Have you ever heard of an "overnight success'? Can you think of a singer or athlete who seemed to burst out of nowhere to become a dazzling star or great hero? More often than not, these famous stars go on to explain that what looked like an "overnight success" really wasn't. It took years of practice, struggle, and sacrifice.
With the campaign of President Jimmy Carter, a Georgia peanut farmer, the peanut, often thought of as a lowly and useless thing, gained "overnight success." Across the country, peanut books, peanut jewelry, peanut songs, and peanut jokes came into fashion. But as people got to know peanuts better, they realized that this "overnight success," like so many others, was the result of years of effort: approximately five thousand years, and possibly more.
Archaeologists have long been at work discovering when and where peanuts and people first got together. The search has yielded some very interesting results. Apparently, peanuts originated in South America long before the dawn of history. They were growing wild there when the first tribes arrived from Asia and searched for food. One specimen has been found that goes back approximately 3800 years! Later specimens include peanuts that were buried alongside the Inca people of Peru in tombs that date back to 750 B.C. Found in jars and bowls, these peanuts were so well preserved by the dry climate of Peru that one archaeologist was able to roast and eat some of these nearly 3000-year-old peanuts!
The Incas had a great deal of respect for their peanut crops and often used peanuts in religious ceremonies. They also used peanut oil to cure jungle diseases. But with the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, Incas and peanuts fell upon hard times. The Spaniards believed peanuts were fit only for animals, children, and slaves. Anyone who appreciated really fine food would never include peanuts on the menu.
Even so, peanuts sailed along with Spanish and Portuguese merchants and
colonists to Europe, Africa, and Asia. About a hundred years later, after an around-the-world journey, peanuts returned to America, North America this time, on the slave ships arriving from Africa.
A hardy plant whose health-giving fruit could be stored for long periods without spoiling, the peanut was still thought of as the food of only humble people and animals. Plantation slaves often cultivated their own peanut patches and shared the roasted treat with the plantation owners' children. But the bulk of the peanut crop was meant for livestock, especially pigs who often dug out their own feed at peanut harvest time.
Humble people and the humblest of plants continued to serve each other throughout the Civil War. Southern soldiers gobbled peanuts when little else was available. Northern soldiers developed a taste for the "new" food and brought home samples. Soon, peanuts became a favorite snack at ball games, circuses, and other places of amusement. They were sold on street corners from New York to San Francisco as well, often by poor immigrants and handicapped peddlers.
Real progress for the peanut began when it rescued much of the South from starvation early in this century. Insects destroyed all cotton crops - the major source of income. At the urging of George Washington Carver, many farmers planted peanuts and reaped abundant harvests. But the path of the peanut has always been wobbly and this time was no exception. The South suddenly had more peanuts than it knew what to do with.
Once again it fell to Dr. Carver to come up with a solution. The gentle genius responded with 300 uses for the peanut, including shaving cream, axle grease, printer's ink, and gasoline. Carver noted that while 100 pounds of cow's milk makes 10 pounds of cheese, 100 pounds of peanut milk can make 35 pounds of cheese. Many of Carver's ideas were not easily put to work, but the publicity alone helped advance the peanut's cause.
Another great step forward came with the invention, of modern farming equipment and new machinery for shelling, cleaning, and preparing peanuts for the market. As the 20th century progressed, peanut production and use grew steadily until today 3,000,000 acres of land around the world are used for growing peanuts.
Peanuts are now found on the menus of the finest restaurants. One elegant dish is "Cream of Peanut Soup." Frozen peanut pie became a favorite airline dessert, while peanut butter sandwiches have flown even higher as high energy food for astronauts. Carter family guests have nibbled on french fried peanuts in the Georgia Governor's Mansion and the White House.
But the peanut is still working hard among the friends of its humbler days. Experiments in the United States, Africa, and Asia have produced low cost foods from the peanut that have saved countless people from starvation. Hungry babies and invalids have grown strong on peanut milk and cheese products, while medicines made from parts of the peanut give hope to sufferers of heart disease and other serious illnesses.
Following the lead of George Washington Carver, scientists from New Orleans to India are at work discovering new uses for the world's peanut crop, as well as developing peanut types that are even more hardy and healthful than those of the past. Modern industry uses peanuts in many ways, including the manufacture of fertilizer, shoe polish, and paper. Even the shells have found a place in industry. A Georgia factory now uses them to produce charcoal, a valuable new fuel much needed as our energy sources run low.
In the rush of publicity surrounding President Carter's campaign, many Americans learned for the first time that peanuts do not grow on trees. In fact, the peanut is not really a nut at all, but a relative of peas and beans. Unlike peas and beans, however, peanuts grow underground. A typical peanut plant grows about eighteen inches tall and produces, very close to the ground, a number of tiny yellow flowers. As each flower fades, a shoot grows outward from its base and burrows underground.
These amazing shoots are called "pegs" and their burrowing process is known as "pegging." Beneath the soil, the tips of the pegs turn sidewards and begin to swell. This is the start of each individual peanut. A single peanut plant may produce over a hundred peanuts.
If you have a large container, good soil, a sunny window, and peanut seed, you can grow your own peanut crop right on your windowsill. Most seed companies offer peanut seed and directions for planting, while cookbooks and other books about peanuts will tell you how to harvest your crop and prepare it in many delicious ways.
On the average, each American eats about nine pounds of peanuts a year. That might not sound like much, but look at it another way. In the United States alone, more than four million pounds of peanuts are eaten every day. They may be roasted or salted, in peanut butter or in candy, in ice cream or in any of hundreds of other treats.
Long an object of scorn or a source of amusement, the humble peanut has finally stepped into the spotlight. As a performer of serious duties, it contributes to the health and pleasure of people around the world. An "overnight success" can be five thousand years in the making!
1. Peanuts seemed to gain "overnight success" ________
2. Peanuts probably' originated _______
3. With the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the Incas and the peanut both __________
4. Northern soldiers brought home samples of peanuts ______
5. Real progress for the peanut began ______
6. As more uses are discovered for' the world's peanut crop, it is likely that _________
7. A great step forward for the peanut came with ______
8. The peanut would probably be of most interest to people with occupations in the field of _____
9. Another name for this selection could be _____
10. This selection is mainly about ______