Friday, March 28, 2014

A Tribute to George Washington Carver - the Plant Doctor, the Peanut Man

"Where there is no vision, there is no hope." – George Washington Carver

When someone does good work, it's worth acknowledging the person and the work again and again. Many months ago, I decided that Mookie's Food Odyssey would award its version of a Blue Ribbon to those with particular panache in the world of food. The first one goes to the late George Washington Carver (1864-1943).

Here's why. Not only did Carver come up with over 300 uses for the peanut–and every part of it, from fats, to oils, gums, resins and sugars–he also developed 100 uses for the sweet potato, and he worked with Henry Ford to derive an alternative fuel from soybeans! Hybrid-car drivers, please thank this man. Pioneering and persistent, Carver even attracted the likes of Thomas Edison, but "The Plant Doctor" said his services were needed elsewhere.

The nickname the "Peanut Man" is perhaps most useful for young history students. The designation "Plant Doctor" gives us even more information about Carver; this name is at the heart of who he was. He grew up an orphan and was often too ill for the more strenuous household chores, so he began taking care of the plants. He was so skilled in horticulture that his neighbors began to bring him sick plants which he would nurse back to health. And what was local, Carver made more global. Via his Jessup Agricultural Wagon, a moveable laboratory, he traveled the rural South educating farmers about sustainability. He encouraged crop rotation to conserve nutrients in the soil. What's more, he convinced many farmers to stop planting cotton–cotton requires extraordinary amounts of water–and to cultivate peanuts instead. And in this way he encouraged a departure, however slight, from the cotton industry which had effectively held the farming-South hostage.

Carver, who earned a master's degree in horticulture, was a scientist, a painter, a crocheter, and a pianist, among other things. He was a folk hero, even. You might say he encouraged a form of peace during wartime since U.S. soldiers began eating peanuts for sustenance as early as the 1860s. And soldiers of both World Wars continued to eat the legume.

Finally, although Carver may not have invented peanut butter all on his own, he certainly expedited the process by his repeated experiments in making peanuts spreadable. Peanut butter made its official debut at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, a few hundred miles from where Carver was born in the town of Diamond. 

For his progressive moves in the food world, bravo to Mr. Carver!

Now, let's eat.

Here's his personal Peanut Brownie recipe:

2 eggs
2 squares chocolate
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup melted butter
1/8 cup coarsely ground peanuts

Mix and bake in shallow pan in a quick oven*; garnish the top with nuts; cut in squares.

*What's a quick oven, you ask? 
I think the missing steps in the recipe indicate that he has faith in you. Go forth and bake. 



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