Gourmandistan

Sandwiching a little history into peanut butter & Concord grape jelly cookies

Peanut butter and grape jelly cookies

Along with its partners, peanut butter and sliced white bread, Concord grape jelly is an American staple, a symbol of something completely familiar and unsurprising. Which is why Steve was so delighted to find out that the original name for it was “Grapelade,” and the stuff became popular after it was included (along with cigarettes) in WWI ration kits.

Concord grapes

According to the Concord Grape Association (whose members “process more than 90% of the Concord grapes processed annually in the United States”), Concord grapes did not come into being until the 1850s, when Ephraim Wales Bull developed the strain on his farm outside Concord, Massachusetts (“down the road from the Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Alcott homesteads”). Several years after the Concord became popular, a New Jersey dentist named Dr. Thomas Welch created “the world’s first processed fresh fruit juice” for use in communion services for Methodists and other abstemious Christian sects. (As a lifelong apostate Steve frowns on this practice, as he believes anyone who has to sit through the entire process of transubstantiation deserves at least a little drink at the end.) When the first World War arrived, the Welch Grape Juice Company came up with the idea of cooking their grape juice down into a more solid, spreadable substance. They convinced the US government to include it in soldier rations, and after the war began to market the stuff, calling it “Grapelade.” (According to the US Patent Office, other Welch’s products in the early 1920s were to be called “Peachlade” and “Welch-Apl.”) The Internet still turns up references to this name as recently as the 1950s before Welch’s decided their name was their brand, and “Grapelade” became known as “grape jelly.”

Concord grapes

As the Grapelade moniker was falling into obsolescence, grape jelly joined with peanut butter and white bread to become an iconic symbol of America. (Some say this began in World War II, when peanut butter, jelly and bread were provided to soldiers as part of their ration kits. See kids? Wars are awesome!) As Americans became inured to the wonders of PB&J on white bread, they began to explore other ways of eating these things together—and Gourmandistan is no exception.

In late summer, Michelle had made a batch of jelly from some Concord grapes Steve bought at our market, enjoying the flavor so much she decided it needed something special to feature it in. Combining bits and pieces of different recipes on Martha Stewart’s website, Michelle produced these splendid peanut butter cookies with Concord jelly, a fitting platform for the marvelously aromatic grape jam.

Peanut butter and grape jelly cookies

Steve enjoyed them almost as much as he enjoys saying “Grapelade,” as did Michelle—though she did convince Steve to make some fluffy white bread, as she also plans to enjoy the iconic version of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich very soon.

PEANUT BUTTER AND CONCORD GRAPE JELLY SANDWICH COOKIES

  • Servings: about 16 large cookies plus additional small ones
  • Print

(Jelly adapted from Martha Stewart/cookies adapted from ‘wichcraft restaurant via marthastewart.com)

CONCORD GRAPE JELLY

  • 1-1/2 pounds Concord grapes, stems removed
  • 3 TB lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Combine grapes and lemon juice in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes, until grapes release their juices. Strain through a fine sieve (there should be about 2 cups of juice).

Return juice to saucepan. Stir in sugar and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, then simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 220° F on a candy thermometer. Transfer jelly to a bowl, and let cool, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate once cooled.

PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES

  • 1-1/2 sticks (12 TB) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 c. + 2 TB all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350° F. Position rack in center of oven.

Place a sheet of waxed paper on the counter. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Add oatmeal and cook over medium heat, stirring, until toasted, about 5 minutes. Spread oat mixture onto parchment and let cool.

Toss together flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

Cream remaining stick (8 tablespoons) of butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment. Add peanut butter and mix until combined. Add flour mixture and toasted oats. Mix on low speed until combined.

Turn dough out onto a piece of waxed paper. Form into a circle. Place another sheet of waxed paper over and roll out to a 1/4″ thickness (which will be about a 10″ circle). Remove top sheet of waxed paper. Slide rolled dough onto a flat baking sheet. Refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.

Line three cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cut out as many cookies as you can, using a 2″ round cookie cutter. Place half the cookies on a cookie sheet at least 1″ apart. Cut the middles out of the remaining cookies using a 1″ cookie cutter and place the donut-shaped cookies on a separate sheet. Place both cookie sheets in the freezer for a few minutes to firm up.

Remove the whole cookies from the freezer and bake in the middle of the oven for about 10-11 minutes, until golden, rotating in the middle of baking. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then place on a cooling rack.

Remove the donut-shaped cookies from the freezer and sprinkle with a bit of Turbinado sugar. Bake in middle of oven for 9-10 minutes. Let cool.

While large cookies are baking, place the 1″ circles removed from cookies on a third cookie sheet and refrigerate. Reroll the scraps as previously between sheets of waxed paper. Refrigerate until chilled. Then cut out as many more 1″ circles as you can, adding to those on the cookie sheet that has been chilling.  Sprinkle half of the tiny cookies with Turbinado sugar.

Bake the tiny cookies for 6-7 minutes and cool, as above.

Make sandwiches by spreading a bit of jam on the bottom sides of the unsugared cookies. Top with the sugared halves.

Whatever cookies aren’t eaten the first day should be frozen, as the jelly makes them go soft quickly.

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33 comments

  1. You were right…great minds :). I love the classic sandwich, but I don’t think I could ever choose it over one of those lovely cookies (or a few of the mini ones). And your photos, while always beautiful, are striking here.

    • Thanks so much, Sacha. The tiny ones were really the best. Somehow the ratio of cookie to jelly there was just perfect. I do love little cookies and don’t know why I don’t make them more often (except it does increase the labor involved).

  2. Love these stories. So interesting, and fun too. There is no such thing as concord grapes here and I have no idea what I might use instead, but it sounds really good. Also, for some mysterious (to me) reason, the French aren’t fans of peanut butter; but I am! And I bet I would just love these cookies!

  3. Ah, yes, Welch’s grape juice in tiny little glasses for communion. Tell Steve I agree thoroughly about feeling cheated out of wine! I like this idea of re-creating a purely American treat, even though I know I’ll never convince myself to do all the work necessary to enjoy your version!

  4. They do look very good indeed …very nice pics too. The whole anti war thing seems pointless when one realises that, without it, the marriage of peanut butter and grape jelly might never have happened. Very short sighted. On the subject of war, I saw packets of Oreos for sale in our local supermarket which means I shall have to burn it down. Harsh, I know, but standards must be kept…and maybe Oreos won’t taste like cardboard and jissom once there give some intense heat:) (spell check suggested lissome for jissom….)

  5. On the many camping trips of my youth — as opposed to the sort of camping that occurred later in life — PB&J sandwiches made with Welch’s was a lunchtime staple. One could forget anything, even the tent, and be forgiven but, forget the Welch’s and you could be banished!
    I love this variation on the theme, Michelle. PB&J cookies have got to be the best. You make me wish I’d made grape jelly this year.

  6. I need these cookies in my life — they sound like perfection (says the girl who ate PB&Js from kindergarten through high school). Also loved the history lesson — who knew grape jelly had such a great story!

  7. Love the story behind the PJB. I had no idea. The commercial stuff sounds gruesome your homemade version much more appealing. As for the cookies, they look beautiful – the flavour combination though? Maybe it’s my British upbringing… I just don’t get it!!! Enjoyed the post nevertheless 😊

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