Pre-Columbian Pots and Spanish Redskins

A Dubious History

Peanuts, Goober Peas, whatever they are called, have been a staple food for a long time.  There are no fossil records of peanuts (peanuts don’t have bones or teeth), but there is ceramic evidence of peanuts as either decoration or as the actual shape of pottery dating back 3,500 years suggesting that the peanut was first cultivated in Brazil or Peru.

A modern vase in the form of a peanut.

In North America they were grown in Virginia in colonial times, and one of the items on the menu in Williamsburg, Virginia is peanut soup.  If you are interested in the recipe from the Kings Tavern you can find it here.

I found peanut soup an acquired taste, but it is included here to make the point that the peanut has been important in Southern cuisine since the European invasion of North America. 

At one time the slogan in the South was, “Cotton is King.”  Cotton production survived emancipation and it survived soil depletion through the discovery that crop rotation with legumes could restore nitrogen to the depleted soil. It survived the boll weevil through the use of insecticides like DDT and then when using that class of insecticides became a no-no through the use of the organophosphates like methyl parathion. 

But, when the boll weevil arrived some areas of the country, like southern Alabama and Georgia switched to growing peanuts.  George Washington Carver showed the nation how to make hundreds of products with peanuts and growing peanuts became big business.

I grew up taking a PB&J sandwich to school in my lunch box every day along with an apple or a small box of raisins.  We kept bees and sometimes honey was substituted for the jelly and I took a PB&H to school.  I never got tired of the taste of peanut butter.

As a child in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s we took a bus to town occasionally.  I grew up on what was essentially a subsistence farm without a lot of disposable income, so we went to Penny’s and Sears to buy school clothes or to the dentist to get one of my new cavities filled by the dentist.  As a treat, we would stop by Woolworth’s and buy the cheapest thing that they sold from the hot case, Spanish peanuts.

 

Mother would buy them by the ounce and they came over the counter in a small paper slip of a bag all hot and oily and salty and crunchy shedding the red skins everywhere.  Sometimes, when the anesthetic wore off I would discover some uneaten peanuts hidden in the back corners of my mouth along with a sore tongue or cheek that I had chewed during my snacking frenzy.

On really rare occasions Mom would buy Maple Nut Goodies, but usually it was Spanish peanuts.

And then I got older, more urbane, and moved on to a wider range of goodies.  And, at about 35 I got into the pound a year club, so that by age 50 I needed to do something about my chipmunk cheeks.  My wife and I looked at various diets and decided to go with the Atkins’ diet (or some variation) which allowed you to eat anything that did not contain much in the way of carbohydrates. My target was 155 pounds.  That was my best weight at my physical prime, but I was no longer at my prime.  I lost from 185 to 157 doing that and stopped when people started telling me that I was beginning to look gaunt.

No carbs means nothing white.  There was no pasta, no bread, no rice, no potatoes; just salads and green beans and chicken or fish or naked burger patties.  I was never hungry, but something seemed to be missing all of the time.  As a snack we found that we could have a quarter of a cup of Spanish peanuts in the afternoon.  The skins add extra fiber, and fiber counts against carbohydrates.  Additionally, peanuts are fairly high in protein and low in carbohydrates. 

There were peanut skins everywhere.  They seemed to fly away and land on the furniture, between the seats in the car, in your underwear drawer…everywhere.

We would crack each peanut in two with our teeth and eat one half at a time, chewing each half twenty times.  If we dropped a half peanut we invoked the three second rule, or if it fell in a crack we cried.

When we went back on a modified diet I gained back to the upper 160s and have been there since.  I eat potatoes and multi-grain, wholegrain bread and rice, all in proportion.  I was never a fan of pasta, so I never added that back. 

I have a piece of toast with peanut butter and fruit for breakfast.  It is organic peanut butter without any additives.  Sometimes it is homogenized, but other times the oil is floating on the top and the solid part has to be mixed with the oil which is messy.  I’ve never gotten tired of the taste of peanuts, and the other day we bought a can of Spanish peanuts, something we really could not look at for a few years.

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Comment by JMac1949 Today on March 17, 2017 at 7:27am

When I stand in front of the open fridge not knowing what I want, PBJ is my default choice.

Comment by Rosigami on March 17, 2017 at 7:41am

This was fun to read! A breath of fresh air this morning.
 I, too, grew up with PB&H sandwiches in my lunch sack. Sometimes mom sliced up a banana and added those as well. Heaven!
I know full well the pound-a-year club. It's the carbs that are my downfall. I could stand to lose 20 and certainly need to exercise more. The BLP has no such weight issues, runs 3x a week, and can eat anything he wants.
It's not fair!
I admire your commitment to your weight loss. It really does require a change in lifestyle to maintain, doesn't it?
What a hoot seeing/hearing Burl Ives and Johnny Cash together in the video.

Comment by Foolish Monkey on March 17, 2017 at 9:06am

I have a love/hate relationship with peanut butter.  There came a point when I couldn't eat it in my early twenties.  it wasn't that I was eating a lot of it, but the taste and texture made me ill.  then I got pregnant with my second son and at around the 2nd trimester, I couldn't get enough of it.  so my second son was strengthened and formed with the protein of peanut butter.  I would sit with a spoon eating it out of the jar - something I find rather gross now but at the time was my prime sustenance.  he's a smart kid...big numbers guy.  I attribute that to (of course) my superior genepool and peanut butter.

peanuts end up all over the mouth, so they're not big favorites.  I much prefer cashews.  fattier but yummier.  

I don't care to discuss the pound a year club.  

Comment by Terry McKenna on March 17, 2017 at 11:12am

in 1977 wife and i went to Ireland for 3 months.  stayed near a town that had a grocery store run by an irishman who had returned from living in the US.  He had 3 daughters, oldest was 12.  they carried peanut butter and toothpaste.  we were the only ones who bought toothpaste in the entire town.

Comment by Rodney Roe on March 17, 2017 at 11:54am

Do you mean that they survived selling, essentially, only peanut butter? Amazing.

Comment by Terry McKenna on March 17, 2017 at 12:05pm

no...  i mean it was an oasis for Americans who could not find PB and such.  they had lived in NJ too.  

they also carried beef and would grind it for meatloaf.  unknown in ireland.

Comment by nerd cred on March 17, 2017 at 12:52pm

When my friend and I would walk the five or so miles home from high school occasionally, there was a place we'd always stop to spend our bus fare dime. Mine was always Spanish peanuts. Ten cents worth nearly filled a nice little bag. Still a favorite.

Comment by nanatehay on Friday

I ALmost remember those Spanish peanuts, though for us a bigger treat was to go with Grandma and Grandpa to the Safeway and get one little styrofoam cup apiece of free coffee (about half coffee and half powdered creamer n sugar was how I took mine) from the giant stainless steel urn next to the front door there as you walked in. Even so, PB&J sandwiches are to this very day, for me, the second most important of the 3 food groups, right behind pizza and right before chili dogs broiled in the oven with American cheese and pickled jalapeno slices on top. 

Comment by Rodney Roe on Saturday

Funny the simple things we remember as special.  We never ate out, but occasionally the White Spot, a burger place, would have a special 8 burgers for a dollar..  Of course, as a kid I worked for 50 cents an hour then, but that was still a deal, and Dad would pick up a sack on the way home.  It was a small burger with mustard, pickle and grilled onions.on a grilled bun.  Still my gold standard.

Comment by Rodney Roe on Saturday

Terry, that makes sense.  It doesn't take long to develop a taste for another county's food.  I only spent a year in Vietnam, but there were street vendors in the bigger towns who cooked egg rolls and sold them right out of the hot oil.  I've never tasted one half as good since.

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