George Washington Carver
If you were to scroll back through past posts of this blog, you’d find that we have a lot of fun with National food days. We celebrate them, we make fun of them, and sometimes we make fun of ourselves for celebrating them. And we’re still not sure of who even creates them. Even so, we plug along, dutifully checking our calendars to see whether or not it’s time to celebrate National Lima Bean Respect Day.
But a few of these holidays call to mind subjects that are richer or more important than the day itself. Today for example is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day and, while we love peanut butter – and our pie proves it – it’s a good day to remember the life and work of George Washington Carver who, though he did not invent peanut butter, was the original Peanut Promoter Extraordinaire.
If you don’t know Carver’s story, we can’t think of a better time to learn more about it: it’s one of those stories that might never have been – just because of its very beginning.
Carver was born into slavery around 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri and, after his mother, Mary, disappeared, presumably kidnapped by slave traders who still roamed the South at that time. George, an infant at the time of Mary’s disappearance, was raised by Moses and Susan Carver – the same folks who had owned his mother before she vanished.
George was a sickly child and unfit for the kind of hard labor that many freed slaves endured after the war; so he stayed close to home learning domestic chores and tending the garden. He developed an interest in plants, and the Carvers provided him with some education – both of which would come to define much of Carver’s life.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Iowa State Agricultural College in 1894 and in 1896 completed a graduate degree with intensive work in plant pathology. Carver established a reputation as a brilliant botanist which would lead him to work for Booker T. Washington at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute where he would head the agricultural department.
That’s such a simple paragraph to write, but the truth is a complex thing, made especially so by the always difficult, often fatal challenges that followed former slaves in the years after the War.
Among those challenges, there were some that were shared by impoverished Southerners of all stripes – including the
creation of a sustainable lifestyle. Carver’s work and studies in crop rotation and alternative cash crops to cotton at Tuskegee substantially improved the lives of farmers and sharecroppers all over the South. But it’s his work with the humble peanut that really sticks in the mind – famously, Carver discovered over 300 uses for the crop which also acted as a rejuvenator for fields ravaged by nutrient depleting cotton.
Among Carver’s nutty discoveries – well, there was shoe polish, goiter treatment, and laundry soap, but there were over 100 food uses that included cookies, cake and pie crust, too. And there were savory recipes including peanut sausage and a peanut and cheese roast – we’ve included those recipes below, but you can read all of them at this Texas A&M site.
So what if somebody else invented peanut paste or as we know it now, peanut butter? George Washington Carver was one hell of a contributor to the American Dream, and his work improved the quality of countless lives – we barely do his memory justice here.
Carver’s work made peanuts an indelible and enriching part of Southern life – I’d say that’s worth celebrating over a piece of our Peanut Butter pie anyway – how about you?
Happy Peanut Butter Lover’s Day!
42, PEANUT SAUSAGE
Grind 1/2 pound of roasted peanuts, 1/2 pound pecans, 1 ounce hickory nuts, and 1/2 pound walnut meats. Mix with six very ripe bananas; pack in a mould, and steam continuously for two hours; when done remove from lid of kettle or mould, and when mixture is cold turn out and serve the same as roast meat sliced thin for sandwiches, or with cold tomato sauce or other sauce.
43, PEANUT AND CHEESE ROAST
1 cup grated cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon chopped onion
1 cup finely ground peanuts
1 tablespoon butter
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the onion in the butter and a little water until it is tender. Mix the other ingredients, and moisten with water, using the water in which the onion has been cooked. Pour into a shallow -baking dish, and brown in oven.