry or raspberry jam.)

        I only tasted vegemite once – I was in Australia in 1989 for a couple weeks. Not enough to develop a taste for it, apart from “ew”. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh what lovely photos!!! The waterfall is gorgeous.

    First time I ever saw an American eat a pranut butter and jelly sandwich, I, coming from South Africa, was shocked too! Now, we ate fishpaste spread on toast, and unless you grew up with it, its a shocker.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

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