For­got­ten veg­eta­bles


A closer look at five heir­loom va­ri­eties rarely grown to­day.

Although botan­i­cally clas­si­fied as a legume and be­long­ing to the Fabaceae (bean) fam­ily, the peanut is com­monly treated as a nut be­cause it has a sim­i­lar taste, tex­ture and nu­tri­tional pro­file to tree nuts. The cul­ti­va­tion of peanuts was well es­tab­lished in Me­soamer­ica be­fore the Span­ish ar­rived. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence date pods from a wild species to at least 7600 years ago and de­pic­tions of the nuts ap­pear in the art of the Moche peo­ple of an­cient Peru. Spread by Euro­pean traders to trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal lo­ca­tions around the world, peanuts are now a valu­able crop – 42 mil­lion tonnes of the shelled nuts were grown in 2014.

Peanuts are an an­nual herba­ceous plant that grow 30–50cm tall. Like most legumes, peanuts har­bour ni­tro­gen-fix­ing and soil fer­til­ity-im­prov­ing bac­te­ria in their root nod­ules, mak­ing them a valu­able ro­ta­tion crop. Un­like peanuts bought at a store, which will have been dried be­fore sale, freshly har­vested peanut pods ini­tially feel softer, while the nuts have a crisp, milky tex­ture – hav­ing them at this fresh­est stage is only pos­si­ble if you grow them your­self. Orig­i­nat­ing in Ecuador and cov­ered in strik­ing red and white stripes, the fastigiata pin-striped peanut re­quires pa­tience to grow; from seed I found it takes pretty much all sum­mer. That pa­tience is re­warded when you fi­nally dig up the plants and see the fully de­vel­oped peanut pods hang­ing from the root, not to men­tion when you crack open the shells and see the jewel-like nuts in­side.

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