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Classic Peanut Cuisine

By William I. Lengeman III
If one begins eating peanuts, one cannot stop. (H.L. Mencken)

Peanuts, like a woman of bad reputation, have been loved by many but never really respected. Even today, the South's beloved pindars and goobers rarely rise above their humble station as fodder for airline passengers or an ingredient in that kiddie cuisine staple - the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. With the precipitous rise in peanut allergies in the past few decades, the humble legume has even been subject to the ultimate insult - peanut-free zones.

Native pre-Columbian peoples of the Americas ate peanuts regularly and some ancient Peruvians respected them enough to use them in their sacred rites. It may have been this association with indigenous peoples that caused Europeans to almost immediately adopt a bias toward them. Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, the first European to write about peanuts, said, "the Christians do not use it unless they are unmarried males or children, or slaves and common people, who do not pamper their taste. It has a very mediocre taste and little substance."

Portuguese sailors took peanuts to Africa, where they were adopted as an ingredient in soups and stews. When goobers - a word which, like pindar, was derived from the Congolese language - came with slaves to North America they were scorned as "synonyms of circus rowdyism, gallery gods' obstreperousness, and festive occasions of the proletariat," and were only deemed suitable for livestock and slaves.


The peanut's innate charms won out and it gradually gained on a place in "respectable" cuisine. In the 1838 edition of Directions for Cookery in its Various Branches, popular cookbook author Miss Eliza Leslie recommended substituting them for coconut in "macaroons" and offered advice on roasting "Ground-Nuts". Peanut recipes turned up more often in nineteenth century cookbooks and boiled peanuts and Smithfield hams, originally derived from peanut-fed hogs, became Southern staples.

Commercial manufacture of peanut butter began in the 1890s, courtesy of eccentric corn flake co-inventor, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who was awarded the first patents for the substance. Peanut butter was initially used as a substitute for dairy butter and as a sandwich spread, but by 1920 the USDA was publishing recipes for entrees like Scalloped Rice with Peanut-Butter Sauce and Peanut-Butter Omelets.

Four years earlier Peanut Man George Washington Carver published How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways to Prepare it for Human Consumption, a collection of recipes devoted to peanuts. It marked the beginning of his peanut-fueled rise to the status of venerated American folk hero.

As peanut butter became more popular, so did peanut and peanut butter candy. In 1926, Williamson Candy Company published 60 New Ways to Serve a Famous Candy, a recipe booklet centered around its nutty Oh Henry! bar. Among the featured recipes - Oh Henry! Stuffed Tomatoes, Fried Bananas with Oh Henry! Dressing and Oh Henry! Fritters. Recipes for Baby Ruth Cookies appeared in Curtiss Candy Company advertising during World War II.

Peanut Recipes

From How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption
by George Washington Carver

No. 11, Aunt Nellie's Peanut Brown Bread
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups Graham flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups blanched and ground peanuts
1/2 cup sweet milk, or just enough to make a soft dough
Mix well together and bake in a moderate oven.

No. 28, Peanut Doughnuts Number Two
1 pint sweet milk
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup butter (softened)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar
51/2 to 6 cups flour
2/3 cup yeast
1 pint chopped peanuts
Mix in the order given; rise slowly till light; roll out and cut in shape; rise quickly until very light, then fry in hot fat.

No. 46, Peanut Macaroni and Cheese
1 cup broken macaroni
1 cup rich milk
2 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling salted water
1 cup coarsely ground peanuts
1/4 to 1/2 pound cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
A dash of cayenne pepper
Cook macaroni in the boiling salted water; drain in a strainer, and pour cold water over it to keep the pieces from sticking together; mince cheese, and mix with all other ingredients except the macaroni; put sauce and macaroni in alternate layers in a well buttered baking dish; cover with buttered crumbs, and bake slowly until crumbs are brown.

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