My introduction to peanuts was discovering them in bales of hay that a sharecropper was storing in our barn. At 5 or 6, I tended to eat and drink anything I found outside. Drinking gasoline did not go all that well, but eating raw peanuts dug from these bales proved rather tasty. I had never tried them before, with a cellar full of canned fruits, pickles, and jams who needed peanuts? Or so I thought until I tasted them.
In the early ‘50s, after school, I occasionally purchased a small package of reskin peanuts for 5¢ at Nebgin’s Red & White. They came in small, thin, cardboard tubes a bit taller than today’s medicine bottles. Each end was covered with a red-colored cardboard cap. Inside were tasty, roasted, and salted redskin peanuts that one could shake into one’s mouth. There was an extra bonus. As advertised, one might find a silver 50¢ coin nestled inside as a prize. It turns out that The Novelty Peanut Company in Dallas marketed this gimmick until the mid ‘50s. Unfortunately, that ended when the State of Texas determined this was a form of gambling. I never found one, but the peanuts were tasty. The company was destroyed in a fire in April 1960. Finding a photo of the old Novelty Peanut container proved impossible, but why Americans love peanuts—not so difficult.
I was too young to remember WWII, but a meat shortage caused a resurrection for peanuts. It was thought that they had been brought here by African slaves, but it was possible to buy them roasted and in-shell from street vendors during Washington’s first administration. Ministers and theater owners complained bitterly of the sound of shells cracking and the messy remains left in their establishments. A mechanized harvester invented during the Civil War made peanuts even cheaper, but for a long-time, eating peanuts remained unpopular because they were thought to be food for the poor. Moreover, growing and harvesting peanuts was difficult, however, peanuts had found a home among Southerners. They gained some popularity as a coffee substitute, but little else. Later, George Washington Carver of the Tuskegee Institute recognized the intrinsic value of the crop and developed over 300 uses for them.
Today Americans eat more peanuts than any other nut. They contain more energy-boosting proteins than all nuts and eating them by hand is the most popular way to consume them. The fifth most popular way is cracking them, particularly at baseball games. Up to 7 million bags of peanuts are eaten each year in sports stadiums.
Peanuts, also known as goobers, are a legume grown for their edible seeds and are classified as a grain crop, contrary to what their name implies. Peanuts sprout as ground flowers. Due to their heavy weight, they bend towards the ground and eventually burrow underground where the peanut matures.
Georgia grows 90% of peanuts grown in the US. Remember President Carter? Spanish types have smaller kernels covered with reddish-brown skin and are popularly used for candy, salted nuts, and butter, but today the demand is for larger peanuts. The Virginia, considered the “gourmet” peanut, is attractive and preferred “in the shell.” They are grown in the South Plains and West Texas. They are popular in ballparks where janitors sweep up tons of peanut shells annually. The Runner, accounting for 85% of the total U.S. production, is preferred for butters and salted nuts, and best for boiled peanuts. Texans also grow Reds (skins on). Without skins, after blanching, they are Whites and look like the Virginia. While China produces more peanuts than any other country, Americans consume 7.6 pounds per person annually.
Peanuts are rarely eaten raw—most often they are roasted or eaten as Peanut Butter. Yet, raw peanuts are heathier. Peanut skin contains antioxidants that help protect the body’s cells from damage by free radicals. The US Department of Agriculture began encouraging consumption in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Peanut butter was developed in the 1890s but did not become popular until the 1920s.
Peanuts contain proteins called arachin and conarachin to which some are severely allergic and can cause anaphylactic shock which is serious. Avoidance of eating food that may be “contaminated” with peanuts is challenging and difficult. Fischer & Wieser Specialty Foods products carry warnings that our facility is one in which peanut products are produced.
Texas ranked 2nd in growing peanuts during 1938-1948 on 8,400 farms. The sandy soils of the Pedernales Valley were well suited to growing peanuts and they were once grown on our little farm. Mason County was also a big peanut producing county and because the train came through Fredericksburg long ago, that is probably why The Quality Peanut Company opened here. I once visited my aunt when she worked there, right around the corner from our offices on Lincoln Steet. Her task was to make a final inspection as thousands of shelled peanuts came tumbling past on a wide, well-lit conveyor. I can still recall the wonderful aroma. Once the peanuts were sacked, I heard they were trucked to the Skippy PeanutButter Plant in Little Rock, Arkansas.
By Mark Wieser
2 cups raw, shelled and unblanched peanuts
Salt to taste
Heat oven to 350ºF
Spread peanuts in a single layer on a large, rimmed baking sheet.
Roast 20-25 minutes, stirring at least twice.
When they smell peanutty and look roasted, remove from oven and sprinkle with salt.
Cool before transferring to a sealed container.
Raw peanuts with skins on
Heat oil of one’s choice.
Lower the heat and add peanuts.
Sitr-fry as needed until they begin to blister and turn brown.
Test by tasting to make certain they are no longer raw.
Drain excess oil and remove from heat.
Cool and enjoy.