If apple pie is considered the quintessential American food, surely peanut butter and jelly is a close second. PB&J, a staple for families across the US, may be the best combination to go with sliced bread since the invention of sliced bread. Rarely do you find a convenience food that’s revered by kids and adults, the rich and the poor, across color lines and by regular Joes and elite athletes; but PB&J is that food. A fitting representation of comfort food, PB&J established its importance in our lives early on and now stands as the first food memory for many of us.
For Megan Gibson, peanut butter runs deeper, it’s in her DNA. She’s a former DJ and the founder of PB&JAMS, a Philadelphia-based nut butter company. “Shelling and eating peanuts is something that my mom did with my grandfather which is connected to his youth in rural Virginia,” says Gibson. Amusingly, Gibson has a peanut-shaped birthmark on her arm that's said to be the result of Gibson’s mom eating lots of peanuts during her pregnancy with Gibson.
And the role that peanuts play in Black history isn’t lost on Gibson. “I'm prayerful that my path speaks to the history of Black people in America as well as our future,” she says. “It [making nut butter] connects me to the generations before me.”
So, how does a DJ turned foodprenuer become an artisanal nut butter maker? An entrepreneurial spirit is part of it. “Trial and error. I decided that I wanted to make something that was natural and flavor-forward,” says Gibson. The other part, once again, harkens back to her roots and Gibson’s grandmother, also a foodprenuer. Perhaps, just like peanuts, entrepreneurship runs in Gibson’s genes.
PB&JAMS' line of natural nut butters comes in a variety of unique flavors that you won’t find from big brands. If you live in Philly, you may have spotted PB&JAMS’ lively, multi-colored food trailer rolling around the city. Gibson and her team sell nut butters from the trailer at markets and events. The company’s name mashes together two of Gibson’s passions — food and music. To her, the intersection of food and music “cultivates joy, community, and the creation of positive memories,” says Gibson, a music lover who began collecting and selling records before becoming a DJ. “Food and music have the ability to bridge gaps.” And certainly, the same can be said for a good PB&J.
While PB&J is beloved, Gibson likes to create unexpected flavor combinations with her nut butters. Purists beware! A few of her favorites include: peanut butter with apple and bacon; almond butter with orange and chicken; cashew butter with pineapple and ham; and for healthy eaters, peanut butter with soy, ginger and tofu. Now, before you gag-face emoji these combinations, consider this — the history of peanut butter sandwiches does include savory combinations. Peanut butter and watercress as well as peanut butter and pimento were considered delicacies in the early 1900s.
Another flavor that’ll get your tastebuds jumping is a spicy peanut butter called Hot or Not. Inspired by Haitian peanut butter, but different in that Hot or Not has a slow-burn. “The heat builds, which makes it perfect for pairing with jelly and cooking,” says Gibson. If cooking with peanut butter seems strange, think spicy peanut sauce for wings, a base for African peanut soup, salad dressings, or even stir-fry.
Gibson is a multi-skilled woman after our own heart. By day, Gibson is a Health/PE teacher and her dedication to children is at the core of PB&JAMS’ philanthropic mission where ten to twenty percent of PB&JAMS’ catering sales are directly donated to a local Philadelphia organization. “We have supported a number of local organizations and put together a school supply drive to benefit Team Up Philly and a local elementary school,” says Gibson. “This year we will add B.U.I.L.D (Brothers United In Leadership Development) to the list of organizations we support.”
Up next for PB&JAMS is the return of two seasonal favorites: Dark Chocolate Almond Butter and Maple Walnut Butter. And PB&J lovers around the country should be on the lookout for PB&JAMS to roll through a city near you in the future, as Gibson hopes to one day take PB&JAMS on tour. Personally, in light of the recent news of the NBA’s intense PB&J obsession, there’s just one obvious partnership that we’d like to see happen — with the 76ers — and Gibson’s onboard. “I would love to partner with the 76ers to bring our mutual love of PB&J together in a way that will benefit young people in Philadelphia.”
Before we end our interview with Megan Gibson, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tackle the tough questions. We know that people are very particular about their peanut butter preferences, so we asked Gibson a few crucial, rapid-fire questions.
Eating peanut butter straight out of the jar with a spoon…yes or no? No, part of the fun for me is awesome things to pair it with!
Nut butter storage…fridge or shelf? Shelf, so it's nice and spreadable.
PB&J sandwiches…with crust or crustless? Cut down the middle or diagonally? With crust and DIAGONAL!
The ultimate question: chunky or smooth? I'm personally a fan of chunky - it's all about texture!
To learn more about PB&JAMS, visit their website and online store at pbandjamsphl.com.