Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bite-Sized Reviews: Austin Peanut Butter & PBJ Cracker Sandwiches"

I'm a pretty big peanut butter fan.  I also really like jelly and jam.  If I could figure out a way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich where the layer of the two in the middle was the same width as either layer of bread, I'd be extremely happy.

I also have extremely fond memories of peanut butter cracker sandwiches from when I was a kid.  They were ultimately superior to the "cracker and cheese" sandwiches that were the regular option, but even when I was young I think I was suspicious of cheese that didn't require refrigeration and "crackers" that looked like they were cut from traffic cones.

Nothing screams "delicious" like something teenagers drive over repeatedly during their driving test.
So at the cafeteria where I work, I decided I wanted a late-day snack, and I saw Austin brand Peanut Butter cracker sandwiches and thought I'd have a fun little trip down Nostalgic Lane.  Then I spotted the PB&J cracker sandwiches next to them.

Boom, I thought.  Instant blog post.  I'm reviewing a snack food.

When I opened the package of peanut butter cracker sandwiches, the first thing that hit my nose was the smell of peanut butter.  That was a good sign, I thought, as I inspected the top cracker sandwich.  The center of the cracker was lightly toasted, like a well-baked store brand "butter cracker" that's been popular for decades.  The outside edges of the cracker, though, were a toasty brown, like perhaps it was in the oven just a hair too long.  The peanut butter seeping from around the edges was, appropriately, the color peanut butter is in the stores.  I popped the sandwich apart to find an even coating around the cracker, though it was thinner inside than around the edges, but I can't fault that too much.  It's a common food trick to make something look "more full" of their respective filling.  I've done it with cakes.

Putting the sandwich back together, I took a bite.  I immediately tasted the butter in the cracker, though the cracker itself was extremely dry.  Next came the peanut butter, and while it didn't taste bad, it was a lot more artificial in flavoring than I remembered.  Then again, when I was little, I had no idea what "imitation" flavor really was, and was astounded to learn that nowhere in the world is there any kind of real "blue raspberry."

It was passable.

It was something cheap that would fill the stomach provided you didn't have a granola bar or anything else lying around.

The PB&J sandwich cookie was waiting.

Opening the package, again I was immediately struck with the smell of...well, it smelled mostly like peanut butter, though something about it was off.  Again, the cracker was lightly toasted on the top and bottom, but the sides were browner this time than before, like they were rolling underneath a broiler in a giant oven.

The filling was a darker brown as well, with an unpleasant hue reminding me of the color sliced avocados tend to get after sitting out in the air for several hours.  I was actually torn between that description and "the color snow changes to after being near mud for a couple of days." It wasn't a cheerful looking substance at all, unlike the lightness of regular snack food peanut butter.  A coworker of mine said it looked "angry."  It seemed crumblier and was shifted over to one side of the cracker, leaving a thin slot where there was no filling.  I suggested that whoever was in charge of spreading it was having a really bad day and was just flinging topping at crackers with no consideration or respect for the job.  Maybe his wife had just left him for the mailman, and he was taking his frustrations out on the crackers.

I commented to a couple of coworkers, "I would not be surprised if the description of this will involve the words "climbed into my mouth and died.""

They advised me not to eat it.  I took a bite.

First thing I tasted, again, was that buttery cracker flavor.  This cracker was just as dry as the previous one, but if anything, the secondary taste took over faster.  I was immediately hit with a taste of peanut butter and...

...just peanut butter, really.

There was no jelly flavor.  I wondered for a moment if I ate a mispackaged group of sandwich crackers when the peanut butter tasted started to dissipate and a new flavor rose from my tongue like-

I can't decide on an analogy between a hippo surfacing on a river or a zombie pulling itself up from the ground, so I'm going to describe it as "a zombie hippo pawing its way out of a muddy river, dripping detritus and local single-cell based life that was growing on the surface.

And it was about as tasty, I'll bet.

I've had a lot of artificial fruit flavors in my time, but this particular flavor of "jelly" (I'm guessing they were aiming at "grape" even if it went horribly awry) tasted like it was actually made from a "non-organic" definition of "artificial."

"We just sanded down this vase a bit, mixed it into a paste, and then slapped it on a cracker."
The surfacing flavor would not leave my mouth for about a minute while I tried to swallow down the cracker sandwich.  I commend whichever scientist managed to figure out the secret of "making bad jelly flavor stay dormant until the hungry person was done expecting new flavors to appear."

In the same way that the Ayatollah Khomeini was Time's "Person of the Year" in 1979, I submit that this cracker sandwich be given some kind of food award, if just to act as a warning for parents that they really need to pay attention to what a food company will do to make a buck and take up space in their kids' lunch box.

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