Friday, May 4, 2012

Colonial Williamsburg's Cream of Peanut Soup

Every year, millions of people visit Colonial Williamsburg's recreation of 18th-century Virginia for an unparalleled experience of glimpsing America's pre-revolutionary past. Williamsburg's rich cultural heritage encompasses not only its beautiful colonial architecture, exquisite gardens and period ambiance, but also the area's delicious colonial cuisine from stews and soups to puddings and pies. Several taverns still serve this historic food today, where guests can sample Cream of Peanut Soup, Apple Tansey, Parsnip Puffs, Fish Muddle, Salmagundy and other period southern dishes. Years ago, my parents took our family to Virginia and Colonial Williamsburg for a summer holiday, and they still fondly recall the Peanut Soup we enjoyed at The King's Arms Tavern.

The Kings Arms Tavern - home to 'Creamy Peanut Soupe'

Jane Vobe opened the King’s Arms in 1772, and the tavern quickly became one of the town’s more genteel establishments. Among the many colonial recipes she served, one was her signature Creamy Peanut Soupe. Peanuts arrived in Virginia via the slave trade. Along with black-eyed peas, yams and other crops, peanuts were intended for consumption by enslaved Africans during their passage to the New World, which they continued to use in a variety of foods, including soups. The Kings Arms still features Mrs Vobe's Peanut Soupe which is garnished with roasted peanuts and sippets. Sippets? A sippet is a small piece of toast served as a garnish. You learn something new every day.

The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook

I also learned that during the Civil War, Union troops fighting in the south discovered that peanuts were a fortifying and tasty source of protein, and since then peanuts became a staple crop in the south. During the 18th century, half of Williamsburg’s population was black, and with them came their traditional recipe for peanut soup. With overwhelming interest in this and other traditional recipes of the era, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation published The Colonial Williamsburg Tavern Cookbook a few years agoWith great pleasure, I'm publishing the King’s Arms Tavern recipe from the cookbook, with hope that this brings back fond memories for my parents and others who have ever visited Colonial Williamsburg and enjoyed its traditional southern cuisine.

Cream of Peanut Soup
Serves 10-12
Recipe courtesy of King's Arms Tavern, Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
3 tbsp flour
8 cups Chicken Stock
2 cups smooth peanut butter
1 3/4 cups light cream or half-and-half
1 tsp hot pepper sauce (optional)
Finely chopped salted peanuts, for garnish

In a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until softened, three-five minutes. Stir in flour and cook two minutes longer.

Pour in the chicken stock, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Pour into a sieve set over a large bowl and strain, pushing hard on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Return the liquid to the sauce pan or pot.

Whisk the peanut butter and the cream into the liquid. Warm over low heat, whisking often, for about five minutes. Do not boil. Serve warm, garnished with the chopped peanuts.