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Approximately half the peanuts produced in the United States are grown within a hundred-mile radius of Dothan, Alabama, which bills itself as the "Peanut Capital of the World." Located in the southeastern part of the state, known as the Wiregrass area, the region's 1,200 peanut farmers have been honored every November since 1938 at the National Peanut Festival. Visitors to Dothan are greeted by a giant gold peanut sculpture at the Visitor Information Center, and scattered throughout the city, one encounters five-foot-high fiberglass peanut sculptures, each whimsically decorated to represent a special theme or character. A series of spectacular murals in historic downtown Dothan commemorate area events, people, and places, including one dedicated to the National Peanut Festival and Dr. George Washington Carver, who developed over three hundred uses for the peanut.
Although the creation of peanut butter dates to 1890, it wasn't produced commercially until 1922 when a revolutionary new churning process was introduced, delivering a smoother, stabilized product with a longer shelf life. The increasing popularity of peanut butter dovetailed with the broad distribution of presliced bread in the early 1930s, but it wasn't until World War II that peanut butter was combined with jelly in sandwiches. It's believed that American soldiers first combined the two ingredients, commonly found in their ration kits, because the jelly made it easier to eat the sticky peanut butter. By the end of the war, peanut butter was a kitchen staple, and with the end of sugar rationing, Welch's Grape Jelly became its choice companion.
In Dothan, Alabama, peanut butter fans are likely to head for the Basketcase Cafe, where owners Donna and Rick Balzaretti produce a veritable parade of creative signature dishes. Boosters of local peanut production, their substantial lunch sandwich menu features a big seller: the P B &Bama Cristo, a delicious version of two classic American favorites, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the Monte Cristo.
PB & Bama Cristo
Reprinted with permission from Donna Balzaretti, chef and owner of the Basketcase Cafe, Dothan, Alabama
Canola oil or cooking spray
2 tablespoons milk
3 1/2 teaspoons peanut butter
2 1/2 teaspoons apple jelly
2 slices Texas toast (quality white bread sliced 1 inch thick and toasted)
2 slices bacon, fried crisp and drained
If deep-frying the sandwich, heat cooking oil to a depth of 2 inches in a deep, heavy frying pan until it reaches 350 degrees.
In a shallow bowl wide enough for dipping the sandwich, prepare batter by beating together the egg and milk. In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter and apple jelly. Spread the peanut butter mixture on one slice of the toast, top with bacon, and cover with the remaining slice of toast. Press the sandwich together lightly. Dip the sandwich in the batter until coated on both sides.
Deep-fry the sandwich in the hot fat, or fry on a griddle that has been preheated and greased with cooking spray, about 30 seconds on each side, or until golden brown. Drain the sandwich on paper towels, slice in half, and serve immediately.
Yield: 1 sandwich
Where to Go:
228 South Oates Street
Dothan, AL 36301