“I Don’t Want No Peanut Butter and Jelly”

By Mary D. Williams

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church
Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church

It is four o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in August at the Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church in Smithfield, NC; there’s not a cloud in the sky, it’s a scorching hot day. You can hear the scrunching of the gravel as the cars pull in and everybody is parking. People are rushing in to find a seat and grab a fan. The atmosphere is filled with excitement. The clock strikes four o’clock and the master of ceremony comes up to the microphone: “Good afternoon everyone, and thank you for coming.

fan
Fans for the church members

“We appreciate so many of you coming to celebrate the anniversary of the Willow Springs Male Chorus. We welcome you once, twice, three times, to praise the Lord and rejoice. Now let’s enjoy some good ole fashioned gospel singing!”

The pianist takes his seat at the piano in the choir loft. This is a signal for the men to make their entrance. There’s a nod. It’s time. They have waited all year long for this. They have prepared and practiced for this performance.

Here come the men in lock step dressed in Brown suits.

The Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church Mens Choir
The Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church Mens Choir

“Do y’all know God is still working miracles? Because I know he blessed the soul of a little boy at a church like this a long while ago. As the preacher read the scriptures of how God can save and heal, the little boy began to feel the spirit. (applause)

“The presence of God in his little soul couldn’t be explained; he didn’t even know what was happening to him.”

Dobbin Family Stained-Glass Window
Dobbin Family Stained-Glass Window

Imagine a small old church, nothing like today’s new millennial church, but the kind with hard wood floors and stained glass windows – small and quaint.  While the audience pats their feet, the sound reverberates throughout the entire sanctuary. Some are swaying side to side.  Children are seated close to the front; some are so small their feet are dangling from the pew. Some children are on the front pew, their legs so short they are just dangling.

People are quietly coming in as the ushers signal to each other to find a spot, motioning for people to be seated and clear the aisle. The lead vocalist comes back to the microphone.

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

The audience begins to shout out, “Amen, praise God” … “go ‘head on now.”

“The little boy knew something warm and wonderful was happening inside of him. (People could feel it too.) After the service, he walked up and gave the preacher his hand and said, ‘Through your message my soul has been blessed today.”

Audience members were shouting, “Amen, I know what you talkin’ about,” with tears in their eyes.

“After service the little boy walked home and when he arrived he was still feeling good from the service.  He walked toward his mother and he said, ‘Mother, I’m hungry, I’m so hungry right now.’ She said, ‘Son, come into the kitchen and I’ll fix you a sandwich.’  She reached into the cabinet and took out the peanut butter and jelly. He said, ‘Mother, you really don’t understand.'”

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church
Willow Springs Missionary Baptist Church

In the audience people are standing, some are waving their hands, some with tears in their eyes. Somebody is standing with a posture of prayer with hands clasped.

“He said, ‘Mother, you really don’t understand.’ She looked at him and said, ‘What is it son, what is it that I don’t understand?’ and he said, ‘Mother, you don’t understand this right here…’ He told her…” 

As they walk in two step they sing:

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

The leader takes out his handkerchief and begins to wipe his forehead as the perspiration runs down his face.

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

“He said, ‘Mother, you really don’t understand.’ She looked at him and said, ‘What is it son, what is it that I don’t understand?’ and he said, ‘Mother, I heard the preacher say, blessed are they that hunger and they shall be filled. He also said suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.  For such is the kingdom of Heaven.’ He looked at her with tears in his eyes, ‘Now momma you see that you fixed the wrong food for me…’ He told her…”

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”

Everyone’s standing on their feet.  A couple had their hands stretched outward, some had tears streaming down their face.  Some stood silently with their eyes closed, then there’s a Deacon wringing his hands with his head bowed down. The leader continues and the choir sings along as they reach the climax of the song.

“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved.”
“I don’t want no peanut butter and jelly; I want my soul to be saved, ooh, ooh, ooh!”

The crowd erupts in applause and praise, with a loud voice, “Amen!” “Praise the Lord!”

***

This song was first recorded by the female quartet The Truthettes on their album, “Childs Prayer,” produced by Frank Williams at Malaco Records.

My first experience hearing this song was in the 70s, on the front row  of a venue called the “Raleigh Safety Club” in NC.  I remember sitting there as my Dad and his quartet group, The Dependable Quintet, told this story in song.  I remember my feet could barely touch the floor.  I wore black-patent leather shoes, lace socks, and my dress was black crimson with ribbons in my hair.  I waited with anticipation to hear them.  They stepped up to the microphone and the lead singer (my dad) began telling this story about a little boy and his Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich.  I didn’t realize until my teenage years the song had deep spiritual meaning.  The little boy had a craving (for God) that natural food could not fill.  He refuses the sandwich as a symbol of rejecting worldly pride, materialism insisting on something more fulfilling.  (Isaiah 11:6 – “And a child shall lead them.”)

PB&J is a staple in most homes particularly in the South.  It doesn’t matter whether rich or poor, PB&J are an everyday in home commodity.  A survey conducted in 2002 by J.M. Smucker Company, revealed the average American eats more than 1500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating high school.[1]

When I think about PB&J, I think about my children and the countless sandwiches I prepared to sustain the boys until dinner was ready.

“It also makes me think a lot about North Carolina. I love that these things grow right here in our rich state. I love what these things are associated with, and how they impact our lives daily. This sandwich is one of America’s food staples, and this song was a staple in African American church life.”

PB&J Wontons
PB&J Wontons
PB&J in a Jar
PB&J in a Jar

One of the ways North Carolinians have celebrated peanuts and the importance of this sandwich to everyday life is in contests that invite new renditions of this staple. This year, over 300 creative recipes were submitted to the PB&J bake off at the North Carolina State Fair including PB&J Wontons, Chocolate Cake with PB&J in a Jar, Fluffy PB&J Cupcakes with Strawberry Jelly, and “Not Your Everyday PB&J Pizza,” just to name a few.

"Not Your Everyday PB&J Pizza"
“Not Your Everyday PB&J Pizza”
PB&J Cupcakes
PB&J Cupcakes

Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches are a tradition of so many things and no matter how complicated, it reminds us of the simple things in life.  This project reminds me of the power of simple things. When searching for recipes, there were so many creative things to do with peanut butter and jelly, including prize winning recipes highlighted in Southern Homes Magazine. But what is more satisfying than keeping it simple?

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Recipe
Take two slices of wheat bread or white bread (toasting optional).
Take any brand of peanut butter, crunchy or smooth.
Take any kitchen utensil and spread the peanut butter evenly on one slice of bread.
Open any brand/flavor of your choice of jelly or jam.
Take a clean kitchen utensil and on the other slice of bread, spread the jelly or jam.
Then place two slices together.
Plate the sandwich and if you feel compelled, cut across the sandwich diagonally.

[1] “PB&J is A-OK”. Prepared Foods 171.10: p.32(1). Prepared Foods. Oct 2002.