Archive for October, 2012

Having hiked the 45 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Nelson County last year, I’m starting on the trail as it goes south into Amherst County.  Today I hiked, with Dave Pfeiffer, an 8.5 mile stretch from Salt Log Gap to Route 60 that includes two cleared summits, Tar Jacket Ridge and Cold Mountain, that offer great views in all directions. Most leaves had fallen at the higher elevations, but there was still nice color below.  A beautiful, if somewhat hazy, fall day for a hike.



While Monika and I were in Maryland last weekend, mice apparently found my peanuts curing on screens in the kennel and devoured a substantial proportion of them.  But about three-quarters remained with no or limited damage, and so today I roasted them in the oven.  I shelled the damaged ones and left the rest in their shells.  You spread them on baking sheets and put them in a 350 degree oven: 20 minutes for peanuts in their shells and 25 minutes for shelled peanuts.  (This may seem counter-intuitive, but the air in the shells heats up and cooks them faster.)  It’s important to let the peanuts cool completely before eating–only then do they become crisp and exhibit their full roasted flavor.  They were yummy!

To make peanut butter, I put one cup of shelled peanuts and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a food processor.  While processing, I added about two tablespoons of  vegetable oil and about a tablespoon of honey.  The result was  the most tasty peanut butter we’ve ever had!

Spy Rock on the Appalachian Trail nearby remains my favorite local walk, with a 360 degree panorama, almost all wilderness and mountains.  Autumn foliage wasn’t quite at its peak, but the colors were still nice.


This year I tried out two distinctively Southern crops I’d never grown before: cowpeas and peanuts.  Cowpeas, also known as southern peas, were brought to the American south by enslaved Africans.  They come in many varieties, the most well-known being black-eyed peas.  They have a high protein content and are easy to grow.  Being a legume, an added benefit is that they fix nitrogen in the soil.  I chose to grow a variety from Baker Creek called Six Week Purple-Hull Cowpea.  A package of seeds produced about five cups of dry beans.  A great thing about cowpeas is that if you just leave them on the plant until the pods are dry, they’re pretty much instantly ready for storage.  This one has a particularly nice buttery and nutty taste.


Peanuts originated in South America; the Spanish encountered them first in what is today Mexico.  It’s been surprising to me how many people don’t know that peanuts grow mainly underground–I learned this early living in Tanzania, where peanuts are known as groundnuts.  The nuts grow mostly underground on string-like tethers from the many branches of the plant.  They take at least four months to mature, but they are heat and drought tolerant.  To harvest, one loosens the plant with a pitchfork and then pulls it out.  A single plant can have 50-70 peanuts, although some may have considerably less.  You leave the nuts on the plant to begin drying for a few days, then remove them and dry them on a screen for about three weeks.   After all the nuts have been cured, roasted peanuts and homemade peanut butter are on the agenda!

Of course, the classic crop of Southern planters, from colonial days well into the twentieth century, was tobacco, which devastates the soil, quite apart from its other pernicious effects.  Decaying tobacco barns still dot the countryside here, but Nelson County is happily making an agricultural transition to healthier and more varied harvests.  Just today we bought a quart of sorghum molasses at the annual Sorghum-making festival down the road, and a bushel of Fuji apples at a nearby orchard!

Sorghum stalks being fed into press;
the resulting juice  is then boiled down