Where would we be without peanuts and peanut butter? Kids would be eating a lot of boring jelly sandwiches, that’s for sure. And a bunch of Florida farmers would be growing a different crop. About six percent of all the peanuts grown in this country come from Florida soil, mostly in the Panhandle and the central part of the north. That’s where conditions are ideal. Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are responsible for two-thirds of the U.S. peanut crop, and half of that goes into grinders and comes out peanut butter.
Some things are named sort of wrong. Peanuts are legumes, like beans and peas, but are not nuts. Neither are they peas, because peas grow on top of the ground and peanuts grow in it. Then there is the “ornamental peanut” — the plant that grows in our area and makes a fine, yellow-flowered ground cover. What it doesn’t make is edible peanuts.
We can grow peanuts, we have the well-drained soil and plenty of sun, but getting a good crop in our heat is iffy. Try the runner variety if you want to. It’s grown the most. Other varieties are Spanish, Virginia and Valencia (like the orange).
You do have to share the farm with bugs, weeds, and nematodes. When it’s harvest time, the plants are turned over, like potatoes, and dry before the peanuts are removed.
Peanuts are eaten over most of the world. China is the biggest producer, followed by India. We come in third. Because peanut butter is front and center of the North American peanut world, we tend to overlook the way it’s eaten elsewhere. Take a look at a book of African recipes and you see them used in soups and stews across much of the continent – the hot, arid parts especially. Thai cooking wouldn’t be the same without satays. Meat or fish is impaled on skewers and cooked over a barbecue before being served with a slightly sweet, slightly spicy peanut sauce. Thin the sauce to make a salad dressing or drizzle for vegetables (cauliflower with peanut sauce is yummy).
For a quick and easy sauce, start with a half cup of peanut butter. Add pinches of garlic powder, powdered chili (not chili powder) or a splash of hot sauce. Stir in a half-teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Now add canned coconut milk (not coconut water or cream of coconut), stirring until you like the consistency for dipping or drizzling. Taste and add whatever you like.
Here’s a recipe from someone you might remember:
JIMMY CARTER’S FAVORITE PEANUT BRITTLE
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup white corn syrup
3 cups plain peanuts
2 tablespoons baking soda
1/2 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Boil sugar, water, and syrup until it spins a thread.
Add peanuts and stir until syrup is golden brown.
Take off heat and add rest of ingredients.
Stir until butter melts. Pour on two buttered cookie sheets with sides.
article by TRENT ROWE
Trent Rowe is the food editor of Central Florida Ag News.