Harvesting & Preserving Peanuts
by National Gardening Association Editors
Inspect your peanut plants every couple of days as harvest time approaches. Check plants in different parts of the row to determine if the pods directly under the main part of the plant are ready to harvest.
Prior to harvesting, the plants start to lose their green color and the leaves turn yellow. This happens because the kernels need the plant's food supply for their own growth. Inspect a few pods. The veins inside the mature pods should be a dark color, and the peanut skins will be papery thin and light pink. When the majority of plants are mature, start digging.
If you harvest peanuts before they've ripened, the pods will contain shriveled kernels. If they're harvested too late, many pods will break off in the soil and never be found.
Keep in mind when harvesting peanuts that the soil should be neither too wet nor too dry. In either extreme you might lose some of the nuts.The best way to harvest peanuts is by slowly prying up the whole plant with a pitchfork or shovel. Once the plant is out of the ground, gently shake off the loose soil, then place the plant, peanuts facing upward, in a warm, shaded spot with good air circulation. If weather conditions permit, leave the harvested plants exposed for two to three weeks, allowing the moisture content of the peanuts to drop.
In a couple of weeks, when the plant leaves become dry and crumbly, pull the nuts off the plants and they're ready for storage.
Unshelled peanuts keep approximately nine months under refrigeration. When frozen at 0° F or lower in airtight containers, they keep indefinitely.
Shelled peanuts keep approximately three months when refrigerated. They keep indefinitely when frozen (blanched and unsalted). To blanch raw, shelled peanuts before freezing, place them in boiling water for three minutes; cool in ice water three minutes, drain, package and label.
If you prefer the flavor of skinless peanuts, you can easily slip the skins off with your fingers after blanching, roasting or toasting the nuts.
You can store peanuts up to two months after harvesting before roasting. Roasting crisps the nuts and brings out their flavor. To roast peanuts, spread shelled or unshelled nuts on a baking sheet or in a wire basket, and bake them in a 300° F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If roasting unshelled nuts, remove a few shells to test for brownness. Coat shelled nuts with melted butter and salt to taste.
To toast peanuts, spread raw, shelled nuts in a shallow pan, and heat over low heat 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The nuts continue to brown slightly after you remove them from the heat, so avoid overbrowning. Remove skins. Sprinkle hot nuts with salt and cool on absorbent paper.
Making Peanut Butter
For smooth, creamy peanut butter, process roasted, shelled peanuts in a blender until desired consistency is obtained. For a smoother consistency, add one to three tablespoons of vegetable oil for each cup of peanuts used. If using unsalted nuts, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per cup of peanut butter to reach desired taste. For crunchy peanut butter, put roasted, shelled peanuts through a fine meat grinder or food processor instead of a blender and continue as with smooth peanut butter.
Peanut butter may be canned for storage. Pack the peanut butter into hot, sterilized jars, leaving one inch of headspace. Adjust lids. Process half-pints in a boiling water bath for one hour.
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