By Ben Norman
Daniel Joe White grew up on a small farm in Crenshaw County during the late 1940s and early 1950s growing peanuts and cotton. White said he quickly found out two things about growing peanuts during this era and those were: it was mighty hard work and boiled peanuts are mighty good to eat.
White, like many farm boys, left the farm when he graduated from high school and went to work with the State of Alabama in the Department of Education.
"I never got farming completely out of my blood, I’m not sure anybody raised on a farm ever does," said White. "I just kept thinking back to how good those peanuts used to be when we picked them off the vines in the field and boiled them in a big pot. The more I thought about that pot of salty, green boiled peanuts the more my mouth started watering. I decided right then I was going to have some green peanuts to put in the freezer and some dried peanuts to roast," said White.
Since gardening is one of White’s favorite hobbies, he already had a tractor, planter and cultivator necessary for growing peanuts.
"I started off plowing peanuts with a mule, but I use a tractor today. I purchased my fertilizer and peanut seed at Luverne Cooperative Services where I buy all my gardening supplies. Raymond Trotter and the other personnel at the Luverne store are a pleasure to do business with," said White.
"I got my peanuts planted, plowed and nurtured them through the summer until it was time to plow them up in September. I then cut an eight-foot sweet gum pole about five-inches thick, and two smaller cross pieces about two-inches thick. I dug a hole with posthole diggers, put the pole in and nailed the cross pieces on about knee high. Then the peanuts were stacked around the pole until you get to the top. It’s
important to "cap off" the top with a good pile of peanuts that completely covers the top of the stack pole. If you don’t, the water will run down the top of the pole and the peanuts will rot from the inside of the stack," said White.
The peanut stack behind White’s house just south of Highland Home has caused a lot of rubber necking.
"I’ve had a lot of the ‘old timers’ tell me they didn’t think they would ever see a stack of peanuts again," said White.
White added that when farmers started plowing up peanuts with the new type plows, the practice of stacking peanuts to dry was rendered obsolete with the introduction of the modern drying wagon that forces heated air up through a grate in the bottom of the wagon to remove the moisture from the peanuts before they are shelled, packaged and marketed.
Listening to White and his neighbor, Earl Davis, reminisce about peanut farming with mules and straight stock plows in the early 1950s painted a mental picture of a slower-paced time in American agriculture, where a good mule was treated like a member of the family and neighbors depended on neighbors to help each other harvest the crops.
When asked to describe the steps farmers went through to grow peanuts in the 1940s and 1950s, White and Davis began talking at the same time. Their smiles and laughter indicated their thoughts were regressing to their teenage farming years.
"The first step was catching the mule - that could provide a good bit of excitement, especially if it was a young spirited mule. You think hooking a tractor up to a three-point hitch can be aggravating, just try to get a young mule hitched up to a plow while he is kicking and jumping around," laughed White.
Davis said once you’ve caught the mule, you are ready to go to work.
"We began by breaking the land with a moldboard steel beam plow in January or February. Then we laid the rows off with a middle buster plow. The next step was to hitch to a straight stock plow with a shovel plow and open the rows back up. One man followed a mule hitched to a fertilizer distributor. Another man followed another mule hitched to a Cole planter putting the seeds in the ground and covering them with soil," said Davis.
"Once the peanuts were high enough and the weeds started competing with them, we cultivated along the sides to remove the weeds. We always plowed with a plow running flat, never throwing dirt toward the peanuts. We did this so they would ‘pin’ down. This is how peanuts got the nickname ‘pinders.’ Next, we had to hoe out between the peanuts where the cultivator didn’t go," said White.
White has a lot of pleasant memories of life on the farm and a few not so pleasant.
"I almost got killed by a mule named Old Pet. I was riding her home from plowing one evening when she spooked. She climbed a clay bank that went almost straight up. I couldn’t stay on her and did a backward flip over her rear end as she climbed the bank. Just before I hit the ground she gave me a teeth-rattling kick that made me see stars for an hour. My brother, Alfred, stopped and helped me up on his mule and carried me to the house. Now you can see why I use a tractor rather than a mule," laughed White.
When I asked White if his homegrown peanuts are really worth all the work, he went in his house and came back with a big boiler of salty, fresh boiled peanuts. After eating half a boiler full of White’s delicious homegrown peanuts, I wondered how I could have asked such a stupid question.
Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home.