I bake so many recipes that use peanut butter, and snack on it so often, that I rarely find myself eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Between peanut butter balls, peanut butter swirl brownies, spring rolls with peanut sauce, peanut butter cookies, and this bizarre-yet-delicious peanut butter, avocado and basil sandwich, there’s little room in my life or my stomach for a good old PB&J.
Yet, PB&Js bring back so many good childhood memories. Memories of playing on the beach, swimming at the pond, and even that one time a seagull swooped down and stole the sandwich right out of my hand at the beach. Traumatic, yes. But also memorable. I have so few positive childhood memories of my mother- but I remember her packing up PB&J sandwiches to take to the beach when I was little. Maybe it was convenience (they don’t need to be kept in a cooler), or maybe it was because growing up we were pretty poor, but PB&J was always the sandwich of choice at the beach. On the rare occasions that I make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it always brings me back to the beach. I can feel the sun on my shoulders and the sand in my toes. I can remember running to my mom when I got hungry, eagerly awaiting the timeless, perfect combo of salty peanut butter and sticky-sweet jelly. And I can feel the happiness in my heart that is never present in later childhood memories associated with my mother, whose addiction became the proverbial storm cloud in my sunny childhood memories.
I made these bars as a nod to those happy childhood memories, and as a way to sneak more PB&J into my daily routine, which I never seem to fit the actual sandwich into. The crust is adapted from these fig bars, and despite being made from whole wheat flour and maple syrup, somehow tastes buttery and decadent. The inside has just 3 ingredients: the jam/jelly of your choice, a drizzle of peanut butter, and a handful of fresh berries. I used raspberry jam, because that’s what we always had in a PB&J growing up. Feel free to use your favorite PB&J combo here, leaving out the fruit if needed.
When I made these gooey little snack bars a few weeks ago, I was SO excited to share them with you. In any other circumstance, I would still be sharing my usual exclamation point-filled ramblings with you. Today, though, I just don’t have it in me to muster the excitement I felt when I first made these. It’s not that they aren’t perfectly nostalgic, or altogether wonderful. It’s just that my heart is hurting and I’m finding it hard to oversell these PB&J bars to you. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a middle school teacher. Most people cringe when they find out I spend my days surrounded by 12-year-olds, but I love them, despite all of their personality traits that send most adults running for the hills. They push me to my limits but lift me up in ways I never thought was possible.
This weekend, one of my students was killed in a fire. His house was literally burned to the ground, and out of 7 family members, only 2 were able to escape the fire. The sweet, witty, quirky, smart, Lord of the Rings-loving boy who sat in my classroom every day is gone. I am completely heartbroken. Today we spent the day honoring him as best as we could, but the sadness is just so overwhelming. I will carry the memory of this kind-hearted boy with me forever.
So, bear with me as I swim my way through the ocean of pain that’s surrounding my heart. Go replace the batteries in your smoke detectors, and squeeze your kids tight. Bake a batch of PB&J bars and revel in the sweet, sunny memories of a childhood that didn’t end too soon. Of a life well lived. Think of my sweet little Martin, whose future was supposed to be so bright.
Thanks for being here. I love you all.
- 1/4 cup room temperature coconut oil
- 1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter (the kind without added sugar or oil)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup (or honey)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour (can sub all-purpose, if desired)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup raspberry jam or other flavor of choice
- 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
- 1/4 cup raspberries or other fruit of choice, chopped
- 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper; set aside.
- 2. Put coconut oil, peanut butter, honey, and vanilla into a mixing bowl, and stir well to combine. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir. The mixture will be crumbly, but should hold together when pinched between your fingers.
- 3. Divide the crumb mixture in half, and dump half of it into the loaf pan (if one half is slightly larger, use the larger half for the bottom layer). Use your hands to press the crumbs into a thin, even layer.
- 4. Spread jam/jelly over the bottom crust, dollop on the 2 Tablespoons of peanut butter, and sprinkle with raspberries. Top with remaining crumbs, and press down gently to compress the bars.
- 5. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until golden and bubbly. Let bars cool completely until cutting into 8 squares and eating. Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature, or 5 in the fridge.
- This recipe yields a small batch, but can easily be doubled. Bake it in an 8-inch square pan for 35-40 minutes.