The seemingly lowly peanut butter that was a staple of my school lunches has ties to some of history’s luminary figures.
Even better, peanut butter is a nutritiously dense food not limited to juvenile fare.
The ancient Incas and Aztecs of South America ground peanuts into a paste.
A closer version of what we know as peanut butter today is attributed to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada (1849–1940), who in 1884 patented a process for turning roasted peanuts into a paste, according to the National Peanut Board.
In America, cereal pioneer Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852–1943) patented in 1895 a process for turning raw peanuts into a butter-like consistency. Machinery developed by others expedited the production process, allowing peanut butter to gain wider appeal.
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But, credit George Washington Carver (c. 1864–1943), born into slavery before the Civil War’s end, for harnessing all the potential of the peanut. After he earned a master’s degree in agricultural science, the first Black man to do so, he was named in 1896 director of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute.
Carver became known as the “Peanut Man” for promoting the legume. He taught Southern sharecroppers how to grow peanuts as a rotatable crop to restore the soil after years of cotton growing had depleted their fields.
To capitalize on the new cash crop, he discovered many diverse products that could be made from peanuts, including flour, milk, dyes, chili sauce, shampoo, shaving cream and glue.
The nutritional value of peanuts, however, remained an important focus. Carver authored many agricultural bulletins on peanuts, including several editions of “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption.”
“I do not know of any one vegetable that has such a wide range of food possibilities either raw or cooked,” Carver wrote.
His peanut recipes include soups, breads, sweet baked goods, candies and other desserts and savory dishes. Some of the latter seem a culinary stretch today, such as Mock Chicken.
“Blanch and grind a sufficient number of peanuts until they are quite oily; stir in one well-beaten egg; if too thin, thicken with rolled bread crumbs or cracker dust; stir in a little salt. Boil some sweet potatoes until done; peel and cut in thin slices; spreadly generously with the peanut mixture; dip in white of egg; fry to a chicken brown; serve hot,” according to a reprint of the 1940 bulletin edition on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website.
For a time, peanuts were a major crop in the area around Gorman, once home to the Texas Peanut Producers Board. The board produced an undated recipe booklet “Peanuts: Natures (sic) Masterpiece of Food Values.”
Mock Chicken seems viable compared to some of the savory dishes in the 32-page booklet. As much as I like unique recipes, I won’t be testing Peanut Chili Dogs, which calls for spreading peanut butter inside split franks that are slipped in buns, topped with chili and baked in the oven.
More enticing, however, was the recipe Chicken with Peanut Butter Barbecue Sauce with an Asian influence. Soy sauce replaces the tomato products typical of Texas-style barbecue sauces.
Chicken marries well with the sauce that has the perfect balance of sweet, salty and nutty flavors.
What the sauce was missing, however, was some heat. So, I added cayenne pepper. Balsamic vinegar also imparted richness. And, I reduced the broth for a thicker sauce.
The result is a charming chicken dish. Serve with a salad for a lighter meal, or add a side of rice, potatoes or grits that can be topped with the pan drippings.
And, save the leftovers for a tasty lunch.
Share your favorite recipes or food-related historical recollections by emailing Laura Gutschke at email@example.com.
Chicken with Peanut Butter Barbecue Sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 yellow onion, grated
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8-10 chicken thighs or 6 chicken breasts, with skin and bones
1. In a bowl (with pourable spout, if available), combine peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, onion, stock, vinegar, garlic, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir until well combined.
2. Place chicken skin side up in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or other large pan with 2-inch sides. Pour half the sauce over the chicken and spread evenly to coat each piece. Place dish in refrigerator for 2 hours up to 8 hours to marinate chicken. Refrigerate the extra sauce, too.
3. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook chicken for 35 to 45 minutes, until completely cooked. Halfway through cooking, baste the chicken with the remaining sauce, or until well coated. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, turn the oven to high broil to crisp the skin. Watch to avoid overcooking and blackening the skin. Yields about 6 servings.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local crimes with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.