South America is the native home of the peanut and sailed with Portuguese explorers to Africa before coming to Virginia during the 1600s. It’s believed peanuts were planted in gardens throughout Virginia and then spread to the other colonies. In 1794, Thomas Jefferson recorded the yield of sixty-five peanut hills at Monticello. Colonial cooks created their unique versions of peanut soup—a creamy and nourishing soup made from “groundnuts” and passed down through families for generations.

My family has roots going back to the days of Colonial Virginia. Now as an adult, I can understand why we often had Virginia Peanut Soup at our Thanksgiving table when I was growing up. Peanut soup is easy to make and my mother usually put it together early in the day as a warm-up to the big Thanksgiving meal. I remember sipping bits of steaming peanut soup, with green onions or chopped peanuts sprinkled across the top, to warm me up when it was cold outside. The smooth texture and nutty aroma make it the perfect beginning for a family gathering or as a leftover all by itself the next day.

I’d like to share our family’s recipe, taken from “Peanut Soup and Spoonbread: An Informal History of Hotel Roanoke.” You can find adaptions of this recipe still served on menus across Virginia and the U.S. today.

Peanut Soup

Makes eight servings

¼ cup butter

1 small onion, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

3 Tbsp. flour

2 quarts chicken broth

2 cups peanut butter

½ cup ground peanuts

1/3 tsp. celery salt

1 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and celery. Sauté until translucent, but not browned, about five minutes. Stirring constantly, sprinkle flour over.  Cook and stir until golden. Stir in broth and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and strain.  Stir in peanut butter, celery salt, salt and lemon juice. Sprinkle with peanuts just before serving.

For a Colonial preparation, omit peanut butter. Soak one pound unsalted, shelled, roasted peanuts in cold water overnight. Drain and rub off the thin outer skin. In a food processor or blender, process peanuts and three Tbsp. sugar until paste forms. Add same amount as for peanut butter, above.