Sunday, July 08, 2007

Peanuts and Peanut Butter Cookies

We love peanut butter cookies. They’re pretty yummy, don’t you think? My grandmother loved to bake peanut butter cookies and I loved to eat them. So we got to thinking about the history of the peanut itself. When I think of peanuts, I think of George Washington Carver, baseball games, and peanut butter cookies. If you’ve ever wondered about peanuts, here’s a short history.

Peanuts originated in South America, probably in Brazil or Peru. At the time when the Spanish were exploring the New World, peanuts were being grown as far north as Mexico. It was the Spanish who introduced peanuts to Europe in the 15th Century, and the versatility and uses of the peanut were quickly realized. Portuguese slave ships began carrying peanuts as an essential food. Still later, traders further carried the peanut to Africa, Asia and many other parts of the world.

The Africans themselves regarded the peanut as one of several plants possessing a soul. It is interesting to note that the word “goober” comes from the Congo name for peanuts—nguba. When the Africans were brought to North America as slaves, peanuts came with them and were planted throughout the southern United States.

Considered an excellent food for pigs, peanuts were initially called groundnuts in the 1700s. When peanuts began to be grown commercially in the United States in the 1800s, early American records show that, in places like South Carolina, peanuts were used for oil, food, and as a cocoa substitute. During the Civil War, soldiers on both sides ate peanuts as food. Yet, they were not grown extensively because they were slow and difficult to harvest. At the time, they also had the distinction as being food for “the poor.”

Around 1900, equipment for planting, cultivating, harvesting, and picking peanuts from the plants, and for shelling and cleaning the kernels were developed. Mechanization made it more economical to sell roasted and salted nuts, peanut butter and candy. During the last half of the 19th Century, peanuts were sold fresh roasted by street vendors and as a popular snack at baseball games and circuses.

In 1903, George Washington Carver (1864-1943) began researching the peanut at Tuskegee Institute. He developed more than 300 uses for peanuts including shoe polish and shaving cream! He improved peanut horticulture so much that he is considered to be the “father of the peanut industry.” As a botanist, he recognized the value of peanuts as a cash crop and proposed that they be planted as a rotation crop with cotton in areas where the boll weevil threatened the agricultural base. His rotation method made the soil healthier and kept the boll weevil at bay. Today, peanuts contribute more than four billion dollars to the United States economy each year. Americans eat more than 600 million pounds of peanuts and nearly 700 million pounds of peanut butter each year.
Check out our great Peanut Butter Cookie recipe!

Grandma Ann's Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 and 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350F degrees and place rack in center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Mix together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer under they are light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Add in the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. Mix in the peanut butter. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat to combine. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls. Roll them in white sugar and place on the prepared baking sheet about 3 inches apart. With a fork, press down the tops of the cookies, marking them with a criss-cross pattern.

Bake for approximately 9-11 minutes or until the cookies just start to brown along the edges. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

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