Sunday, October 1, 2017

Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread & That Time I Went to Georgia



Disclosure:  The Peanut Bureau of Canada paid for my travel and accommodations.  All opinions about peanuts and this trip are mine.  They did not pay me to write this post.  

What a difference a month makes!  On the first day of September, I was recuperating from ovarian cyst surgery, my mom was here taking care of me, and I was watching way too much Daytime TV.  Today, I'm all better - just a few scars remain - and my routine has gone back to "normal" - whatever that may be.  I even hopped a plane (or four!) and headed down to Georgia to see how peanuts are grown.  And .... I had dinner with President Jimmy Carter - yes that Jimmy Carter - just to make things even more awesome.  But, let's start at the beginning, because that's where I always like to start things.




I was there!

A group of us arrived in Atlanta on September 21st, then it was a bus ride through lush green and gorgeous Georgia, passing by cotton fields and peach trees.  We stopped at Brown's Market, where we ate boiled peanuts (so delicious - salty and creamy and fun to eat!) and peach ice cream (super yum) and loaded up on peach preserves.  Back on the bus we went and eventually we ended up in a peanut field, under the blazing Georgia heat.  Here we learned about growing peanuts from the farmer himself - 80 year old Glen Chase.  He's been farming peanuts since he was 15, and this is his 65th peanut harvest.  Full of vim and vigour, and an obvious passion for what he does, Glen told us how peanuts are planted and grown.  I knew peanuts grew underground, but they don't grow from the roots, like I assumed.  When peanut plants flower, they shoot out pegs, which then launch themselves underground and the peanuts grow from the pegs.  Cool, hey?  I was amazed at how sandy the soil is.  I've never seen anything grow in soil so sandy before, but the peanuts love it.  They also love hot, dry heat, and plenty of it, which is why there aren't many peanut growers in Canada.  Mr. Chase even got into his tractor and dug up a row or two of peanuts for us.  Very cool!  These peanuts will lay on top of the ground for 4-5 days, drying out before a combine comes by and separates the peanuts from the vines and placing the peanuts into a hopper on top of the machine.  Peanuts and moisture are not a good mix, so the peanuts need to be very dry before they can be trucked away to a shelling plant.  I think there is a lot of praying once the peanuts are on top of the ground - for the rain to stay away, for the deer and wild boars to mind their own business, and for plenty of sunshine and heat.  There are so many variables at play for a successful harvest in any crop that is grown, whether it is peanuts, wheat, or carrots!  This is just of the many reasons farmers have my utmost respect and gratitude.  



Mr. Chase and his peanuts.  Look at that sandy soil! 



Freshly dug peanuts!  



Peanut digger, hooked up to a tractor. 

On our second day of this peanut adventure (after a sweet sleep in my cozy room at the Windsor Hotel in Americus, and a breakfast of grits and eggs) we hopped on the bus to check out Tifton Quality Peanut - a grower-owned peanut shelling plant.  Here the peanuts are graded and sent through all sorts of machines to be shelled, sorted and then blanched.  The Tifton plant will see up to 25,000 tonnes of peanuts a day, blanching something like 40 million pounds a year.  Plenty of peanuts are shipped to Smuckers, Hershey, Mars (by the train car full!) and of course exported to Canada.  We love our peanut butter here!  I loved learning that nothing goes to waste at the shelling plant - the shells and hulls are used in kitty litter and ant bait; the small stones that come in with the peanuts are used around the plant to help with erosion.  Even some chicken houses in the area will use the peanut shells.  Love the sustainability!




 Nice little snack! 



 Shells off, ready to be blanched. 




This tote bag contains 2, 200 pounds of blanched peanuts.  



This was an empty storage container, which had the best echoes ever! 
 It can hold 12,000 tonnes of peanuts.  

That afternoon saw us visiting MANA Nutrition and going on a quick facility tour.  Talk about being inspired.  Here they make MANA (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid), a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) made of a fortified peanut paste that has been carefully formulated to provide a malnourished child’s basic nutritional needs.  The other ingredients in MANA are milk powder, sugar and an emulsifier so the oil from the peanut paste doesn't separate.  This is a high calorie package, running around 600 calories per serving.  Roughly three servings of MANA a day for six weeks can save the life of child suffering from severe acute malnutrition.  MANA aims to prevent child deaths due to severe acute malnutrition by treating the condition through the production and distribution of ready to use fortified foods.  Organizations like UNICEF and World Vision help them get the RUTF on the ground and into the hands of those who need it.  If you get a second, I suggest checking out their website and learning more about this tremendously important organization.



Huge bags of milk powder to be mixed in with peanut paste for the RUTF.

Back to the hotel, quick shower and change and then we were whisked away to Plains, Georgia (hometown of former President (and peanut farmer!) Jimmy Carter) where we had a group photo taken with him and his wife, Rosalynn.  It was quick and very professional; he stood just a couple of feet away from me, and only 2 photos were taken.  He's not into individual photos, and at 93, I can't say I blame him.  When I'm 93 I probably won't want too many photos taken with strangers either!  Inside the Plains Community Center we were treated to a lovely dinner of tender beef, shrimp, and my favourite - peanut butter cheesecake.  And the sweet tea!  Oh the sweet tea!  Afterwards we listened to a question and answer session with President Carter and his wife.  Gracious and funny, they had us all captivated by their wit and wisdom.  I tell you, it's not an evening I will soon forget.  One of the things that the President said, and that has stuck with me all these days later, is that we must accommodate changing times, but cling to principles that never change.  This applies to farming, and pretty much everything else in life. 



President Carter had about three bodyguards with him that night.

On our last morning in Georgia, we went back to Plains (pop.730) where their annual Peanut Festival was happening.  I popped into shops and chatted with locals - they were super excited to hear I was from Canada - and I stocked up on all kinds of peanut products to bring home.  There were more good eats, of course, and my last nosh was on barbecue ribs so good I thought I would cry.  Oh Georgia!  The visit was much too quick, but ever so unforgettable.



These came home with me.  




For more photos and videos, check out my Instagram! You can even see a peanut digger at work!

Some fun facts about peanuts:
  • They are a member of the legume family, so they fix their own nitrogen into the soil, thus not needing much, if any, fertilizer.   
  • All USA-grown peanuts are GMO free.  
  • Peanuts contain more protein, folate and niacin than other nuts. 
  • Peanuts are high in fibre and low on the glycemic index, making them beneficial when managing or preventing diabetes.  
  • A climate of 200 frost-free days is required for a good crop of peanuts.  
  • Farmers rotate their peanut crops with corn and cotton.  They follow a three year rotation pattern, which helps reduce disease.  
  • Peanuts have the most efficient water use of all the nuts, requiring just under five gallons (19 L) of water to produce one ounce (28 g) of peanuts, compared to 80 gallons of water for one ounce of some other nuts.  
  • Freshly harvested peanuts are placed into drying wagon for further curing - moisture content needs to be between eight to ten percent for safe storage. 
Thanks for reading through all of that.  I hope you learned something new about peanuts!  I had a really great time in Georgia.  The people were so sweet and kind - that Southern Charm is definitely a thing.  Our peanut adventure was jam-packed with activity, and the weather was super super hot (I was in a constant state of being sweaty!) but I came away knowing that peanuts (and those who grow them) are pretty damn cool.




Chocolate Peanut Butter Spread 

Okay, recipe time! I've got a super simple one you can throw together in your food processor.  And really, who doesn't love that peanut butter chocolate combo?  I love spreading this on toast - with or without banana, stirring it into oatmeal or overnight oats, and eating it by the spoonful, cuz that's how I roll sometimes.  The only sweeteners are Medjool dates and a bit of honey, though you could use maple syrup, too. This is not a sweet spread - you can adjust the sweetness as you see fit. 

2 cups roasted unsalted peanuts
6 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
6-8 Medjool dates, pits removed
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
2-3 tsp honey or maple syrup or to taste
1/4 tsp salt

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 




2 comments:

  1. Really enjoyed reading your blog and learning so much about peanuts. thank you for sharing this wonderful adventure.
    Jean

    ReplyDelete
  2. This was so lovely to read, and cool to learn about peanuts too! Now I want to go to Georgia and eat boiled peanuts.

    ReplyDelete

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