WILLIAMSBURG — There are few foods as synonymous with Hampton Roads as Virginia Peanuts. The legumes grown here are so delicious that they are world renown. To parlay off of the beloved plant, Colonists made a dish called “Cream of Peanut Soup.” But what is this concoction? Today, we will take a deeper look into the history of this Historic Triangle favorite.
The Virginia Peanut
Virginia Peanuts, as they are formally called, are not actually native to the Commonwealth. Historians and scientists surmise that they actually came to the “New World” from South America; particularly Peru or Brazil. It was there that the plant was grown by the indigenous people for more than two millennia.
When Spanish and Portuguese explorers and traders came into contact with the continent, this is when the Virginia Peanut began its journey. The plant was taken to places like Europe, Mexico, and Africa.
How did it reach Virginia, though?
Like many other things, the peanut came back to North America’s East Coast alongside African slaves. In the early 18th century, the legume came back across the ocean and was planted in Colonial Virginia, given its ability to grow plentiful in the rich soil located in our area.
Initially, peanuts were eaten not by people, but used as feed for animals. Eventually, they would be recognized as a delicious, protein-rich treat loved around the world. According to the website for Visit Virginia, the specific and distinct variety grown in the Commonwealth make up for 15 percent of total peanut production in the United States and are grown across 26,000 acres in Virginia.
Cream of Peanut Soup
For non-Virginians, the idea of a peanut soup may seem peculiar. However, this doesn’t stop visitors and residents alike from rolling the dice and trying it out at one of the area’s fine restaurants and Colonial Williamsburg taverns.
When King’s Arms Tavern opened in the heart of the Colonial Capitol in 1772, Jane Vobe added her signature “Cream of Peanut Soupe” to its menu. With its nutty and sweet onion flavor, it became a staple for tavern patrons.
Despite its popularity locally, peanut soup didn’t really hit its stride until after the Civil War. Union soldiers who experienced the southeastern Virginia dish took the flavor-filled recipe home with them. As peanuts and peanut butter became staples in the American household during the twentieth century, so did peanut soup.
It is now served in restaurants not just around the Historic Triangle, but also fine dining establishments across the country. Not too shabby for a humble plant that started its life in Colonial Virginia as animal feed!
Where Can I Find a Recipe for Peanut Soup?
If you don’t live in Williamsburg and don’t have a restaurant that serves it near you, cooking it at home may be your best bet between visits to the Historic Triangle.
There are a variety of recipes available online. Below is a compiled list of some to check out, with each having its own little twist to the core recipe:
- The King’s Arms Tavern Peanut Soup Recipe on Food.com
- Ginger Peanut Soup from the Williamsburg Farmers Market
- Cream of Peanut Soup from the “Old Farmer’s Almanac”
- Southern Peanut Soup from the Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Peanuts
If you are in the Historic Triangle, make sure to check out one of the restaurants in the area that has the local favorite dish on its menu, including where it all began at King’s Arms Tavern located at 416 E. Duke of Gloucester St. in Colonial Williamsburg.