The young gardener who plants, just for fun, a peanut or two, to see what the plant looks like, realizes, when it comes into bloom, that he has something that might easily be mistaken for a bushy bean or pea plant, with lower branches that creep along the ground in all directions. The familiar pea blossoms settle the question of the family before the seed shows. The plant is a pod-bearer. Its fruit is not a true nut at all.
Another discovery that pleases the average boy and girl is this: the peanut will grow almost any where in this country, and produce plenty of "nuts." What a tremendous saving of nickels and dimes! For who goes out for a holiday with out patronizing the peanut man, whose neat little pushcart whistles cheerily on the street corner? Mothers would much rather have their hungry children comforted with a bag of warm, fresh roasted peanuts on the ride home, than with sweets that are made of she knows not what.
The peanuts are wholesome food, nourishing, as well as tasty, and they are shelled as eaten, which means that they have not been crawled over by flies. They are easily handled and do not mess one's clothes and hands.
Grown-up people are as fond of peanuts as children, and frankly buy and eat them even in public places, if they feel so inclined. The more particular people will take them home where they can enjoy them with the rest of the family.
A more recent use of the nuts — roasting them in butter or oil — makes an appetizing dish.
Peanut butter is a comparative novelty, made by grinding the roasted nut to a paste. It will not supersede butter made from cream, though many people use less of the latter since they have learned to like peanut butter on bread.
Peanut oil is extracted from the nuts and used in cooking, and as a salad oil. At first the taste of the peanut was in it, but refining has taken that away. The great mill at Marseilles, supplied from the fields of Spain, India, and North Africa, was long the chief manufacturing plant for pea nut oil, but now mills are being established in peanut-growing states.
We eat cottonseed oil that has travelled to Europe and comes back labelled "olive oil." No doubt much "pure Lucca oil" we buy, and pay very high prices for, is made chiefly of peanuts and other things not so good. The sooner we are willing to take our honest products, the oil of cottonseed and peanut, on their own merits, the less we will have to pay for these foodstuffs.
Then we shall cease to pay tribute to pirates who call by the name, olive oil, a table oil that is not genuine, but adulterated. It is time we laughed at them: so long have they laughed at our boast that we will have nothing but the genuine article, and that we are able to detect the first attempt to cheat us by substitutions.
Let us take a long look backward to see how it came about that the peanut is the principal nut used in America to-day. We do not have so long a way to go to find a day when people out side of a small section of Virginia knew nothing about the "goober pea," so well liked by the people around Norfolk, where the light, sandy soil was commonly planted to this crop. In the. early sixties, when the northern armies were in Virginia, the boys in blue from many sections of the country fell in love with the nuts that were a food as well as a kind of dainty, and lent pleasant variety to the hard fare of the soldier life. They could keep a supply on hand, and even on the march found a pocketful no burden, and often a great boon.
It was the soldier mustered out at the end of the war that sent back to Virginia for seed, and he planted peanuts on his farm to let the home folks taste that "goober" he had talked so much about. So the northern peanut appetite was a by product of the War of the Rebellion.
The centre of peanut culture is still near its starting point, Virginia. North Carolina and Virginia each raise over four million bushels a year. Georgia raises half as many. Thirty ight states can grow goobers. The crop brings Dyer ten million dollars a year. We Americans eat all the nuts we raise, and import quantities beside from Spain, and from China and Japan! We certainly have the peanut habit! There will come a day, perhaps, when we grow all our peanuts at home. It is expensive to bring them from abroad. The Pacific coast has begun to grow great crops in the sandy soil of the Great Valley of California. Home-grown nuts will soon supply the market on this side of the mountains. Texas is growing stupendous crops of Spanish varieties, which yield three times as much as the Carolina and Virginia fields average, by the easy-going methods of culture in use. Tennessee is another of the eight states which grow peanuts seriously as a big money crop.