Bill Starr: The aromas and tastes of autumn

Published 3:17 pm Saturday, October 7, 2017

Well, autumn is finally among us, and we all know what fall means: football, fairs, and harvest time. I love this time of year; the temperature becomes more pleasant and the humidity usually starts to go down. I have to admit summer is probably my favorite season (except for the excessive heat), but I do enjoy fall as well. The changing of the seasons adds a bit of order to our otherwise chaotic universe. This time of year in our office I am usually busy checking peanuts for maturity, and gauging by the samples I have seen, peanut harvest should be well under way this time of year.
I will have to admit I love this time of year when the peanuts start rolling in. I like to ride by a field of peanuts, and see them being harvested; I even like the way the air and the dirt smell when they are being harvested. They make all kinds of air fresheners; I am still waiting on one that smells like freshly dug peanuts.
Peanuts to me are good no matter how you prepare them — whether you roast them, boil them, eat them raw, put them in candy, or prepare a special food product from them called peanut butter. Peanuts are believed to have been first cultivated in South America, and I am sure am glad that they will grow here. There is evidence that ancient South American Inca Indians were the first to grind peanuts to make peanut butter and that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) invented a version of peanut butter in 1895. A St. Louis physician may have developed a version of peanut butter as a protein substitute for his older patients who had poor teeth and couldn’t chew meat. Peanut butter was first introduced at the Universal Exposition (World’s Fair of 1904) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Peanuts are an important crop for area and for the state of Georgia; Georgia produces almost half of all the peanuts grown in the United States. About 70 counties in Georgia produced 965,000 tons; that’s a lot of candy bars! The peanut industry contributes about 50,000 jobs in Georgia. So, peanuts are not peanuts to our state’s economy.
Peanuts are an interesting crop and many are surprised to discover the peanut is actually not a nut at all. In fact, it is a legume and belongs to the pea family. A farmer usually plants his peanuts in April or May. Once planted, peanut seeds grow into a green, oval-shaped plant which reaches about 18 inches in height when fully mature. Small yellow flowers appear in the lower part of the plant. These flowers pollinate themselves and then lose their petals as the fertilized ovary begins to enlarge. The enlarged ovary grows down and away from the plant forming a small stem which extends to the soil; these are called “pegs.” The embryo begins to develop once underground, growing into a peanut. From planting to harvesting, the growing cycle of a peanut takes 4 to 5 months.
Peanuts require a lot of management to get from planting to actual harvest. Peanuts and peanut butter are among America’s most popular foods. Americans consume more than 600 million pounds of peanuts and about 700 million pounds of peanut butter each year. The good news is that peanut products are nutritious as well as delicious. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but if you want to live longer, a handful of nuts may be a better bet, researchers reported recently. The biggest study yet into whether nuts can add years to your life shows that people who ate nuts every day were 20 percent less likely to die from heart disease, cancer or any other causes compared to people who didn’t eat them. If that’s the case I should live to be 100.
George Washington Carver knew a thing or two when he discovered the many uses for the peanut. Consumers today only have to know one thing. Peanuts are good and they’re good for you. Peanut harvest time typically falls right in line with college football season, and I can’t think of a better Saturday than watching “the Bulldogs” and enjoying some boiled peanuts. We have a lot of farmers in area that grow peanuts, so the next time you are enjoying a peanut butter sandwich or enjoying your favorite peanut candy, be sure to thank a farmer. And one final thought Go Dawgs! Sick ‘em! Woof! Woof!

Bill Starr is ANR agent and Sumter County Extension coordinator, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 229-924-4476.