One of parenthood's myriad challenges, as any parent will attest, is finding the time in one's overscheduled, playdate- and tedious-errand-choked day to make weirdo peanut-butter-and-jelly-stuffed pierogi to foist upon our frightened and sobbing children. Thankfully, somebody at The J.M. Smucker Company is looking out for the families.
... or are they? Let's not be so sure about that. You see, from time to time, your humble internet food column takes upon itself the grim responsibility of examining the suppurating ass-end of the American capitalist experiment, and there is no suppurating-er, ass-ier end than the one spewing out F-grade processed corporate foodstuffs. What demand or dark unexamined desire calls these horrors into the market? And what do they have to tell us about ourselves? There's really only one way to answer these questions, and that's to eat them, make fun of them, and make fun of you for eating them, you gross gluttonous monster.
In this pioneer spirit, I did some (no) asking around, a little bit of online sleuthing (not at all), and some digging through historical archives ([does not even know what "historical archives" means and can't pronounce it]), and it turns out there are strong indications that no one has ever even attempted to make a sealed crustless peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, ever, not ever, never never never, no no no no no, because there has never been a single sentient person stupid enough to waste time doing that. And, bear in mind, we're talking about the United States here, a country where every year a dozen or so families will burn their homes to the ground attempting to deep-fry an entire goddamn frozen Thanksgiving turkey. We're not exactly swimming in brain juice around these parts, and not just because that would be gross and probably a public health hazard.
There's a perfectly obvious reason why no one in the entire history of the human race has ever thought to make a flagrantly unappealing PB&J dumpling, ever ever ever (ever), fucking ever, and it's that, for virtually all practical uses (leaving aside whatever minor demand there may be among carnies and schizophrenics and schizophrenic carnies for a discus that can also give you diabetes), the plain old unsealed peanut butter and jelly sandwich does the job just fine. The job of being a thing that can be eaten, which is its only job, and which it can be called upon to do in the 9.4 seconds it takes to slather some peanut butter and jelly on a couple of pieces of bread, smash them together, and fire them down the hatch.
Which makes it a little bit puzzling, then, that the Uncrustable is a thing that exists, since, even before you get around to the part where you eat this thing (the only function of which is to be eaten), it is wildly, laughably worse than the regular unsealed peanut butter and jelly sandwich at being a thing that you may eat—if only because, in order to eat it, you first must let it thaw on your countertop for an entire goddamn half-hour, during which time you could have produced (some quick figuring tells me) 5.9 trillion peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Clearly, then, we can agree that convenience is not what called the Uncrustable into being—since the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is itself a quick, convenient alternative to less slathered-with-purple-sugar-gel lunch foods, and the Uncrustable takes roughly ∞ times as long to prepare as even the dumbest, most extravagant PB&J imaginable. This, perversely, is what piques your curiosity: If the Uncrustable isn't more convenient than the PB&J sandwiches you've been pumping into your face for the past few decades—if, rather, it's exponentially less convenient—then surely it must taste a whole hell of a lot better, right? Surely it must be the tastiest goddamn PB&J ever devised by man, right? Because, otherwise, why the hell would it exist? Why the hell would there be demand for an absurd peanut-butter-and-jelly-stuffed bread-pouch you have to store in your goddamn freezer and thaw out for a half-hour just to eat, unless the fucking thing tasted like absolute heaven?
These are the sorts of questions that propel you to the grocery store to pick up some Uncrustables; they then help you to withstand the not-insignificant discomfort of plopping a box of Uncrustables on the conveyor belt in the checkout lane and knowing, just knowing, that the cashier is pretty much taking for granted that you own a vast collection of aluminum foil haberdashery. You will pay him no heed. Plenty of people thought Nikola Tesla was insane, too, man, but only because he dared to question and was.
In concert with the goofy cartoon font in which they are printed on the side of the box, the directions for consuming your Uncrustables—
- Keep frozen until ready to eat.
- Thaw 30-60 minutes at room temperature (refrigeration will quickly dry out the bread).
- Eat within 8-10 hours of defrosting for best flavor.
- Do not microwave
—might make you think that preparing Uncrustables is a job not for sensible people, but for complete jackasses. Boy am I ready to eat! Time to thaw a frozen bread-bag full of PB&J for 30-60 minutes, and then eat it at some point within the ensuing 10 hours! But that's only because you're not using your Parent-O-Vision to read the unwritten text. You see, the thing is, you're supposed to keep the ridiculous goddamn crustless PB&J pouch frozen until your kids are ready to eat. Then you're supposed to remove the individually wrapped frozen crustless PB&J pouch from the freezer, hold it in your hand, and stare at it for several long moments, maybe shaking your head in sad bewilderment, as though waking from a long coma to find the world significantly and irrevocably dissipated. Then, you're meant to give your children a conspicuously long, tearful hug, and spend 90 seconds or so making them an actual lunch. By the time the Uncrustable has fully thawed on your countertop, you're meant to be miles away, en route to the zoo. If at some point in the ensuing 8-10 hours you should happen to notice the Uncrustable sitting there on the countertop, and also happen at that time to have maybe had a drink or four and feel a drunken impulse to eat the thing, that's OK.
This is the nutritional virtue of the Uncrustable: that its sheer absurdity will prompt you to feed your kids something else.
Still, the Uncrustable is, finally, a foodstuff. So, how does it taste? It tastes fine. Hell, it tastes better than fine. It tastes good! The jelly is pleasingly Smuckers-y, grooved right down the middle of your palate between tartness and sweetness; the peanut butter is convincingly peanut buttery; the bread ... OK, the bread smells like burning and tastes like brewer's yeast, but it's essentially breadlike. You know what the Uncrustable tastes like? It tastes like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with shitty Wonderbread, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste good, even when made with shitty Wonderbread, which is why we eat so goddamn many of them.
This is reassuring in its familiarity, but also frustrating, since it leaves you empty-handed in your quest to explain the Uncrustable's existence. It's 400 times more inconvenient than a regular PB&J as a foodstuff, and tastes no better. Why does it exist? Why is there an entire goddamn freezer full of different flavor varieties of this thing—raspberry jam! strawberry jam! honey!—in your local supermarket? Can it really be, as the name suggests, the lack of bread crust?
Spare a moment to consider the implications, here. That our common cultural aversions to both A) crust on our PB&J sandwiches, and B) utilizing the astonishing fine motor skills our species evolved over millennia of upward struggle are so powerful that we'd rather wait a half-hour for a frozen Wonderbread raviolo filled with peanut butter and jelly to thaw on the counter than spend an extra four seconds hacking the crusts off a friggin' handmade sandwich. This cannot be. I reject the notion that my fellow human beings are this dumb. We may have our shortcomings, but goddammit, we're not—
Christ. Never mind.
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Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home. Peevishly correct his foolishness firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.
Image by Devin Rochford.