Of all the unusual and/or specialty crops we’ve experimented with, peanuts are way out there in terms of viability. There’s a reason peanuts are generally grown in the Deep South; they need a long, hot growing season, and are one of those rare foods that still carry a real regional link in a modern homogenized America. Still, we found several references to people being able to grow them as far north as Virginia (thank you, Barbara Kingsolver) and decided that anything Virginia could do, Missouri could do. So we ordered a small packet from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, planted one 15′ row this spring and hoped for the best.
We really didn’t pay much attention to the plants all year other than some weeding. It was so cool and wet that we somewhat wrote them off as a nice try, assuming these conditions couldn’t possibly generate decent peanuts. We had initially intended to cover the plants with hooped plastic come fall, to extend their season longer, but Joanna did one test dig a while back and found nothing, so we decided not to waste any more time on them. Then, just before our first real frost, I decided to check once more before we really did lose the plants, and found this:
Lots of nicely formed peanuts, although not quite fully mature. Every plant I pulled had a thick cluster of nuts just beneath the soil. Peanuts are bizarre in that the seeds don’t form as roots (like potatoes) or above ground (like most nuts) but on lots of little stalks that shoot off the main plant above ground, then burrow back into the ground all around the mother plant, forming peanuts at their ends. It looks like a science-fiction creation, but I couldn’t argue as I excitedly dug up plant after plant loaded with what sure looked like decent peanuts to me. After washing most of the dirt off, we ended up with about 2lb:
Naturally, we needed to taste them, so we used the tried-and-true Southern way of preparing fresh, green peanuts: boiling. I remember eating these as a kid on family trips to relatives in Mississippi, scooped into large paper rolls like ice-cream cones. Another one of those regional specialties that are too easy to forget. Having never made them ourselves, we did some quick online research and settled on a ratio of 1lb peanuts to 1/4cup salt. For our test batch of 1/4lb, that translated to 1TBL salt. So we combined those into a pot of boiling water, let boil for a couple hours, then started shelling:
Oh heavens, were they tasty. The nuts’ flesh was creamy, like mashed potatoes, with a good nut flavor and just the right level of salt. The 1/4lb batch shown above was gone in minutes, and we started casting glances at the remaining (now paltry-seeming) 1 3/4lb.
We don’t think these will ever be economically viable for us to grow for market. If the 2lb yield on one 15′ row is typical, we would get 4lb from a standard garden bed. In general, we expect our garden beds to produce $100 per crop, meaning that growing a bed of peanuts would mean charging $25/lb to meet the same income level we’d get from whatever crop the peanuts replaced. So the serving above would be about $7.50. Even at stadium prices, that’s a bit high.
That being said, their taste is amazing and they’re yet another thing we can grow for ourselves and enjoy. So I’m sure we’ll plant more next year, and share some with visiting friends and farm volunteers. But hey, if you’d pay $7.50 for a cup of the best peanuts in Missouri, let us know…