Bread and Thread Peanuts

Opening music

Liz

Hello and welcome to bread and thread a podcast about food and domestic history. I’m Liz.

Hazel

I’m hazel. We’re two friends who studied archaeology together and love history.

LIZ

So what have you been making or baking?

HAZEL

Not so much baking, although OK I did bake. I baked a good one. It was a Victoria sandwich. Because we’re like being hit in the face by strawberry season over here. My mum’s got this patch of strawberries. We had some strawberry plants a few years ago and my mum just thought whatever, so now we just have a full bed.

LIZ

Cause strawberries are one of the aggressive ones.

HAZEL

So aggressive, whatever image you have of strawberries being nice and sweet they’re really vicious. So I made a strawberry sandwich and elderflower icing, fresh strawberries in the middle. It was delicious. I also finished a dress I started five years ago.

LIZ

How many moons ago is that?

HAZEL

I don’t know many moons.

LIZ

I can think of a lot of places you’ve lived in the last four years that’s a lot of places to move a dress.

HAZEL

Yeah I moved then I moved again and moved abroad and never really finished it but I broke out the sewing machine again. It took me to two months of lock down to go right, I’ll get Betty out. Betty’s our sewing machine. named after my grandma..

LIZ

As an Elizabeth I approve.

HAZEL

Yeah I got it finished in a couple days. I don’t know why but with sewing I work myself up cause I think it’s going to be difficult cause it’s so many steps but you break it down it’s not too bad but that’s great and now I have a bright blue dress with a skull and crossbones on it.

LIZ

That’s amazing please will you tweet a picture of this dress I need this.

HAZEL

I will. It’s like from a distance it looks like flowers but then you get closer and it’s pirates. It’s in a jersey knit so it’s really comfy. I’m the comfiest piratest lady you’ll ever see. What are you making?

LIZ

I finally broke out the milk cotton you got me and I made the world’s comfiest socks. And was constantly making cheesy feet jokes cause of containing milk.

HAZEL

I didn’t think there was actually milk in it I thought it was a mistranslation but there’s actually milk are you enjoying your milk feet?

LIZ

It’s been very warm so I haven’t worn them much but they feel very good and this is from a person who loathes socks but I also made some pink limeade cause limeade is superior to lemonade so logically it’s going to be good. That’s going to be the next patreon bonus recipe.

HAZEL

That sounds amazing I’ve had your lemonade which is delicious but limeade… Sounds refreshing.

LIZ

Listen to the end fro the patreon information if you want to learn how to make pink limeade.

HAZEL

Oh I will.

LIZ

I hope you will.

HAZEL

I mean I usually log off when you’ve stopped talking… So I’m ready to learn about peanuts.

LIZ

OK so peanuts are one of those things that people have been eating forever. They might have been domesticated 9 or 10 k years ago. So they’re about as old as domestication.

HAZEL

I mean that’s like neolithic levels.

LIZ

Yes. So we have been eating peanuts forever or at least South America has.

HAZEL

How do you know that?

LIZ

One of those things that was brought back from conquistadors, it replaced in parts of Africa something called a bambara which is like a peanut in a lot of ways. But peanuts aren’t nuts cause of the seed pod development it’s a legume rather than a nut cause its ovaries don’t harden.

HAZEL

I thought you were going to tell me peanuts were a fruit or something, but…

LIZ

If they’re a legume they’re a vegetable but every plant we eat is kind of a vegetable. Botany is weird and confusing.

HAZEL

Like everything else in life.

LIZ

Considering it’s a seed pod you could call it a fruit but it doesn’t have flesh it could be considered a fruit.

HAZEL

Is it a fruit? Discuss.

LIZ

I didn’t dive that deeply into taxonomy but the bambara ground nut which also develops seed pods that are very similar to peanuts in the ground which is apparently where peanuts develop they develop in the ground which is weird I didn’t know this it blew my mind a little like when you learn where cashews come from.

HAZEL

Where do they come from?

LIZ

They grow on apples. Well not actual apples but yeah

HAZEL

They grow out of a fruit right.

LIZ

They’re the external seed of the cashew fruit yeah. But they replaced the bambara ground nut in west Africa and now peanuts are a staple crop.

HAZEL

Why did they replace it was it better?

LIZ

They’re easier to cultivate. And we know peanuts are huger in east Asia, we’ve all had stuff like satay which is a peanut sauce or things cooked in peanut oil. Which is why people with peanut allergies tend to avoid east Asian food.

HAZEL

Makes sense.

LIZ

I mostly want to talk about peanuts because of George Washington Carver, cause obviously there’s a lot happening in the world at the moment and wanted to highlight a black person who is relevant to what we talk about. You may know him as the man who invented peanut butter.

HAZEL

I didn’t know that.

LIZ

He didn’t but he did something cooler.

HAZEL

There’s something cooler than making peanut butter?

LIZ

Yes. So peanuts were grown basically as cheap animal feed for a long time in the US cause it’s fairly easy to cultivate you dig it up and chuck it in the animal pen afterwards but because they’re legumes they have a specific kind of bacteria which renews the nitrogen in the soil so in traditional agriculture you leave one field empty a year so it can regain the nutrients but you can plant pea plants and things like that that will add nutrients into the soil cause of its bacteria so he basically figured out that if we can popularise peanuts as a food crop he also talked about sweet potatoes and other legumes but peanuts is the main one we don’t have to have fallow fields, we can grow food every year, human food. He also worked very hard promoting the consumption of peanuts as well as the planting of them which is probably where the idea that he invented peanut butter is from. But GWC was such a badass. Former slave got into multiple prestigious places that wouldn’t let him study cause he was black, got into the dept of agriculture, was praised by Teddy Roosevelt for this peanut revelation and is one of the few Americans to become a member of the royal society in England

HAZEL

I like the phrase peanut revelation. It sounds very cool to be the person who got the peanut revelation.

LIZ

The thing is inventing peanut butter not really big deal, pre-Colombian civs were eating peanut butter, but he popularised….

HAZEL

You can make a butter out of any nut right?

LIZ

Yeah you crush it get the oil, let it emulsify, that’s it so we don’t have definite evidence but it’s pretty likely we’ve been eating peanut butter for as long as we’ve been eating peanuts. But the fact he revolutionised agriculture, with all this by necessity self taught knowledge is incredible and because of that we now have stuff like plumpy nut.

HAZEL

I’m sorry?

LIZ

Peanut butter in individual serving packets given to malnourished people because it has a lot of calories a lot of fat and protein. So who knows how many lives he saved by reinvigorating this awareness of peanut butter. Thank him for your reeces pieces and thank him for saving so many lives.

HAZEL

Mainly the second one but also the first one.

LIZ

But also he was ahead of his time in that he tried to make peanut milk a thing. He tried to make a few patent medicines that used peanut milk and they didn’t work obviously cause that’s not medicine but he was very into the idea of nut milk.

HAZEL

Well doesn’t sound like it would be bad for you.

LIZ

I don’t have the exact ingredients of his patent medicines but they probably won’t do everything they claim to do.

HAZEL

Probably not going to cure your consumption but nut milk probably isn’t going to- unless you have peanut allergies.

LIZ

There is that issue but in general…

HAZEL

Did people understand allergies at the time?

LIZ

So this would be the 20s when he patented various things so it’s possible. Um…. I do love medical history I’m not hugely up on when allergies were discovered. For a long time if you were allergic to something you basically just died.

HAZEL

Either that or worked it out.

LIZ

I feel like the approach is like people with lactose intolerance you avoid it or power through.

HAZEL

Is GWC well known today or…

LIZ

When you get things of here’s some cool black Americans people can think of he’s generally quite high up as the inventor of peanut butter which is a raw deal – got credit for crushing nuts which he sure did do – what he actually did was revolutionise agriculture.

HAZEL

Crushed land reform instead.

LIZ

He was a very cool man, and peanuts are very cool.

HAZEL

Can you tell me more about the royal society thing?

LIZ

Cause of the developments he made and also he made a peanut based stain? Like he invented a paint. So it was actually the royal society of art rather than the royal academy which confused me but I mean I guess they decided farming was more art than science.

HAZEL

I guess the old definition of art is a lot of stuff.

LIZ

And this was 1916 it was a lot more fluid.

HAZEL

Probably. That’s cool is there anything a man cannot invent from peanuts?

LIZ

He cannot invent a Tb cure you joked I looked it up there was something medicine for TB medicine in giant quote marks.

HAZEL

There’s one thing. That’s pretty rad though.

LIZ

Didn’t really take off. There was also carverline an antiseptic hair oil made of peanut oil, and lanolin. None of his inventions really took off, just stick to farming you’re doing a great job there

HAZEL

The agriculture reforms amazing – the lanolin hair oil? Well…

LIZ

The lanolin oil was probably helpful, as someone with eczema lanolin is a miracle, don’t know what the peanut oil added though.

HAZEL

Imagine if you were allergic to both peanuts and lanolin though.

LIZ

That wouldn’t be ideal. That’s my hot take.

HAZEL

I’m inclined to agree with you.

Here there be plugs. ProbablyBadPodcast and Pod9FromOUterSpace. Both good. Both different. Listen now. Listen well.

HAZEL

OK today’s local larder is strawberry shortcake. I was a bit inspired by the strawberry abundance at the moment and so strawberry shortcake is a pretty well known dessert it’s called a cake, but it’s not really sometimes it’s like a scone sometimes a biscuit with cream and strawberries fresh strawberries and it’s delicious so shortcake itself is kind of debatable I think a lot of the time it’s more like shortbread bread like in that it’s halfway between cake and biscuit, crumbly less crunchy than shortbread. It’s called short cause of the shortening very traditionally you add a lot of fat to bread cakes or biscuit it makes them crumbly.

LIZ

Am I right in thinking that short is like lard?

HAZEL

Yeah it’s like lard or I guess suet maybe but yeah basically as you’re adding lard to it you get this crumbly biscuit so just to be clear as it’s confusing when I talk about a scone in America it’s a biscuit but in the UK a biscuit is a cookie. Specifically a chocolate chip… Anyway…

LIZ

A hard sweet thing.

HAZEL

When I talk about scones I mean the dense cake like things. So strawberries have been cultivated a long time they were cultivated by the Romans as far back as 200 BC they would have been derived from the wild strawberry they are amazing. They are tiny tiny but so sweet but obviously you need a lot of them to get a significant amount of strawberry which is what we have today but it’s not a berry which I just found out.

LIZ

They’re a droop sack.

HAZEL

A what?

LIZ

A droop!

HAZEL

I did not know that was a thing.

LIZ

They’re a droop. That’s fun to say.

HAZEL

Because the seeds are on the outside so it’s not a real berry. So strawberries like a lot of things are considered an aphrodisiac in the olden days and were served to newly-weds I’m pretty sure they are actually not. They are delicious. So we get references to the term shortcake occurring from the mid 16th centuries in cookbooks and the original shortcake is a much more biscuity thing a much more thin and hard crumbly type cake but it’s grown into more of a scone so shortcake and then shortbread which we have in the UK is most famously associated with Scotland which is hard and crunchy.

LIZ

Correction blackberries and things are droops, I don’t know how you want to edit that but please make me sound less stupid.

HAZEL

You’re already smarter than me for knowing things that aren’t berries.

LIZ

Please fix it nickblake.

HAZEL

So the cake evolved into this more cakey type thing but still a dense cake and strawberry shortcake as we know it became a thing in America I think around the 1840s it started to pop up as a dessert with layers of shortcake and cream and strawberries probably because a lot of strawberries were grown in the south and strawberries and cream are delicious and scones and biscuits are a southern thing think it kind of amalgamated into a delicious strawberry shortcake dessert.

LIZ

With the lard as well it’s quite a working class dessert. We’ve got this lard and a plant that’s everywhere.

HAZEL

There’s a version that was quite popular not now but in the American south, a thin biscuity cake could be used, closer to the original, basically like OK we normally make this cake or biscuit anyway and we have strawberries so we’ll make thing.

LIZ

That’s wonderful.

HAZEL

So tit turned out delicious.

LIZ

I’ve only ever heard of strawberry shortcake but you could do any kind of shortcake just put different fruit in it.

HAZEL

I think you could, but it just goes really well together the crumbliness of the biscuit and the sweetness of the strawberry. And strawberries and cream you get the crunch and the softness but technically you could do that.

LIZ

Excellent.

HAZEL

Creative.

LIZ

We hope you enjoyed today’s episode if you have an episode suggestion or just want to say hi you can email breadandthreadpodcast@gmail.com or tweet @breadandthread. Sorry you always do that bit, want tot do the patreon?

HAZEL

We’re also on patreon breadandthread were you can get recipes and videos and discord chat.

LIZ

Thank you for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Closing music.

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