I see that Dwight Garner of the New York Times got himself into some tepid (as opposed to hot) water with his review of Marja Mills's The Mocking Bird Next Door, about Harper Lee. The book sounds pretty ropey, but our man got in trouble (or at least became the object of bogus internet outrage) with this para:
‘"The Mockingbird Next Door" conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald's, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling "Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!" Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage.’
This has caused Garner to be denounced in some quarters as an elitist, snob, and fast-food hater. Full disclosure, I have eaten and drunk (modestly) with Dwight Garner a few times, though none of them at all recently, and in any case he certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but come on, there genuinely IS something sad about having a regular booth at MacDonald’s. And eating Burger King takeout salads is deeply, unbearably sad in any circumstance, even more so on movie night. Isn’t it? To Kill a Mocking Bird, as I recall is full of foodie stuff about lane cake and crackling bread and molasses.
In any case, how much of a food snob can Garner be when he revealed in a Times article in 2012, that he considers the peanut butter and pickle sandwich, “the work-at-home writer’s friend”? He writes, “The peanut butter and pickle sandwich is one of those unlikely pairings that shouldn’t work, but does … I’ve been happily eating these distinctive little sandwiches for years. The vinegary snap of chilled pickle cuts, like a dash of irony, against the stoic unctuousness of peanut butter. The sandwich is a thrifty and unacknowledged American classic.”
OK, I don’t think he should have been allowed to get away with irony and stoic unctuousness, but he goes on to tell us, “There’s a consistent but low-level Internet buzz about the combination, just as there is about the other unlikely things people like to marry with peanut butter and place between bread slices: mayonnaise, olives, thick onion slices (this was Hemingway’s favorite sandwich), horseradish, bacon, Marmite (in England) and Vegemite (in Australia), to name but a few.”
You’ll get no sandwich elitism from me; but hell, peanut butter and onion? Peanut butter and Marmite? They sounds just vile. But then again, no doubt some people (my own wife for instance) feel the same way about my own “work-at-home writer’s friend” – the peanut butter and cheese sandwich. Works great as part of your high fat diet! The cheese in the pictures below is “golden Cheshire” but something a bit pokier is probably better.
I’m not interested in converting anybody here, but what I think Hemingway, Garner and Nicholson have in common, is that we consider peanut butter to be a savory food – in which case other savory ingredients go with it just fine. But there are members of another tribe who consider it a sweet food (and cheapo peanut butter actually contains added sugar) so having it in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the way to go, because it’s just more of the same.
And I’ve been I wonder how many other foods are like this, and can go either way; sweet or savory. Quite a few I’m sure – rice, pancakes, for instance – but the one that came first to my mind was the crumpet.
A crumpet obviously needs butter but then it’s much improved (it seems to me), by the addition of melted cheese, or Marmite, or Gentleman’s relish, or whatever: savory flavors. Some people however take a sweeter view.
I was once at a wedding when several of the guests became outraged because they were served crumpets that had been pre-spread with butter and jam, “Bloody fools!” some old buffer, growled. “Everybody knows crumpets are a savory not a dessert!” I agreed completely, but probably it would have been safer to agree in any case. Fights have been known to break out at weddings over much smaller matters.