Fresh peanuts

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…

4 thoughts on “Fresh peanuts

  1. Do you think there's a way to increase the yield by covering early or leaving covered longer? There's a farmer we just met around Toronto who tried to grow peanuts this year. He's from India, where 'ground nuts' grow very well and he found out when his Dad showed up that he needed to add a bunch of sand to the soil (I think, like you, he had too much clay). His later crop, with ammended soil, fared much better, but was planted too late to truly work out.Still might not be viable economically, but might be worth seeing if you need even softer soil or what the effect of some covering would be…

  2. Yeah, I don't think I made this clear, but we planted them in the site of our spring temporary greenhouse. The plastic had been taken off for summer by the time we got them in (or rather had been repeatedly torn off by storms), but we had intended to have the plastic back on for fall given some other things we intended to have in there. We never got around to recovering it, but could have. And in a field setting, it wouldn't be that hard to have some small hoops with plastic stretched over them, just like we do for other crops. So there's certainly more season-extending methods to be applied.Joanna also notes that we planted these in nearly pure manure somewhat worked into the soil. This gave them a nice, rich, loose medium in which to grow, but would be thoroughly banned by organic regulations if we were to harvest them for sale. We would have to find other ways to improve the soil (like adding sand). We'll probably just keep playing with them on a home scale and if we come up with a good, productive answer we'll consider doing more down the road.

  3. Eric,Great Post. Sorry I haven't got back to you any sooner since the Harvest meal but I've been extremely busy. I'm about 2/3 of the way through with "Animal Vegetable Miracle" and it is truly a paradigm shifter for me in more ways than one. So far much better than Pollan's book. I was also able to see Joel Salatin when he was up at Webster University earlier this month. We've decided to grow as much as we can ourselves next year in our small urban lot and buying from you and all the others at the market for most of the remainder. I was curious on the peanuts as to when you planted them? I was just thinking about the viability of peanuts on a small scale here at the house and stumbled upon your post. Keep up the good work, I truly enjoy all of your posts and the insight I've gained from you. Thanks again,Zack Lamb

  4. Zack,So glad you enjoyed Kingsolver's book. It served the same function for us; whereas Pollan made us think, Kingsolver helped us act. Regarding peanuts, we got ours from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange: planted them on June 2. Growing them in an urban area, the heat island effect will certainly help extend your growing season, and some simple clear plastic stretched over PVC hoops would really help as well in spring or fall. Definitely give them a try.Thanks so much for thinking about issues like this, and we'll look forward to catching up with you at the market.