Roasted, Salted, covered in chocolate, or boiled- peanuts are hard to turn down. "Their popularity grew in the late 1800s when PT Barnum’s circus wagons traveled across the country and vendors called 'hot roasted peanuts!' to the crowds. Soon street vendors began selling roasted peanuts from carts and peanuts also became popular at baseball games. The industrial revolution brought labor-saving equipment was invented for planting, cultivating, harvesting and picking peanuts from the plants, as well as for shelling and cleaning the kernels. These advancements led to a huge increase in demand for peanuts, especially for oil, roasted and salted nuts, peanut butter and candy."- National Peanut Board
And thanks to George Washington Carver, peanuts are big business. Peanuts have been a universally known product around the world, and bring to mind a variety of experiences and memories for many of us. But how often have you thought about where the peanuts actually come from before they are shelved at our grocery stores and concession stands? Or how many products are made with peanuts? Were you aware that the majority of peanut production is in fact within the southern United States? Georgia alone provides half of the entire peanut supply for the United States.
I recently had the opportunity to tour the heart of peanut country in South Georgia with the National Peanut Board and the American Peanut Council. First stop on the tour was Irwinville, Georgia to meet Mr. Armand Morris and tour some of his fields.
Morris is one of the top peanut producers in the state of Georgia and possibly the country. He has been a peanut farmer for more than 30 years and loves it. As he walked us through his rows, he shared his story. Morris said he'd always wanted to be a farmer. He attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College back in the day to learn the biz and the rest is history. Today, Morris farms farms over 1,000 acres and produces hundreds of pounds of peanuts per year. the struggles in the beginning, growing the business, and working with organizations like the Georgia Peanut Commission and the National Peanut Board that help promote peanut farmers across the US.
After a walk through the fields, Morris showed us to the buying point. Here they sample loads of peanuts and sort them by hand in order to determine their value. The ladies at the Irwinville buying point worked the room so quickly. Even with a room full of writers taking photos and asking questions, they didn't miss a beat.
As the ladies walked us through the stations of the buying point, I asked if they enjoyed their job and the consensus was a resounding yes; but it was serious business. "No nonsense allowed and absolutely no cell phones. A farmer's livelihood is at stake here daily;" the inspection room is all business. Most of these women had worked in the peanut business for many years; they spoke of the "olden days" using scales and hand counting. They seemed grateful to have computers to do the hefty number crunching.
Seeing how much work goes into one jar of peanut butter had me wide-eyed. Meeting the farmers and other industry workers gave me a greater appreciation for this Southern staple and some serious peanut pride.
We love peanuts in the South. Southerners have come up with so many tasty things to do with them, it's hard not to. The majority of the peanut tour attendees were Canadian food writers and dietitians and most were unfamiliar with Southern culture. The natives, myself, a writer from Louisiana and the National Peanut Board, had fun sharing some of our favorite southernisms with them along with some classically Southern peanut snacks with our visitors. The conversation got me reminiscing about eating my first Goo Goo Cluster, trying Coca-Cola with salty peanuts in the bottle, and munching on cajun boiled peanuts while sipping cold beer.
Our northern neighbors were intrigued. We also told them about Hugh Acheson making boiled peanut hummus at his restaurant Empire State South in Atlanta, Georgia...minds were blown.
I had a great time in Peanut Country and thanks to the National Peanut Board I have a fun Peanut Swag Bag to giveaway to one lucky reader!
Check out the goods: cookbook with tons of peanut recipes, Peanut Envy T-Shirt (M), peanut journal, peanut snack packs, stress reliever peanut, lunch bag, reusable tote, hat, Buddy McNutty doll, and two specialty jars of peanut butter! Good luck y'all!