Carolina African Runner Peanut

Ark of taste
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Carolina African Runner Peanut

Like all peanuts, the Carolina African peanut (Arachis hypogaea v. Carolina African) – the first peanut cultivated in North America – is a legume. An annual, flowering herbaceous legume, the Carolina African peanut is a runner variety peanut, spreading its vines in all directions from the stem, while scarcely growing a half a meter tall. The distinctive yellowish flowers form in clusters above ground. Self-pollinating, the flowers and the stalk at the base of the ovary wither, pushing it into the earth. There the seeds form in pods.   Brought into the New World by enslaved Africans at the end of the 17th century, the Carolina African peanut was cultivated throughout the West Indies and the southern mainland of North American throughout the 18th century. In the 1770s the area around the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, on the east coast of the United States, became the site for the first crop cultivation of peanuts for oil production, cattle feed, and human consumption. The plant was dried and cured as peanut hay for livestock feed. The subterranean pods contained two ovoid “nuts” that were harvested for human food. In 1875, the Carolina African peanut was documented in comparison to the Virginia peanut (originally from Bolivia).  By that time, the larger Virginia peanut was cultivated exclusively for human consumption, while the Carolina one was mainly used for oil production (often sold to Americans labeled as olive oil).   As the first peanut variety in the United States, every culinary preparation of the peanut was first attempted and enjoyed using the Carolina African runner peanut. Certain preparations, such as boiling in the shell in brine, mirrored West African practices, and were documented in cookbooks throughout the 19th century. There were also preparations of the peanuts roasted and ground and used to prepare “peanut chocolate.” Sources from the 1800s describe peanuts mixed with dry pulverized sassafras bark as “an excellent substitute for chocolate.” As sugar became readily available, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla were often added to this recipe.   While African-Americans in the Carolinas and the West Indies throughout the 19th century grew fresh peanuts for local markets; the roasting and shipping of peanuts became commonplace in the early 19th century when stores in major cities began featuring the peanut as a commodity. African-Americans employed the peanuts in a complex array of dishes: ranging from savory soups to fried fritters to sweet candies. Peanut butter entered the American culinary tradition in the late 19th century.   Over time, with the introduction of varieties and hybrids that produced larger, more profitable, and easier to harvest peanuts, cultivation of the Carolina African variety declined. The Carolina African peanut was generally thought to have suffered extinction sometime in the 1950s, two decades after the last known commercial harvests. Luckily, seeds were found in a seed library at North Carolina State University, and so this variety is being reintroduced to the country in which it was so popular centuries ago. As a landrace peanut, it is not well suited to current conventional agricultural practices. It should be grown under an organic protocol, and because of its vulnerabilities to diseases, should be grown in isolation from other peanuts.

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Territory

StateUnited States
Region

North Carolina

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Categories

Legumes