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Stirring up memories


That Time of Year
October 12, 2005

Autumn is upon us.  We may not have the glow of crimson and golden maple leaves, or their crunch beneath our feet, but here in Southwest Georgia, we still know it’s fall.  We have our own signs of the season.

            There’s a cool edge to the air when I take my early morning walk; sometimes   from overhead I hear the honking of geese heading south. (Did you know that a flock of flying geese is known as a skein?)  My feet may not be crunching colorful leaves, but they are skidding on slippery pine straw and stomping on fallen scuppernogs.

            All signs of the season.  But there’s another ‘round here—the big one.  Peanuts.  The air fills with the rich, earthy nutty scent.  The fields along the road send up clouds of dust, and the road itself is filled with peanut trailers heading toward town.

            The peanut, like the potato and corn, is a gift of the New World.  They started out in South America but now we call them our own.  And we really call them our own in this neck of the woods.

            Georgia outproduces every other state by a long shot!  Nearly half of the nation’s peanut crop comes from the Peach State!  The Georgia Peanut commission estimates there are over 14,000 farms growing peanuts.  Farmers grow peanuts in 80 of the state’s 159 counties.  And you’ll probably not be surprised (particularly if you’ve recently been behind a peanut truck) to find that Decatur County ranks fourth in those 80 counties.  Only Early, Mitchell and Worth Counties had more acreage given over to peanuts in 2004.

            I chatted with Mitchell May and Joel Hudgins at the Extension Service and learned some more about our local peanuts. Mostly what I wanted to know was how to create that local delicacy—boiled peanuts.

            Years ago, when we moved here the first person to tell me about them was Mavis Phillips of Colquitt.  Her approach was simple:  lots of water, lots of salt, lots of time.  

            I asked Mitchell if he could be more specific.  He allowed that it is a leisurely process.  He suggests about an hour and a half over a low fire.  How much salt and how long?  It’s a matter of guess work that involves lots of sampling.  Mitchell leaves the peanuts to soak after turning off the fire.  The longer you leave them, the saltier they get.

            Joel is more high-tech.  He uses a pressure cooker for about one hour at ten pounds of pressure.  He’s not too precise about the salt—“just dump it in!” 

During our conversations I learned more about this crop.  Most Decatur County peanuts are food grade and will be turned into peanut butter, salted nuts or stirred into candy bars. Which leads to some interesting observations about that favorite comfort food—peanut butter.

            Some historians claim that the ancient Incas incorporated a peanut butter-like food in their diet.  But more recent histories tell us that it was invented or reinvented by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of the cereal Kelloggs) around 1895.  It became a national rage at the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904.

            And remains a favorite today. Americans eat more than 700 million pounds of the tasty paste every year—and spend more than 800 million dollars on it.    The National Peanut Board estimates that the average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before entering high school.

            Of course there is more to do with peanut butter than slap it on bread with grape jelly.  It can add an interesting flavor to both main dishes and dessert.   I cooked up this soup sort of “playing it by ear.”

Surprising Tomato Soup

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 cup chopped celery

1 can tomato soup

1 soup can of milk

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (or more to taste)

2 teaspoons curry powder (or more to taste)

            Lightly brown the onion and celery in cooking oil.   Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to an almost-boil.  It’s good served on rice, and better if you add some chopped cooked chicken.

            And peanut butter often makes the scene at dessert.  Peanut butter cookies are an old-timey favorite, but this is the star around our house.

Double Peanut Bars

2 cups butter (don’t substitute margarine)

2 cups sugar

1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

5 cups quick cooking oatmeal

2 (6 ounce) packages semisweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter, either crunchy or smooth

1 cup dry-roast peanuts, lightly chopped

            Cream together the butter and sugars.  Add the oats.  Press into a 13 x 9 baking dishes.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until the mixture feels firm.  While the oat mixture is baking, melt together the chocolate chips and peanut butter—either over boiling water or in the microwave.  Spread the melted chocolate over the oats and top with the chopped nuts. When cool, cut into bars.

            This makes a very thick cookie.  For thinner bars, halve the recipe and use the same size pan.

            If you are in a hurry or don’t want to light the oven, just melt the chocolate and peanut butter together and top with the nuts.  It makes dandy fudge.

            Still, there’s nothing quite like a pnj—peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  But there are interesting variations on the standard. Some peanut butter sandwiches don’t even call for jelly.  I grew up lathering mine with mayonnaise and sweet pickles.  To my family’s amazement and almost disgust, sometimes I still do.

            In fact, the peanut butter people at Jif are sponsoring a contest for young chefs between 6 and 12 years old.  They are seeking the most creative peanut butter sandwich—with or without jelly.  The contest is being carried on via the Internet.  The contest final date is November 15.  Then the judges will post the finalists on the Jif website for a nationwide online vote.  Five finalists will have a smear-off in New York City in March.

            If you and/or your kids have a favorite recipe, check out the rules at www.jif.com.  Should you decide to enter, send me a copy of the recipe so I can give it a try as well.

            Let me know as well if you have a special boiled peanut secret.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network