What does peanut butter, a hurricane and this blog have in common?
They all came together in early October for a trip to Georgia’s peanut farms and processing facilities with the Georgia Peanut Commission and the Southern Peanut Growers.
Ok, so maybe I got out before Hurricane Michael actually rained down on the area, but the rest of that sentence is totally true. 🙂
When I was asked to go on a tour of by the Georgia Peanut Commission I was completely honored to be included and excited because I love peanut butter. I actually eat some almost every day on an apple and the peanuts grown in Georgia are most commonly used in peanut butter.
Peanut Butter peanuts, or runner peanuts (the real name), are typically uniform in size, which allows them to roast more evenly. They are most commonly grown in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Oklahoma. In 2017, Georgia produced more than 1.79 million tons of peanuts – 50 percent of the United States’ peanuts.
As the official state crop for the state, peanuts provide more than 50,000 jobs in Georgia with about 4,700 of those jobs accounting for peanut farmers.
Altogether, the peanut is an unusual plant. The plant itself grows on the ground, which for some reason, I never knew. I always pictured a bush or a tree.
The peanut plant flowers above ground and then it sort-of drills into the dirt and the peanut itself grows underground similar to a root vegetable. That blew my mind. I had no idea that’s how they grew.
Peanuts are also able to fix nitrogen from the air and the ground so often fertilizer isn’t used, AND they leave the nitrogen behind for other plants, which makes them a great rotational crop for biodiversity. Kind of amazing, right?
After 140 – 150 days, sometime in September or October, peanuts are ready to harvest – right in conjunction with hurricane season.
Our tour began at the University of Georgia – Griffin where we discussed the science behind working with peanuts and had an opportunity to taste test a peanut milk-like drink that was being developed as a nutritional supplement.
Then it was onto the Whistle Stop Café (the same one in Fried Green Tomatoes!) for some fried green tomatoes and real southern food. How could we not?
After lunch we met David Reed on his family farm where he farms peanuts and cotton fields lined by pecan trees.
On our second day, which turned out to be the last day due to Hurricane Michael, we went to the University of Georgia Tifton Campus to learn more about the National Environmentally sound Protection Agriculture Laboratory to understand peanut sustainability, safety and the multiple uses for the peanut.
On the property they have a fully sustainable home that serves as a dorm to graduate students and a greenhouse where they are working with peanuts to identify and create the best crops for the future.
The final stop in the journey took us to the processing plant were the peanuts are shelled and prepared for the buyers. The facility was amazing to see and much larger than I imagined. It takes a lot of work to shell a peanut.
On our last night together, we visited THE LOCAL Kitchen and Bar and ate a delicious peanut soup for an appetizer. The chef at the restaurant had created it from a West African Peanut Soup for us that he said became more like a gumbo. It was insanely delicious! I decided I wanted to try and make it at home.
As I started researching the recipe I found that peanut soup in actually a staple in diets in Africa but is also commonly eaten in Taiwan, Virginia and other areas throughout the world. Because I often like to combine flavors and tastes, I thought this was the perfect, little dish to pull the world together and it really turned into a cultural combo for me. It’s really one of the things I love most about food and experimenting with flavors.
This soup base is vegan, which is not something I normally do but I wanted to try and keep it that way. I did add sausage at the end, so you could see how it’s done if you want to make it more like a gumbo as mentioned while I was in Georgia.
Also, I know how it will sound when I suggest you combine peanut butter, tomato paste and collard greens, but I PROMISE this is good in a surprisingly delicious and filling way.
- 8 cups of vegetables broth
- 1 cup of natural, smooth peanut butter
- ¾ cup of tomato paste
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 1 bunch of collard greens, chopped with ribs removed
- 2 Tbsp. of olive oil
- 3 Tbsp. of sriracha
- 2 Tbsp. of fresh ginger, ground or grated
- 2 Tbsp. of garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: Peanuts, brown rice, pico de gallo, cilantro, Italian sausage
- Add olive oil to a large pot (preferably a Dutch oven) and heat. Then add onions, garlic and ginger. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
- Add the broth to the pot and bring it to a boil.
- In a separate bowl, combine peanut butter and tomato paste and mix well. Then add to the pot and whisk until its well combined with the broth.
- Add in sriracha and collard greens and simmer for at least 30 minutes. If you have the time, let it simmer for a full hour. You can also add more sriracha if you like things really spicy. Also add salt and pepper to taste.
- If you decide you want to add Italian sausage, cook it during this time in a separate pan. Also cook the rice at this time.
- After the soup has simmered, serve. Add it to the bowl with rice and top with pico, additional peanuts (these were a great crunch in it!), cilantro and sausage if you decide to go non-vegan.
Also, before I finish I just want to give a shout out to the wonderful people who organized this trip and the amazing ladies I had the pleasure of spending the tour with. Thank you all for your humor, wit, knowledge and for putting up with me as I totally freaked out about the hurricane. <3