Monday, August 31, 2020

From Field to Table - South Carolina - Peanuts

Dr David S Shields, author and distinguished professor at the University of South Carolina tells us of the "Carolina African Runner Peanut.  This small sweet peanut was the variety brought over by enslaved Africans from the Gold Coast and Slave Coast at the end of the 17th century—it is the ancestral peanut of the South."

Slaves appear to have planted peanuts throughout the southern United States (the word goober comes from the Congo name for peanuts – nguba). In the 18C, peanuts, then called groundnuts or ground peas, were studied by botanists & suggested as an excellent food for pigs. Records show that peanuts were grown commercially in South Carolina around 1800 & used for oil, food & a substitute for cocoa.

Although there were some commercial peanut farms in the U.S. during the 18C & 19C, peanuts were not grown extensively. Until the Civil War, the peanut remained basically a regional food associated with the southern U.S.

The legumes eventually made their way to the South on board slave ships, which were stocked with peanuts for the long voyage. Some speculate that the peanut plant may have originated in Brazil or Peru, although no fossil records exist to prove this.

For as long as people have been making pottery in South America (3,500 years or so) they have been making jars shaped like peanuts & decorated with peanuts. Graves of ancient Incas found along the dry western coast of South America often contain jars filled with peanuts & left with the dead to provide food in the afterlife. Tribes in central Brazil also ground peanuts with maize to make an intoxicating beverage for celebrations.

In the Americas, peanuts were grown as far north as Mexico by the time the Spanish began their exploration of the New World. European explorers took peanuts back to Spain, where they are still grown. From Spain, traders & explorers took peanuts to Africa & Asia. In Africa the plant became common in the western tropical region. The peanut was regarded by many Africans as one of several plants possessing a soul.

During the 19C American Civil War, letters & memoirs from the Civil War relate that Confederate soldiers were without the basics of bread or meat, especially toward the end of the war. Peanuts were an available food & could be carried wherever they went. On the trail, soldiers roasted or boiled peanuts over campfires & added salt as a preservative.