on the hunt for peanut soup

Cornelius found Rosalyn Carter’s recipe for Peanut Soup in this book.

I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t serve up an extra special peanut butter recipe this month. With winter nipping at our heels and holiday stress rearing its ugly head, only one thing will do: SOUP! Hearty, comforting peanut soup!

(photo of King’s Arms Tavern via history.org)
King’s Arms Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup

I had my first bowl of peanut soup at King’s Arms Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg back in the early 80’s. For our first Christmas in Virginia, it was positively magical savoring spoonfuls of rich creamy broth in a firelit 18th century dining room. I remember thinking it was odd to have soup made from peanuts, then being pleasantly surprised at the marvelous flavor.

I just learned this Southern favorite probably wouldn’t have been on the menu back in the 18th century. Peanut soups, mushes and stews were likely part of the slave diet, but peanuts would not gain national acceptance as something more than animal feed or simple fare until after the Civil War. Still, Jefferson did raise peanuts at Monticello, and Washington liked peanut soup enough to eat it daily as a first course.

Cornelius found the King’s Arms Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup recipe in this book.

The earliest peanut soups prepared in this country were probably more stew-like; slave recipes may have been styled after tomato-based soups popular in central Africa or a Sudanese soup made with lamb bones, garlic and rice. Sarah Rutledge’s version (Carolina Housewife, 1847) included oysters.

Wanting to make a dairy-free recipe that wasn’t quite as rich as the one served at King’s Arms Tavern (it calls for almost two cups of cream), I set Cornelius to the task of finding another peanut soup recipe we could eat as a main course.

He was partial to the Teddy Bears & Peanut Soup book, which includes a handful of First Lady recipes, but we decided to nix Rosalyn Carter’s recipe for something with fresh ingredients (hers calls for adding 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter to condensed cream of chicken soup and milk).

While pawing through Jane Brody’s Good Food Book (W.W. Norton & Co., 1980), he found “Peanut Butter-Vegetable Chicken Soup.” Aha! Lots of veggies and no cream! So I played sous chef, chopping, slicing and dicing, while Cornelius supervised. (In my next life, I will have a cadre of trained sous chefs resembling George Clooney, Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Bob Dylan.)

Prep work is all the work in a made-from-scratch soup, unless you’re a purist and insist on making your own chicken stock. We used cartoned organic unsalted chicken broth and were happy with the results. In her headnote, Jane mentions the original recipe was devised by a newsletter for consumers and health professionals called Environmental Nutrition (I’ve since seen it posted at several recipe websites).

After cooking the chicken, potatoes and carrots in the broth for about 10 minutes, I added all the chopped veggies, simmered for another 8 minutes, and finally stirred in the peanut butter, parsley, and seasonings. Easy peasy!

It did feel a little strange adding a cup of peanut butter to a pot of soup. However, the color and consistency of the finished soup reminded me of miso soup, which makes perfect sense since soybeans, like peanuts, are legumes.:)

So, if you’ve got a resident bear who’d rather sous chef than supervise, or if you’re expecting George, Paul, Bob or James to drop by anytime soon, plan to make this soup! While you’re slurping at leisure, you can marvel at the well-traveled peanut, first grown in South America, taken by Portuguese traders to West Africa, then brought to North America via slave ships. Thanks to George Washington Carver, we know about the peanut’s gazillion cool uses, in and out of the kitchen. But do you think he could have ever predicted peanut butter inspiring so many interesting poems?:)

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PEANUT BUTTER-VEGETABLE CHICKEN SOUP

8 cups chicken broth (if broth is salty, use only 4 cups broth, the rest water)
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup peeled and diced potatoes
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini (do not peel)
1 cup broccoli or cauliflower florets
1 cup tomatoes (fresh or canned), chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)
1 cup peanut butter, preferably natural smooth
1 T minced fresh parsley or 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Salt, if desired, to taste

1. In a large stock pot, combine the broth, chicken, potatoes, and carrots. Bring the soup to a boil, and cook it over medium heat until the vegetables are nearly tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add the zucchini, broccoli or cauliflower, tomatoes, celery, onion, green pepper, and garlic. Simmer the soup for about 8 minutes.

3. Add the peanut butter, parsley, pepper, and salt, stirring the soup until the peanut butter is fully blended. Simmer the soup for 3 minutes longer.

4. Enjoy with some warm, buttered crusty bread. Hits the spot after a long day of holiday shopping.:)

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weekend cooking buttonThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts (fiction/nonfiction/cookbook/movie reviews, recipes, musings, photos, etc.). I smell delicious butter rolls baking!

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Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

42 thoughts on “on the hunt for peanut soup

  1. Oh, I love peanut soup! You used to be able to get it at Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria (is that still there?) and here in Fredericksburg at Smith’s Tavern, which was turned into Pinkadilly Tea Room a few years ago. We love the tea room but I miss the peanut soup from the old place.

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    1. Gadsby’s is still there, and I think they still serve peanut soup! The Hotel Roanoke is also famous for their peanut soup (served with spoon bread).

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  2. I love that there are added ingredients, too, Jama. You would be hired immediately at my house for chopping! This looks so good, perhaps a good recipe to try on a very cold winter’s day. I love the look of both those cookbooks, too!

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    1. Thanks, Linda — I’d like to have someone else do the chopping in my kitchen:). The Teddy Bears & Peanut Soup book is not a cookbook — but a fun compilation of presidential trivia. There’s a small section in the back with about a half dozen recipes from First Ladies. The Williamsburg Cookbook has some nice historic recipes in it — love the spoonbread.

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  3. Thanks for this fascinating post, Jama. I had no idea that peanut soup would not have been served at the taverns in 18th century (and I used to work at Chownings in Colonial Williamsburg). Your peanut soup looks yummy!

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    1. I was surprised to learn that too, Mary. That was the opinion of Frank Clark, who oversees the historic foodways program at Colonial Williamsburg. He claims there’s no documentary evidence of peanut soup being served in 18th century America.

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  4. Jama:
    I have never tasted peanut soup before but your recipe looks delicious. I might have to try it for one of my book club meetings. All the books look wonderful. Thanks so much for another informative and fun post.
    Margie

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      1. I told my mom about it and she said she’s actually had peanut soup! She said she went to school with a man from Ghana, Africa and he made peanut soup. She didn’t think she’d like it, but she did!

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  5. What fun Jama. Thank you.
    Williamsburg is the most delightful place during the holidays. The decorations, the smells, the chill in the air, the roaring fire places. Thanks for the memories.

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    1. We have very fond memories of our first Williamsburg Christmas — as you say, the decorations are just gorgeous. They inspired me to try making a few fresh wreaths myself. The cranberry one was especially challenging . . .

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  6. This sounds awesome. I have that Jane Brody book (have had it since the 80s!) but never made this soup. I’ll have to try it with sunbutter; I bet it ill taste great.

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    1. I’ve had the book for ages too. I think the “high carbohydrates” in the title may be offputting for some — which is a shame, because her emphasis is on whole foods, fresh ingredients, and none of the recipes I’ve made seem to fall into the category of unhealthy. They’ve all been delicious — I especially like the vegetable curry. Just goes to show how cooking/dieting trends change and what aspects are touted during certain decades to maximize sales.

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  7. I have been on the hunt for a peanut soup myself lately. I tried one that was really good once, but I also has some bad ones. Now I think I have found a keeper with the ginger squash and peanut soup I made recently. It is so nice when you find a recipe that works! I love the pictures BTW.

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  8. I also have Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. I’ve loved it to pieces (literally, it’s in two halves, held together with a rubber band), but I haven’t tried this soup.

    I’ve been making squash and sweet potato soups this fall with peanut butter and some hot spices, borrowing from recipes that claim this combination is from Africa. From the history you describe, this seems plausible. They’re yummy!

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    1. Yes, that’s probably true. Roots in Africa! My Jane Brody Cookbook is falling apart too — a good sign of being well used and loved.:)

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  9. I have a very different opinion of peanut butter soup! My mother made it way back when I was a kid-she fancied herself a gourmet cook but somehow this recipe did NOT turn out; it was horrible! I don’t know if she left something out or what but I can still remember how tasteless the soup was. I still have a hard time imagining that your soup might be good because of this flashback but I should really retry the whole peanut soup deal. Thanks for making me smile.

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  10. I once made a traditional Filipino oxtail stew that has peanut butter in it [Kare Kare] for my husband’s family–which, looking back, was very brave of me since it was for not only my husband’s parents but some of his aunt’s and uncles, too–all of them first generation immigrants to the US so who was I to think I could cook an authentic dish for them on the first try?! I was very lucky to have had a good recipe because it was a hit. But would you believe I couldn’t bring myself to taste it? It just seemed so unusual. That was years ago, and now I love peanut butter in savory dishes.. so I should try your recipe for sure!

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    1. You’re a brave and adventurous cook! I’ve had oxtail stew before but not with PB in it. I would think for the average person, it would be harder to get over eating oxtails than PB, but to have both in the same dish!

      I’m surprised you didn’t even taste your soup, especially after everyone else liked it. The thought of PB in soup does give one pause — but as I said, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not overpowering, just adds a different, indefinable flavor.

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