Texas is one of the top peanut-producing states, along with Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina, New Mexico, Florida, Virginia and Oklahoma. Peanuts need at least 160 frost-free days a year to grow properly, which is why they happily thrive here in the South. Peanuts are native to the Western Hemisphere and are believed to have originated in South America. Spanish explorers took them back to Europe. From there, traders later took them to Africa and Asia later. In the 18th century, they came back to America on sailing ships.
Peanuts weren't grown much here until the 19th century although there were a few farms, partly because they were seen as "poor people's food" and also because growing and harvesting them was time-consuming and tricky. Demand for the nut increased after the Civil War and better production, harvesting, shelling and processing techniques were developed, leading to an expansion in the industry, and a high demand for salted and roasted nuts, peanut butter, peanut candies and peanut oil.
Okay, So They're Not Really Nuts
Despite their name, peanuts are technically a legume rather than a nut, which means, they're related to beans and lentils. Peanuts can be used in all kinds of tasty recipes from savory (spicy satay sauce, anyone?) to sweet (peanut cheesecake, PB&J sandwiches and a myriad of nutty candies) and of course peanut butter is always popular. Most of the peanuts grown locally are used to make peanut butter. And then you have peanut oil, peanut-based dressings and sauces. But they're also wonderful just to snack on as they are if you want something crunchy. We just love them here; in fact the average American eats more than six pounds of peanuts every year in various forms!
Versatile and Good for You, Too
Usually in season from the start of October, peanuts are really versatile in that they can be anything from a snack to an ingredient in dishes sweet or savory, mild or spicy, and they can also feature in drinks (next time you make a dairy-based banana smoothie, add a tablespoon of peanut butter for extra nutrients, a creamy texture and a yummy taste). Peanuts are pretty healthy. Although they're quite high in calories and fat, they don't have any cholesterol. There are more than 30 essential nutrients in them too.
In a Starring Role at: Hubcap Grill and Beer Yard
There are regular burgers and then there are the more unusual type of burgers, and sometimes it's nice to try something a little bit different. That's how you stumble upon amazing foodie finds! At Hubcap Grill you certainly get plenty of choice where burgers are concerned. If the Triple Heart Clogger isn't really your thing, consider the Sticky Burger—a beef patty topped with peanut butter, American cheese and bacon, or the Sticky Monkey Burger, which has grilled bananas in there, too. If you've ever had Asian beef satay, you will already know meat and peanuts can combine beautifully in a dish.
Recipe: Traditional Texas Peanut Patties
Remember these bright red peanut candies? They can be hard to find these days. The sweet treats combine peanuts with other tasty ingredients to make the most wonderful snack. You can use raw or salted peanuts here, or even try cashews or another type of nut for a change. Your dentist might not be keen on these but everyone else is going to love them! The following version of this tasty Texas recipe makes use of the microwave, so you can rustle these up in record time.
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup light corn syrup or maple syrup
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 1/2 cups peanuts (raw or salted)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)
- 2 or 3 drops of red food coloring
First put the water, syrup and sugar in a 2-quart measuring cup and microwave on high until the mixture boils. Next stir in the peanuts and microwave on 50% power until the mixture is 235 degrees. You will need a candy thermometer to check. If you don't have one, drop a small glob of the mixture into a glass of cold water and see whether it sets into a ball immediately. If not, cook it some more. Now you can stir in the vanilla, butter and a few drops of food coloring, then beat the mixture for several minutes (use some elbow grease and don't miss this step or the candies will end up grainy). Finally, drop teaspoons of the peanut mixture onto a greased cookie sheet and let them set. These keep for a week in an airtight container at room temperature (although they probably won't last that long, especially if you have kids and/or a sweet tooth!)
Stay tuned each week to discover more about what's fresh at the local market and where you can enjoy the delicious bounty of the season.