All Hail the Peanut…Nature’s Most Nearly Perfect Food
Toni V. Sweeney
I love peanuts! No two ways about it—roasted, parched, boiled, in salads, in soups, in candy—you name it, I probably like it. Is there another food, other than grits, which is considered more Southern? My grandfather had rows and rows of peanut fields. The plants were pulled, the nuts harvested, the plants themselves dried and baled into hay for the cows.
Believe me, there’s nothing better than boiling peanuts in a huge, cast-iron washpot in October… In a parody of MacBeth’s three witches, my cousins and I would hover over the cauldron, watching the water bubble and the peanuts floating around. Using a hoe, we’d stir the mixture, then lift out a few to sample…then we’d sit on a nearby log and tell ghost stories while the full moon shone down on the leaping flames and the wind nipped chillingly and the peanuts boiled… Ah, memories!
The li’l ol’ peanut has a fascinating history. It’s a native of the Americas—South and Central, that is—and is one of the gifts along with corn and tobacco that Native Americans gave to the white man. They are also known as goober peas and groundpeas. This little legume had a spot in the hearts of the natives of the Americas. From Peru, circa 300 AD, there are surviving sculptures of peanuts.
The peanut is unique in that it has two sets of chromosomes from two species. It’s believed that peanuts were first domesticated in Peru around 7,600 years ago. When the conquistadores came to Central America and wended their way to Mexico City, they found peanuts, called tlalcacahuatl, being sold in the markets there. The plants were taken back to Europe and from there to Africa in the 1800s, where they were re-introduced to the United States in a roundabout way. Peanuts were taken to China in the 1600s by Portuguese traders where they were used in many dishes and sometimes boiled.
Boiled peanuts is a Chinese dish? So there, those of you who look down on this Southern delicacy!
Today, China is the largest producer of peanuts in the world, followed by India and then the US, although the US is the major exporter. In fact, most of the peanuts in the US are grown in or near Dothan, Alabama, where the Annual Peanut Festival is held each fall.
Peanuts grow best in sandy soil, with five months of warm weather, and good rainfall. They ripen in 120 to 150 days. There are four types of peanuts: Spanish, Virginia, Runner, and Valencia. Subgroups are Tennessee Red and Tennessee White.
During the 1940s, 90% of the peanuts grown in the South were Spanish peanuts, which are small, red-skinned peanuts but today most of the varieties grown are Runners. Virginias are the kind usually called “cocktail nuts.” There are also many strains inside each group.
Thanks to George Washington Carver, who discovered so many ways to process the peanut, it is used in confections, oils, flours, as a high-protein, energy paste to stave off malnutrition, as well as in plastics, cosmetics, nitroglycerin, dyes, and paints. It has been stated that refined peanut oil can be safely consumed by people with a peanut allergy because the protein is destroyed during processing. (If you are allergic, please verify this with a professional before using, however.) Peanuts are a good source of niacin, resveratrol, CoQ10 enzyme, and antioxidants. I personally like (in order of importance) boiled peanuts, dry roasted, Snickers bars, Paydays, and peanuts used in tossed salad.
Challenging Milk’s motto, surely the peanut is Nature’s most nearly perfect food! At least to this Georgia gal, anyway!
Would you like to have some boiled tlalcacahuatl while you watch TV tonight?
3 Cups chicken broth 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 pound carrots, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds 1/8 tsp red pepper
1 med onion, chopped salt and black pepper to taste
1 leek, chopped
In heavy medium saucepan, combine broth, onion, carrots, and leek and boil until vegetables are tender. Spoon into blender and puree. In small bowl mix peanut butter and red pepper. Mix peanut butter mixture with pureed vegetable broth in saucepan and summer 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold garnished with croutons.
About the Author
When she’s not eating peanuts and other Southern concoctions, Toni V. Sweeney writes scifi/fantasy novels. She’s also promotions manager for Class Act Books magazines, a certified professional reader, and reviews books for the New York Journal of Books.
Her latest novel is Sinbad’s Homecoming, from Class Act Books.