Virginia Peanut Soup

English: Roasted Peanuts author: Flyingdream

                Peanut Butter doesn’t always have to come between two slices of white bread.  Actually, peanut butter was presented at the 1904 St. Louis world’s fair as a health food.  Peanut Butter Soup has always been a Southern Favorite – one more way inventive cooks found to use an abundant crop.

The first commercial peanut crop in Virginia was grown in Sussex County (near what is now Waverly) in the early to mid 1840’s.

For a long time peanuts were considered simple fare. The War Between the States helped change the peanut status when Union Army soldiers found them to their liking and took them home. The call, “Hot Roasted Peanuts,” was first heard in the late 1800’s at P.T. Barnum’s circus. Desire for peanuts spread as circus wagons traveled across the country.

The peanut was not a significant agricultural crop until the early 1900’s when the boll weevil destroyed the South’s cotton crop. Today peanuts are a multimillion dollar industry in Virginia and an important crop in the Southeastern United States.

In the course of Mid – Atlantic history, the peanut has played an important role.  Peanuts are an important crop in primarily in Virginia.  They are an important part of the process of raising Smithfield hams.  Hogs were allowed to burrow and feed in the fields after the peanut crop has been harvested.  The pigs root around and eat the peanuts left behind.  This helps to give the hams a distinctive flavor known throughout the world.

This dish is primarily associated with Virginia, although it is served throughout the Mid – Atlantic region.   It was a famous must try dish of the great Hotel Roanoke, which helped to bring the dish to national popularity.

Peanuts have a myriad of uses beyond an edible food source.  They, like corn, have become one of the major cash crops in the United States.  Beyond food, peanuts and the shells of peanuts are used for such things as fuel, livestock feed, medicine, plastic, wallboard, abrasives, detergents, and explosives.  In his lifetime, George Washington Carver derived over 300 uses for the peanut beyond just an edible snack.  The agriculture of the peanut was also important since in the South, cotton had leeched much of the nitrogen out of the soil, peanuts “fix” nitrogen into soil through a bacterium found in their root system.

A Tradition in the 1870’s called a “pea – parching” was held in peanut fields after the crop was dug.  A shock of peanut vines, reserved for the children would be burned and the children were allowed to recover the roasted peanuts from the embers.

Brazil is the native home of the peanut, the “Ground nut” that sailed with Portuguese explorers to Africa and back to the American with the Negro.  In 1794, Thomas Jefferson recorded the yield of sixty – five peanut hills of Monticello.  The cultivation of peanuts increased in the South in the nineteenth century, but it was not until after the Civil War that they gained national acceptance.

Columbus took peanuts, Native to South America Back to Europe, Then Portuguese slave traders introduced them to Africa.  The Legumes re-crossed the Atlantic on slave ships.

Peanuts came to Virginia with slaves from Africa soon after the settlement of Jamestown.  It was along the James River during the Civil War that Union soldiers for the first time discovered edibles called “goobers,” or “Ground nuts.”  The Rest is history.

 

PB&J Soup

Christopher Gobbett

2009

 

Soup:

 

3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Small Vidalia Onion, Chopped
1 Stalk Celery, Finely Chopped
1 Carrot, Finely Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Tablespoons Flour
3-4 Cups Hot Chicken Stock Or Broth
1/2 Cup Heavy Cream
1 Cup Natural Peanut Butter (No Sugar Added)
Juice Of 1/2 – 1 Lime (To Taste)

 

                Melt butter in saucepan, add onions, celery and carrots and cook until onions become translucent. Add garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Whisk flour into the onion mixture, cook for 1 minute, then whisk in the hot chicken stock. While stirring, cook 5 minutes until moderately thickened. Next, whisk in the heavy cream and peanut butter, heat the soup through but do not bring to a boil. Stir in the lime juice. Serve with optional toppings such as chopped toasted peanuts, scallions, cilantro, cayenne or hot sauce.

 

Peanut Brittle Garnish:

 

  • 1 Cup White Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Light Corn Syrup
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Peanuts
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

 

                Grease a large cookie sheet. Set aside. In a heavy 2 quart saucepan, over medium heat, bring to a boil sugar, corn syrup, salt, and water. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in peanuts. Set candy thermometer in place, and continue cooking. Stir frequently until temperature reaches 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), or until a small amount of mixture dropped into very cold water separates into hard and brittle threads.   Remove from heat; immediately stir in butter and baking soda; pour at once onto cookie sheet. With 2 forks, lift and pull peanut mixture into rectangle about 14×12 inches; cool. Snap candy into pieces.

 

Curry Gel:

 

1Tb. Oil

1Tb. Curry Powder

1 Envalope Gelatin

¾ Cup Water

1 Tsp. Salt

 

                Heat oil and add curry powder and salt.  Cook lightly until you can really smell the curry.  Add water and heat.  Add gelatin and taste.   Stir until gelatin is dissolved.  Pour into small bowl and place in refrigerator for several hours until set.  Scoop out balls of gel with melon baller.

 

Assembly:

 

                Place soup in bowl.  Lay one strip of peanut brittle across the bowl and another on its edge with the tip standing up.  Secure ball of gel on the tip of the protruding brittle. 

 

                This dish plays more on the Asian influence of the dish as it is also common in Thailand as well as Africa.  It is believed that the dish may have been brought over with the first slaves that were brought to the region.   The Peanut made its way from South America over to Europe and Africa and was then brought back over to the new world, much like the tomato, which also made a similar journey overseas before finding its way back into the local cuisine of its native home. 

                The origin of the dish is still a mystery, but the Mid – Atlantic has made full use of this dish and can truly call it one of its own. 

 

 

The Evolution:

 

Ground – Nut Soup[1]

1847

 

                To half a pint shelled ground – nuts, well beaten up, add two spoonful of flour, and mix well.  Put to them a pint of oysters, and a pint and a half of water.  While boiling, throw on a seed – pepper or two, if small.

 

                This recipe is different than most in that it uses oysters in it.  This is actually more of a seafood dish then a traditional peanut soup. 

 

Peanut Soup[2]

1911

 

                Made like a dry pea soup.  Soak a pint and one half nut meats overnight in two quarts of water.  In the morning add three quarts of bay leaf, stalk of celery, blade of mace and one slice of onion.  Boil slowly for four or five hours, stirring frequently to keep from burning.  Rub through a sieve and return to the fire, when heated through again add one cupful of cream.  Serve hot with croutons.

This is a classic version of the dish except it contains the rather laborious cooking processes of the era.  These days a blender or food processor would make short work of this dish.  The soaking of the peanuts and the long boiling time and straining would be unnecessary.  Four to five hours can be reduced to about twenty minutes. 

 

Groundnut (Peanut) Soup[3]

1965

 

Miguel Augustus Riberio

Ambassador to Ghana

 

1 Pound Groundnut Paste (Substitute Peanut Butter)   

2 Medium Sized Onions, Chopped

2 Medium Sized Chickens (4 to 6 Pounds)                           

2 Red Pepper (fresh) or Ground Red Pepper, to taste

Cut up into Sections                                                                      

4 Medium Sized Tomatoes                                                         

Salt to Taste

6 Pints of Water

 

                Put the chickens, onion, and salt into a large saucepan and brown (golden brown).  Add cold water (just enough to cover) and tomatoes and bring to the boil.  Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove the tomatoes, pulp them and add to the stock.

                Mix the groundnut paste into a smooth cream with hot stock from the saucepan.  Pour the creamed groundnut paste into the saucepan and add the measured water and pepper.  Cook slowly until oil rises to the top of soup.  Serves 6.

                Note: if the chicken becomes tender before the oil rises to the top, remove the chicken to prevent it from disintergrating and return it to the pot when the soup is cooked. 

                Careful in substituting peanut butter for nut paste.  Look for a sugar free or all natural peanut butter when making this dish, even the sugar free versions. The added sugar and emulsifiers in commercial peanut butter will tend to make the soup too sweet as well as gummy.  If you use a commercial peanut butter keep the heat very low or it will scorch and washing the pot will be a massive effort.  

This version is more in the African style, which contains tomatoes as well as peppers.  The look of the soup will be completely different than the Virginia style which is more about the peanut than the chicken.

Virginia Peanut Soup[4]

1971

 

8 Tablespoons (1 quarter Pound Stick) Unsalted Butter Cut into Bits

2 Cups Smooth Peanut Butter, At Room Temperature

½ Cup Finely Chopped Onion                                                    

¼ Teaspoon Salt

½ Cup Finely Chopped Celery                                                   

¼ Teaspoon Celery Salt

3 Tablespoons Flour                                                                      

1 Tablespoon Strained Fresh Lemon Juice

2 Quarts Chicken Stock, Freshly Made or Canned            

½ Cup Ground Peanuts

 

                In a heavy 3 – to – 4 quart casserole, melt the butter bits over moderate heat.  When the foam subsides, drop in the onions and celery and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 5 – to 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but have not yet begun to brown.  Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and, when incorporated, pour in the chicken stock.  Stirring constantly with a whisk, bring to a boil over high heat until the mixture thickens slightly and is smooth.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour the contents of the casserole into a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing down hard on the vegetables with the back of a spoon before discarding the pulp. 

                Scrape the peanut butter into a large mixing bowl and whisk in stock, ¼ cup at a time.  After all the liquid has been added and the soup is smooth, return it to the casserole.  Stir in celery salt, salt and lemon juice, and bring to a simmer over moderate heat.  When the soup is hot (do not let it boil), pour it into a hot tureen or individual soup bowls.  Present the ground peanuts in a small bowl, to be sprinkled on the soup by each diner. 

 

                You can make a better soup here by running the butter and twice as much (4 Cups) of fresh roasted peanuts in a food processor and then running them in a blender.  This will give you much more of a peanut flavor without the added sugar.  Then follow the recipe as listed. 

King’s Arms Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup[5]

1971

 

1 Medium Onion, Chopped                                                       

2 Ribs Celery, Chopped

¼ Cup Butter                                                                                     

3 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Quarts Chicken Stock, or Canned Chicken Broth            

2 Cups Smooth Peanut Butter

1 ¾ Cup Light Cream                                                                      

Peanuts, Chopped

 

Sauté the onions and the celery in butter until soft, but not brown.  Stir in flour until well blended.  Add chicken stock, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and puree in a food processer or a blender.  Add the peanut butter and cream, stirring to blend thoroughly.  Return to low heat until just hot, but do not boil.  Serve, garnished with peanuts. 

Note:  This soup is also good served ice cold.

 

               

  The Peanut Soup now served at the King’s Arm tavern is a variation of the recipe developed by George Washington carver in the early 1900’s.

Pumpkin Peanut Soup[6]

1982

 

3 Tablespoons Butter                                                                    

¼ Cup Peanut Butter

1 Medium Onion, Medium Dice                                                              

¼ teaspoon Summer Savory

2 Ribs Celery with Tops, Medium Dice                                  

Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

2 Sprigs Parsley                                                                                               

½ Cup Light Cream

2 Cups Canned Pumpkin                                                              

Chopped Peanuts for Garnish (Optional)

3 Cups Chicken Broth

 

                Melt the butter in a gypsy kettle suspended from a crane.  Lightly sauté the onion and celery.  Add parsley, pumpkin, chicken broth, peanut butter, and summer savory to the kettle and mix well.  Bring to a simmer over a hot fire and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, moving the kettle slightly away from the intense heat, so it does not boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and just before serving add the light cream.  Garnish mugs or bowls with chopped peanuts if desired. 

Serves; 6

Hearth Cookware: Gypsy Kettle

Fire: Hot to Medium

                This is an ingenious variation on the original concept.  Adding pumpkin will compound the flavor profile and make a fantastic soup. 

Peanut Butter Soup[7]

1984

 

¼ Cup Finely Chopped Celery                                                   

½ C. Peanut Butter, Chunky or Smooth

¼ Cup Finely Chopped Onion                                                    

1 Soup Can of Milk

1 (10 ¾ Oz.) can Cream of Chicken Soup

 

                In a saucepan, cook celery and butter until tender.  Blend in soup and peanut butter until smooth.  Add milk.  Heat.  Stir occasionally.  Sprinkle with peanuts if you use smooth peanut butter and desire a chunky soup.                                                                                                        

Servings: 3, ½ Cups

                                                                                                                                                Belle Vally Grange No. 1294

 

In this version we see the industrial style food movement.  This soup is quick and easy to make and contains all of the traditional flavor profiles, but again look for reduced sugar peanut butter if you don’t want something that will be too sweet.

How to Make Hotel Roanoke Peanut Soup[8]

1994

 

2 Quarts Chicken Broth

1 Pint Peanut Butter

1 Small Onion, Diced

½ Cup Ground Peanuts

¼ Pound Butter

1/3 Tablespoon Celery Salt

2 Branches Celery, Diced

1 Teaspoon Salt

3 Tablespoons Flour

1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice

 

Melt butter in a cooking vessel and add onion and celery.  Sauté for five minutes (not brown).  Add flour and mix well.  Add chicken broth and cook for half an hour.  Remove from stove, strain, and add peanut butter, celery salt, and lemon juice.  Sprinkle ground peanuts on soup just before serving.  Serves 10. 

 

                This soup is said to be the brainchild of the famous chef of the hotel Roanoke, Fred Brown. He started working in the hotel on July 4, 1922 as a runner and worked his way up the chain of command in the kitchen.  He left in 1927 to further his culinary experience and returned as executive chef in 1937, he retired in May of 1969, leading the hotel through its heyday of service and the highlight of its culinary reputation.  Many chefs worked in the kitchen of the famous hotel, but chef Browns contribution left a long standing mark defining the hotels cuisine. 

                Peanuts have played an important agricultural role in the Mid-Atlantic region since their introduction in the 1840’s.  Just to the north in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, an Italian immigrant named Amedeo Obici founded a little company with six employees known as Planter’s.  Through a reputation built on quality, Planter’s peanuts have become one of the largest manufacturers of nuts in the world.

This dish can be made many different ways and with all sorts of global styles incorporated into it.  I myself prefer a little curry or spice to really magnify the roasted taste of the peanut, but it is not necessary.  Many historical restaurants in Williamsburg and other areas in the Mid-Atlantic offer the traditional Virginia peanut soup if you want to try it, but with blenders and food processors, it is relatively easy to make at home and is a great departure from the usual fare and a delicious way to celebrate the bounty of the region any time of the year.

 

 


[1] Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cookbook: A Manuel for Home Economics by Mrs. Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer: Applewood Books 1886

[2] Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat: The First cookbook by an African-American chef by Rufus Estes: Dover Publications, Inc. 2004

[3] Who’s Who in the Kitchen: Gold Star Wives of America, Inc; Federal Publishing Co. 1965

[4] American Cooking: Southern Style: Foods of the World by Time Life Books: Time Inc. 1971

[5] The Williamsburg Cookbook: Traditional and Contemporary recipes adapted from the taverns and inns of Colonial Williamsburg  by Letha Booth & Joan Perry Dutton: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation 1975

[6] The Open Hearth Cookbook: Recapturing the Flavor of Early America by Susan Goldenson with Doris Simpson: Alan C. Hood & Company, Inc. 1982

[7] Pennsylvania State Grange Cookbook by Grange Members: Sowers Printing Company 1984

[8] Peanut Soup and Spoonbread: An Informal History of Hotel Roanoke by Donlan Piedmont: Virginia Tech Real Estate Foundation, Inc. 1994

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About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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3 Responses to Virginia Peanut Soup

  1. Pingback: Favorite Mid – Atlantic Dish | midatlanticcooking

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