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Chasing the Carolina African Runner Peanut

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Chasing the Carolina African Runner Peanut
Text by Alexis Dorman and photos by David Shields and Andrew Cebulka

My mother’s go-to cure for anything that ails me—fatigue, headache, nausea—is that I “need to eat something.”

For me, the Southern staple I could eat any time of day is boiled peanuts. I’ve had my fair share of undercooked and over-salted, but once I get my hands on the right batch, it’s hard for me to stop. So when I heard that the Carolina African Runner peanut had been rediscovered and harvested for the first time in half a century, I was immediately intrigued.

The Carolina African Runner was introduced in the 17th century and became the first peanut cultivated in North America. It not only emerged as the favored peanut for eating, but was also the foundation for a successful oil extraction industry during the Civil War. Thought to have become extinct around the 1950s, two types of the Carolina African Runner breed were recently discovered, having been maintained in a freezer by North Carolina State University. This was huge news for Dr. David Shields, the McClintock professor of Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina, and Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills. They spent five years searching for this peanut as part of their effort to bring old Southern ingredients back into homes and gardens.

The African Runner is among great company in a list of antebellum edibles, such as the Bradford Watermelon and the Sea Island Red Peas, a pea whose heritage and revival Managing editor Allston McCrady delves into in “Saving Sapelo.”

But back to the peanut: researchers planted a batch of the African Runner in May 2013 and predicted the first commercial crop to be available within a few years, meaning keep your eyes peeled.

I know I am not alone in my longing for a first taste; boiled, juicy, and salted just right!