Best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Where did sliced bread come from? (No, it wasn’t explorer Marco Polo who brought it back from China.) An enterprising German named Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented the first bread slicer, in Davenport, Iowa. While he fiddled around with his invention as early as 1912, it wasn’t until 16 years later that he had perfected the machine and was ready to introduce it to the public, notably bakeries.

Enter Wonder Bread. Starting in 1921, a local business in Indianapolis named the

Taggart Baking Company marketed Wonder Bread sold in whole loaves. As the story goes, an executive of the company was watching hot air balloons floating across the sky and declared them a “wonder” and the name took off (not unlike a hot air balloon). Once the Continental Baking Company bought out Wonder Bread in 1925 and began selling it sliced a few years later, it became a revolutionary new product across the country. Homemakers loved the idea that it was pre-sliced, as well as its soft texture, which translated (and was promoted) as being fresh.

Obviously the bread had to be packaged, due to the slices, so it was banned temporarily during WWII in order to conserve paper. But as the baby boomers went off to school, lunch boxes across the country carried sandwiches made with Wonder Bread each day, and it was literally a wonder of the 1950’s. Much to the horror of white bread aficionados, WB vanished in 2012. It seems Hostess Brands (distributors of Twinkies and cupcakes) declared bankruptcy. But another company, Flowers Foods, sprang to the rescue just a year later, once again stocking the shelves of supermarkets with the beloved white bread. (Phew… a year without Wonder Bread must have been tense.)

So what could be better than sliced bread? Close your eyes and imagine the irresistible aroma of roasting peanuts. Already a favorite at ballparks and circuses, the humble peanut grew in popularity, and today peanut butter dominates the sandwich choices, smeared on white bread and perhaps covered with grape jelly. Although George Washington Carver is known for his discovery of peanuts and their many uses, it was John Harvey Kellogg, creator of cold flaked cereals, who actually came up with peanut butter in 1895. Along with his brother, they patented their processing method. Originally the peanuts were steamed but a much more pleasing taste emerged when roasted instead. The tasty nut butter supplied a good protein for children and older folks who could not chew meat.

At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, many new foods were introduced, and alongside potato chips and waffle cones to hold ice cream, the smooth, creamy delicious peanut butter was a hit. Slap it on some bread, add jelly, and it supplied wholesome rations to our soldiers in WWI. And once Wonder bread was introduced a few years later, the PB&J sandwich offered a good, easy and economical lunch for children of all ages and became a staple for Americans.

When snack foods were popularized in the 1930’s, peanuts and peanut candies certainly were on the hit parade and now comprise some of the most in-demand products in the U.S. We eat more than six pounds of peanut products annually per person, and that adds up to two billion dollars at retail. (Cha-ching.) Peanut butter alone makes up about half of our yearly consumption. The remainder includes nut snacks, baked goods and candies. Not to be ignored, peanuts provide a popular cooking oil as well, and some fast food restaurants use it for frying.

So are you a chunky or creamy fan? Do you eat it in sandwiches (white bread, of course) or just scoop it straight from the jar? With apple slices? In celery stalks? We know that Elvis Presley’s favorite gourmet dish was fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, although we’re not sure if his cook used sliced white bread. Probably.

The author is strictly a creamy fan. She enjoys it with wedges of green apples, on toast and in cookies. When no one is looking, she has been known to scoop it out of the jar, but always uses a spoon. While she confesses she is not a white bread eater (no hate mail, please) she does enjoy the convenience of pre-sliced bread, because she deplores uneven slices cut by hand. Please visit and review her other articles on the history of popular foods and drink published on ezine..

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