The seemingly unassuming peanut butter that was a staple of my school lunches has ties to some of history’s luminous figures.
Best of all, peanut butter is a nutrient-dense food that’s not limited to juvenile dishes.
The ancient Incas and Aztecs of South America ground peanuts into a paste.
A closer version of what we know today as peanut butter is attributed to Marcellus Gilmore Edson of Canada (1849-1940), who in 1884 patented a process for turning roasted peanuts into a paste, according to the National Peanut Board.
In America, cereal pioneer Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852–1943) patented a process in 1895 for turning raw peanuts into a butter-like consistency. Machines developed by others sped up the production process, allowing peanut butter to gain in appeal.
After:Sneak dark greens into meals for picky eaters with mushroom and spinach quesadillas
But, credit George Washington Carver (c. 1864-1943), born into slavery before the end of the Civil War, for harnessing the full potential of peanuts. After earning a master’s degree in agricultural science, the first black man to do so, in 1896 he was appointed director of agriculture at the Tuskegee Institute.
Carver became known as the “Peanut Man” for promoting the legume. He taught sharecroppers in the South how to grow peanuts as a rotational crop to restore soil after years of growing cotton had depleted their fields.
To capitalize on the new cash crop, he discovered many diverse products that could be made from peanuts, including flour, milk, dyes, chili sauce, shampoo, shaving cream, and glue.
The nutritional value of peanuts, however, remained an important focus. Carver is the author of numerous agricultural newsletters on peanuts, including several editions of “How to Grow Peanuts and 105 Ways to Prepare Peanuts for Human Consumption.”
“I don’t know of any vegetable that offers such a wide range of dietary possibilities, raw or cooked,” Carver wrote.
His peanut recipes include soups, breads, sweet baked goods, candies, and other desserts and savory dishes. Some of these seem like a culinary stretch today, like Mock Chicken.
“Blanch and grind a sufficient number of peanuts until fairly oily; stir in a well-beaten egg; if too runny, thicken with rolled breadcrumbs or cracker dust; stir in a little salt Boil sweet potatoes until tender; peel and thinly slice; generously spread peanut mixture; dip in egg white; fry until tender. brown; serve hot,” according to a reprint of the 1940 edition of the newsletter on the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website.
For a time, peanuts were a major crop in the Gorman area, which was once home to the Texas Peanut Producers Board. The council produced an undated recipe booklet “Peanuts: Natures (sic) Masterpiece of Food Values.”
Mock Chicken seems viable compared to some of the savory dishes in the 32-page booklet. As much as I love unique recipes, I won’t try the Peanut Chili Dogs, which call for spreading peanut butter on slices of frank that are slipped into buns, topped with chili, and baked.
The chicken pairs well with the sauce which has the perfect balance of sweet, salty and nutty flavors.
What the sauce lacked, however, was some heat. So I added cayenne pepper. Balsamic vinegar also added richness. And, I reduced the broth for a thicker sauce.
The result is a lovely chicken dish. Serve with a salad for a lighter meal, or add a side of rice, potatoes or oatmeal which can be covered with pan juices.
And, save the leftovers for a delicious lunch.
Share your favorite recipes or historic food-related memories by emailing Laura Gutschke at [email protected]
Chicken with Peanut Butter BBQ Sauce
1/2 cup peanut butter, smooth
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 yellow onion, grated
2/3 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
8-10 chicken thighs or 6 chicken breasts, with skin and bones
1. In a bowl (with spout, if available), combine peanut butter, honey, soy sauce, onion, broth, vinegar, garlic, black pepper and cayenne pepper . Stir until well blended.
2. Place chicken skin side up in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish or other large casserole dish with 2 inch sides. Pour half the sauce over the chicken and spread evenly to coat each piece. Place the dish in the refrigerator for 2 hours up to 8 hours to marinate the chicken. Also refrigerate the extra sauce.
3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the chicken for 35 to 45 minutes, until fully cooked. Halfway through cooking, baste the chicken with the remaining sauce or until well coated. For the last 5 minutes of cooking, turn the oven to high broil to crisp the skin. Watch to avoid overcooking and darkening the skin. Makes about 6 servings.
Laura Gutschke is a generalist journalist and food columnist and manages the online content of the Reporter-News. If you enjoy local news, you can support local reporters with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.