Our recently-concluded The Hunt Club contest called upon Voracious readers to find 10 esoteric edibles somewhere in Seattle. This week, we'll look more closely at a few of the listed items - and tell you where our top scavenger hunter found them.
When Henry Wansey toured the United States in 1794, he stuffed his suitcase full of peanuts as a New World souvenir. But when he served the sophisticated snack to house guests back in England, he was startled to learn his friend had already encountered peanuts in China.
Peanuts are a well-traveled legume. European explorers made their acquaintance in the Caribbean, where they were eaten primarily by bachelors, children and slaves. The peanuts had "a very mediocre taste and little substance," Gonzalo Fernandez De Oveido explained in a manuscript quoted by Andrew F. Smith, author of Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea. But Spaniards exported them anyhow, carrying them on ships to the Philippines and Indonesia. The Portuguese - who discovered peanuts in Brazil, not far from the legume's Peruvian birthplace - took peanuts to Africa, where the nutritious, hardy legume fed the nation's sailors stationed along the coast. And when slavers sailed to North America, they brought the peanuts back.
"Slave ships coming to America were provisioned with peanuts, and it was through the slave trade that peanuts were introduced into what is now the United States," Smith writes.
Although there's no documentary evidence of peanut soups being served in 18th century America, Smith believes the slave diet would have included peanut soups, mushes and stews, perhaps styled after the tomato-based soups popular in central Africa or a Sudanese soup made with lamb bones, garlic and rice.
"Peanuts were certainly eaten by slaves before they were eaten by whites," says Frank Clark, who oversees the historic foodways program at Colonial Williamsburg, which for decades has served peanut soup to guests of the museum's King's Arms Tavern - despite the dish being a culinary anachronism.
"If you'd come to an 18th-century tavern, it's very unlikely you'd have encountered peanut soup there," Clark says.
Still, the soup - which marks many northerners' first introduction to creamy peanuts in a bowl - will stay on the menu, since Colonial Williamsburg is obliged to honor its own history as well as the record of what occurred during the Colonial era. Staff chefs recently prepared the iconic soup at the James Beard House.
Although it's unclear exactly how peanuts evolved from a food seen as fit for slaves and pigs to a food approved by Anglo-American tastemakers, Sarah Rutledge included a peanut soup recipe in her 1847 cookbook Carolina Housewife. Clark says the recipe, which calls for two teaspoons of flour, a pint of oysters and a pint of water, is "done like a seafood stew."
The popularity of peanut soup surged domestically after the Civil War, during which Confederate soldiers introduced their Union counterparts to the legume. The increased availability of peanut butter also helped. In Germany, a doctor praised cheap, albumen-rich peanut soup as the perfect "article of food for the corpulent, for diabetics and for subjects of kidney disease."
Peanut soup continues to be consumed worldwide by eaters who aren't sick or enslaved. There are canonical peanut soups in Ghana, Thailand, Bolivia and dozens of other countries, many examples of which can be found in Seattle.
Finding peanut soup in Seattle