The delicious aroma of homegrown peanuts slowly roasting in the kitchen on a chilly afternoon transports Joyce Hanzelka and Beverly Freeman back in time. The Texas natives, one who still lives on a farm and the other now an urban dweller, recall treasured autumn peanut rituals.
A peanut crib of memories
When Beverly Freeman of Sugar Land, Texas, was growing up, she looked forward to her mother’s annual fall announcement.
“We need to go down to your grandma’s and pick peanuts. It’s time to make your daddy some peanut brittle,” Mrs. Lou Ila Clute would say.
That’s how the mother-daughter annual pilgrimage to the peanut crib began.
Beverly’s grandparents, Leonard and Minnie Neyland, lived on 240 acres of rolling farmland about 10 miles down a sandy lane near Marquez, Texas. They were farmers in the truest sense ˗ working from before sunrise until dark to grow all of the family’s food, as well as commercial crops of watermelons, cotton and cattle.
The long hot summers and sandy soil on the Neyland’s farm were perfect for growing peanuts and they usually had a bumper crop. The peanut patch at the back of their vegetable garden was just big enough to supply the needs of the extended family for the winter.
“Granddaddy harvested the peanuts by hand. Using a pitchfork, he loosened the earth around a plant. Then he pulled the entire bush from the ground with the peanuts attached.
“After shaking the dirt off, he hung the bushes in the barn to dry for a few days. He stored them in a little wooden building called a peanut crib,” Beverly says.
Mid-November sights and scents
“The crib was usually so full that I had to climb up the side of the building, using the hand-hewn logs as a ladder. I’d crawl through an opening near the roof and jump into the soft cushion of the plants.
“Mother, who always wore a dress, didn’t think entering that way was very ladylike, so I would pull enough plants away from the door for her to squeeze in and climb up to the top with me,” she recalls.
“I can still visualize the dusty, drying plants and fresh peanuts.”
The peanuts were at the perfect stage for eating raw, and Beverly admits to stuffing herself while filling her tin bucket. When her mother was satisfied that they had a sufficient amount, Beverly would lower the full bucket down and make her way out of the crib the same way she had entered.
A special fall treat
“From then on in the fall, we ate peanuts raw, roasted and boiled, but our favorite was Mother’s homemade peanut brittle.
“I loved to watch her as she mixed the sugar, water and corn syrup in a huge, heavy skillet on the stove. She stirred harder and harder as the mixture thickened and then added the peanuts. Mom never owned a candy thermometer; she knew by instinct when the temperature was perfect.
In her mind’s eye, Beverly can see her mother pulling the pot from the stove and adding the baking soda. She stirred quickly as the mixture foamed, adding salt and butter at just the right time.
Waiting was so hard!
“Mom would pour the steaming candy onto a buttered cookie sheet to cool. The aroma was amazing.”
For the next couple of hours, Beverly checked back regularly because it was her job to break the golden brittle into small pieces. She admits that more than a few tiny pieces of the golden sweetness melted in her mouth.
“I can still taste it!” Beverly adds.
If you’d like to make your own peanut brittle memories, here’s the recipe that Beverly’s mother wrote out many years ago.
Peanuts don’t grow on trees
Beverly says people are often surprised to learn that peanuts, sometimes called goobers, are not nuts at all. They are legumes related to peas and beans. Peanut plants are unique because their flowers grow aboveground while the pods containing the seeds grow in the soil.
For old time’s sake
“Joe and I only produce enough peanuts now for our own use,” Joyce Hanzelka explains. “But when I was growing up near Swiss Alp, Texas, my dad sowed about 50 to 60 acres to peanuts on our farm and other acreage that he rented.”
Even back then, she looked forward to the annual harvest. In fact, Joyce couldn’t wait!
Watch out for those green peanuts
“Mama would take me to the field with her when she helped my dad. I’d sit by the auger and eat the green peanuts out of the washtub she was filling.
“Let me tell you, green peanuts will give you a stomachache!”
Joyce always liked picking peanuts more than gathering corn or picking cotton.
“Maybe it was because the days were cooler and it was the fall of the year,” she says. “Our peanuts were ready in late September or early October.”
Joyce still enjoys raising a peanut crop in their garden at Weimar, Texas. Although Joe didn’t grow up planting peanuts, he has become an avid grower, as well.
The Hanzelkas dig the peanuts in their garden patch by hand. Then they wait patiently just as Joyce’s father did.
Back in the day
“Years ago, Daddy would plow the peanuts out and let them dry a little before we went up and down the rows using a pitchfork to gather them in small piles. Then four of us, two working on either side of the rows, would fork the small piles onto the trailer that Daddy pulled with the tractor.
“The next step was to thresh the peanuts to separate the peanuts from the straw. The peanuts filled burlap sacks and the straw went into a pile to be baled.”
Once sacked, the Fillips hauled the peanuts home and stored them in the barn to dry. To hasten the process, in days to come they would drag the sacks outside to take advantage of the fall sunshine and lower humidity.
“If a stray rain shower came through we had to move fast to move them back inside because we didn’t want to get them wet.”
31 miles was a long trip
When Joyce’s dad was satisfied that the peanuts were ready to market, the family would load the sacks on the trailer. Then they’d head out to a peanut wholesaler in Giddings, Texas, 31 miles away.
“That was quite a load for that old pickup.
“I always remember when the man from at the wholesale company would slash the sacks to test the peanuts for moisture content, which set the price. Daddy would cringe,” Joyce adds.
The only time Joyce remembers her dad varying his harvesting method was in 1961. Hurricane Carla dropped so much rain on the Swiss Alp community that Mr. Fillip couldn’t get in the fields without getting his tractor stuck. That year, the Fillip family hand dug all their peanuts wearing rubber boots.
Heirloom seed eventually played out
For more than 50 years, Joyce and Joe grew peanuts from her dad’s seed. When it eventually stopped producing well, they ordered packages of runner, Virginia and Spanish peanuts from a seed catalog.
Joyce says not only does each variety look different it tastes different, too.
Joyce and Joe conclude that growing peanuts is like any other crop. Until it is harvested, you can’t count on the final yield.
Texas peanuts in the big picture
Ranking second in U.S production, Texas farmers typically grow between 165,000 to 190,000 acres of peanuts. AGRILIFE The greatest part of the Texas crop are produced within 90 miles of Lubbock, 491 miles north of Joyce and Joe’s farm.
In Fayette County where Joyce grew up, commercial peanut crops are a thing of the past.
“There are no reported acres of commercial peanuts growing here now,” says Scott Willey, Texas A&M AgriLife County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources in La Grange.
“If you hear of some, I’d like to know,” he adds.
For Joyce and Beverly, the memories of peanut harvests always will be near and dear to their hearts.
I can almost smell the aroma of roasting peanuts! How about you?
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I never knew how they grew until now!
Isn’t it great to truthfully say we learn something new every day! Thanks for writing.
Peanuts were the last crop of each year in our home garden. The plants were put in the mulch pit to help with their rich nitrogen addition. My daddy and I will pick the peanuts with our back toward the house. This way we could eat some without my mom seeing us. If she did, we would get a scolding about raw peanuts causing a stomach ache. Your story took me back to my happy memories of growing up and my mom and dad. Thank you.
I enjoyed your comment, Gesine. I can just picture you and your dad digging the peanuts and sneaking a few – for quality control purposes only of course! Do Joyce’s comments make you want to plant some peanuts in your garden next year?
What an interesting story. I love how these ladies recall their childhoods, helping their parents and grandparents on the farms, in vivid detail. Would love some peanuts right now. Yumm. Thanks for the read, Elaine.
Thanks, Rhonda. It would, indeed, be a great day to have peanuts roasting in the oven. Comfort food deluxe!
My dad grew many crops of peanuts in Fayette County and when he couldn’t, my husband Raymond, whose father raised peanuts in Lee County, took over until it wasn’t profitable. The tractors and machines did all the hard work and we no longer sacked the peanuts. We would take them to the same location in Giddings to be ‘dried’ before we sold. Most of ours were Spanish peanuts and the ones we planted were for next years seeds.
Yes green peanuts give one bad stomach ache, had many of those.
Even though we didn’t sack anymore, it was a dirty job.
I believe when the buyer in Giddings quit and sold out, lots of the older guys new that the peanut would not come back in this area.
I think he gets peanuts in shells that you can buy if you want to roast.
My mom roasted many and then my dad after she pasted away.
Ann, thanks so much for sharing your memories about growing peanuts. Yes, it seems the peanut is a crop that has virtually disappeared from Central Texas. It would be a good day to roast some! I bet the freshly grown peanuts that had time to dry out were delicious!
A very interesting story! My family did not grow peanuts, but we did make peanut brittle for the Christmas holidays. Mama also made pink peanut patties, but the brittle was my favorite. My daddy eventually became the peanut brittle maker. I still use their tried and true recipe. Yum!
Deb, isn’t peanut brittle a treat? Emil’s Dad was a huge fan on the pink peanut patties and we like them too. Hope you pull out this recipe soon. I bet one batch isn’t enough! I really appreciate your thoughts.
What an interesting and great story! We drive by Joe and Joyce’s place on the way to our farm to check cows. Now I know what is in their beautiful garden this time of year.
So neat that a little bit of the peanut tradition keeps going for them. I might have to stop by for a sample!
Rabbit, of course you’ll have to time your visit so the peanuts aren’t green anymore! You wouldn’t want to bring on a stomachache… Thanks for your kind words.
I love your stories and the memories you share with us. I grew up on a farm in Indiana, no peanuts there. But I’ve always loved peanut butter!
Martha, now you know more about how peanut butter landed up on your toast! Thanks for writing.
Hi Elaine, enjoyed reading of the peanut harvests. I remember Dad planting a row or two of peanuts when I was young just for our experience and use. Dad plowed them up with a tractor but after that it was “hands on”. I grew up with Joyce, went to school with her and probably even rode the bus with her but I was not aware of her family’s peanut harvest. That was very interesting. I see Joyce and Joe from time to time and we always have fun reminicing about the days gone by. We had so much in common.
Hope everyone is well.
Irene, how nice to hear from you. I am delighted to hear that the old-time fall peanut harvest is a memory that is near and dear to so many hearts! In my mind’s eye, I can see you and your brother walking along behind your Dad as he plowed up the rows with a mission. Isn’t it interesting that the practice seems to have tailed off in recent times? Thanks so much for sharing this recent memory and I’ll print out your message for Joe and Joyce!
I loved reading this story. It was great learning about the growing and harvesting of peanuts and even more wonderful to read the family stories related to this crop. Until now, all my thoughts of peanuts went to ball games, the circus, peanut brittle, and those yummy sandwiches. Now when I make my mother’s peanut brittle recipe, I will add the stories of Beverly and Joyce to the nostalgia I feel as I stir! Many thanks for their stories and for your wonderful writing, Elaine.
Thank you, Carolyn, for writing! I was just speaking to an elderly Fayette County man at Round Top who has several rows of peanuts in this garden. I’m glad that all the peanut memories that have been shared will make your Mom’s recipe even sweeter.
What a wonderful story. I never knew how peanuts grew.
Thanks, Klazina! Glad you found the post informative.
A great style of writing! You have shared some ideas I am would like to try. Charles Mazac
Glad you liked the story, Charles. Thanks.