Why Peanut Butter And Onion Sandwiches Are Named After Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning American author of such classic novels as "The Sun Also Rises” has often been linked to the culinary world. Not only did he have a love for food and drink, he's been credited with creating several of his own recipes, like the delicious Hemingway Burger, aka Papa's Favorite Hamburger, which is a multi-ingredient umami bomb. He also came up with several cocktails, including an absinthe and champagne concoction he named "death in the afternoon" after one of his novels. But perhaps the strangest food that bears his name is the peanut butter and onion sandwich.


Hemingway came by his love of cooking, hunting, fishing — and onion sandwiches — from his father, Dr. Clarence Hemingway. According to the Washington Post, the author's biographer, Carlos Barker, noted that Clarence believed "wild onions, stripped clean of clinging loam, made an excellent filling for sandwiches." Clarence taught his son how to forage for wild onions as well, and Ernest felt onion sandwiches were the perfect meal to enjoy while fishing. Exactly when he began adding peanut butter to the mix is uncertain, but the writer memorialized the PB&O in his novel "Islands in the Stream," which came out after his death.

The PB&O isn't all that weird

While today we may look askance at the idea of an onion sandwich — much less one that includes peanut butter — back in the day, neither was considered weird. James Beard, the esteemed chef and godfather of the American food movement, hated the modern club sandwich because of its height, among other issues, but loved onion sandwiches. He first made his name with a version of the sandwich: Raw onion on buttered brioche.


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, an onion stuffed with peanut butter was just one of many fascinating foods, along with dandelion salad and water pie, that was commonly eaten. So a variation on these food combinations isn't all that out of the ordinary. And, as it turns out, science is on the side of this sandwich. As Marie Wright, chief global flavorist for American food processing giant ADM, told The Takeout, peanut butter and onion complement each other because they both have sulfur-containing compounds.

The Hemingway version of the PB&O

For a glimpse into how Ernest Hemingway preferred his peanut butter and onion sandwiches, we must look to his novel, "Islands in the Stream." Like much of his output, the book, published in 1970, is semi-autobiographical. In the book, Hemingway describes the sandwich, which has "plenty of onion" as "The Mount Everest Special."He also designates in the books that it's "for Commanders only" since it's "one of the highest points in the sandwich-maker's art." Beyond the literary, Gregorio Fuentes, who was the first mate of Hemingway's fishing boat the Pilar, as well as his friend and the model for the main character in Hemingway's novella "The Old Man and the Sea," noted that the sandwich had real-life importance to the author too. Fuentes recalled in a 1999 interview with The Palm Beach Post that they shared a love for peanut butter and onion sandwiches, along with fishing, and a cold beer.


Hemingway was a fan of the Bermuda onion, a mild, sweet variety that can be either white or yellow and is hard to find these days. So if you're looking to recreate this sandwich, you might have to settle for a red onion. While Hemingway may have loved the PB&O, he especially loved a New York strip, baked potato and Caesar salad, washed down with a good Bordeaux. This was reportedly his favorite meal. It was also his last before his death in 1961.