Still reaping the benefits of George Washington Carver's curious mind

features@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 27, 2013 

George Washington Carver was born on the farm of Moses Carver near Diamond, a small town in southwestern Missouri. His mother, Mary, was a slave, and historians believe his father was a slave on a nearby farm.

George and his older brother, Jim, became property of the Carvers, as well. At the end of the Civil War, George and Jim were freed, but their mother had been sold to bandits. Moses and Susan Carver offered a racehorse for her return, but they were unsuccessful. Because the brothers had no mother to protect them and no money, Moses and Susan decided to let them move into their farmhouse. George was frail and unable to do much farm work. He helped with household chores, including cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry. Susan taught him how to read, while Moses taught him how to play the violin. Whatever he wanted to learn, he quickly mastered.

He loved the outdoors and would collect the seeds of plants, seeming to have a natural talent for growing plants and nursing sick ones back to health.

The Carver boys attended public school until the town's white residents demanded all black children be suspended. But George's thirst for education did not stop. Many times tutors released themselves after discovering that he learned very fast and soon knew as much as they did.

George received his bachelor of arts degree and a master of science degree from Iowa State. In November 1896, Booker T. Washington offered him a teaching position at Tuskegee Institute.

At Tuskegee, George developed a teaching style to ensure success with all students. Instead of standing in front of the classroom and lecturing to his students in a formal way, George talked with them as if they were having a friendly conversation. He also explained that every subject he taught -- including agriculture, botany and chemistry -- was related to other subjects, including farming and cooking. Sometimes he explained things by telling jokes, and other times he related lessons to stories from the Bible, a book most Southern blacks knew well. Most of all, he inspired his students by teaching them to appreciate the miracles and beauty of nature.

George instructed students at Tuskegee on the value of cowpeas. He explained how cowpeas replenished the soil. When the cowpeas were harvested, he invited students to a dinner of meatloaf, pancakes and a potato casserole -- all made with cowpeas.

The next year they planted sweet potatoes, followed by peanuts. They experimented in the lab, finding hundreds of new uses for sweet potatoes and peanuts that created markets for these crops and saved the South's faltering economy.

During his career, George made about 300 products from the peanut. Perhaps the most popular product developed by George was peanut butter. He ground roasted peanuts to make a smooth, creamy concoction that remains popular today.

George Washington Carver researched and taught at Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, for 47 years. He labored not for fame or fortune but to slake his thirst for knowledge and to help people. He proved that African-Americans could contribute a great deal to their nation -- if only they were given the education and opportunities they deserved.

DR. CARVER'S DANDELION SALAD

Note: This is made with ordinary dandelion from yards, fields and roadsides.

1 pint finely shredded young dandelion leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 small radishes, finely chopped

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 tablespoon sugar (can be left out)

Salt and pepper to taste

Vinegar or mayonnaise

Hard-boiled eggs

Pickled beets

Combine first 6 ingredients, moisten thoroughly with weak vinegar or mayonnaise. Mix and place in salad dish. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled eggs and pickled beets.

DR. CARVER'S SLICED SWEET POTATO PIE

Line a deep baking dish with a sheet of rich pastry. Parboil the number of sweet potatoes desired. When the potatoes are two-thirds done, remove the skins, slice lengthwise, very thin. Cover the dish to a depth of 2 inches, sprinkle with ground allspice and a dash of ginger, cloves and nutmeg.

To make a pie sufficient for 6 people, scatter pieces from a lump of butter about the size of a hen's egg across the top of the pie. Add a teacupful of sugar and 1-2 teacupsful of molasses. Add 1-2 pints cream, dust a little flour over the top sparingly; cover with hot water, crimp edges, and bake in a moderately heated oven until done.

Serve hot.

PEANUT BUTTER BISCUITS

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

3/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, sift together flour and baking powder; cut in peanut butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually add milk until a soft dough is formed. On a lightly floured board, gently knead 8 or 10 times, turning dough over 2 or 3 times during this process. With a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/2-inch thickness, and cut with a floured biscuit cutter. Reroll scraps and cut again until all dough is used. Place the biscuits close together on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 10 to 15 minutes or until brown.

CREAM OF PEANUT SOUP

1/4 cup chopped celery

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1/4 cup butter

2 teaspoons flour

2 quarts chicken broth

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup light cream

1/4 cup coarsely ground skinless unsalted peanuts

In a large saucepan, over low heat, saute celery and onion in melted butter until onion is transparent. Add flour and blend until lump free. Slowly add chicken broth; continue to stir and bring to a boil. Blend in the peanut butter. Add spices and simmer, approximately 15 minutes. Just prior to serving, stir in cream and garnish individual serving with ground peanuts.

All recipes are from "The African American Heritage Cookbook, Traditional Recipes and Fond Remembrances From Alabama's Renowned Tuskegee Institute," by Carolyn Quick Tillery

Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition. Email her at features@beaufortgazette.com.

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