Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The History of Peanut Soup

Peanut Soup Mix

Considered a southern delicacy in some parts of the country, peanut soup in America dates back to the early 1700’s. For decades, peanut connoisseurs have speculated about how this soup arrived and gained popularity in the United States.  

 History shows that peanuts have been around since the Incan Empire. Peanuts are a well-traveled legume. European explorers made their acquaintance in the Caribbean. Spaniards exported them, carrying them on ships to the Philippines and Indonesia. The Portuguese - who discovered peanuts in Brazil, not far from the legume's Peruvian birthplace - took peanuts to Africa, where the nutritious, hardy legume fed the nation's sailors stationed along the coast. Peanuts are thought to have been brought to America by the Portuguese slave traders who served peanuts while they were in transit.

“Peanuts were certainly eaten by slaves before they were eaten by whites”, says Frank Clark, who oversees the historic foodways program at Colonial Williamsburg, which for decades has served peanut soup to guests of the museum’s King’s Arms tavern – despite the dish being a culinary anachronism. “If you’d come to an 18th-century tavern, it’s very unlikely you’d have encountered peanut soup there,” Clark says. Although there is no documentary evidence of peanut soups being served in 18thy century America, it is believed that the slave diet would have included peanut soups, mushes and stews, perhaps styled after the tomato-based soups popular in central Africa or a Sudenese soup made with lamb bones, garlic and rice. Still, the soup - which marks many northerners' first introduction to creamy peanuts in a bowl - will stay on the menu, since Colonial Williamsburg is obliged to honor its own history as well as the record of what occurred during the Colonial era. bones, garlic and rice.

It’s unclear exactly how peanuts evolved from a food seen as fit for slaves and pigs to a food approved by Anglo-American tastemakers. The first known recipe comes from an 1847 cookbook by a Sarah Rutledge, a housewife from South Carolina, who published a recipe for Ground Nut Soup. Her recipe includes a pint of oysters and peanuts ground with flour. After her book was published, several other variations of the soup appeared in newspapers and cookbooks.

It is still a mystery to how peanut soup became a popular dish at fine dining restaurants across the country. The popularity of peanut soup surged domestically after the Civil War, during which Confederate soldiers introduced their Union counterparts to the legume. The increased availability of peanut butter also helped. In Germany, a doctor praised cheap, albumen-rich peanut soup as the perfect “article of food for the corpulent, for diabetics and for subjects of kidney disease.”  Peanut soup became popular in American homes in the early twentieth century, as peanuts and peanut butter became available at grocery stores across the country. Peanut soup is now served at several fine dining restaurants, America Eats Tavern in Washington, D.C. and Wit and Wisdom in Baltimore both feature the soup on their menus.
n 1941, the National Peanut Council published a collection of peanut soup recipes from George Washington Carver.  He is believed to have had the largest collection of peanut soup recipes during that time, including recipes for peanut bisque, peanut soups, a consommé, and purees.

The PeanutShop of Williamsburg All-Natural Peanut Soup evokes memories of Colonial tavern fare. Just add chicken stock for a rich, creamy and fortifying soup that will warm the hearts of the hungry.

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