Monday, December 19, 2016


One of the things that has defined me my entire life is that I have had, since birth, a severe and life threatening allergy to peanuts. I had two frightening episodes in childhood, and one in adulthood when accidentally ingesting peanuts. Epinephrine and quick medical care were, literally, lifesavers.

But mostly my life has been defined by constant vigilance about menus, obsessive reading of labels, cautious experimenting, and being annoying to many hostesses with my fussy habits.

Family and friends have been absolutely wonderful, always making special nut free versions of treats just for me. I am impressed and grateful when they go out of their way for my unique needs.

Jim has not had a jar of peanut butter in the house all the years we have been married, and PB & J was a favorite of his.

Now, with all the controversial super-attention to peanut allergies in recent years, my life has gotten easier. It was more of a challenge growing up 50 years ago when peanut allergies were apparently rare, and when German grandmothers, to my mother's horror, simply declared "och, a few won't hurt her, she's too picky."

And now, instead of trying to monitor and modify the environment by keeping peanuts away, there is a research effort to modify the peanut itself. This article in the New York Times describes how the allergen-producing proteins can be isolated and plants can be bred (or the nuts treated) to eliminate those proteins. Fascinating stuff, at least to someone like me.

Peanuts are sometimes called groundnuts for obvious reasons. They are Arachis hypogaea. But other plants that have edible parts that grow underground are also called groundnuts, and one that I have wanted to grow is a native vine, Apios americana.

Apios has beautiful flowers and protein rich tubers that sustained native Americans. The Lenape word for it is hopniss.

Hopniss vines grow wild in our New England woods, and are prolific around areas where native tribes once camped. But groundnut tubers are not nuts, they are fleshy roots most resembling potatoes.

I was intrigued by this article that describes growing and eating groundnuts -- it's a good read about foraging for wild foods. One thing caught my attention in the article, and I have read about it elsewhere: about 5% of people get severely sick after eating groundnuts.

Peanuts and groundnuts are in the same legume family. It's unclear whether they have the same proteins that produce the reactions -- both are very high sources of protein.

Somehow the concept of an allergy-producing food growing underground, called a groundnut in both instances, was enough to put me off this wildflower. It's not like I was going to grow it for a food crop, I just thought it was garden worthy and pretty.

But I couldn't.

Even though everything about the Apios plant appealed to me -- it is lovely and native and easy to grow and I like the mauve colored pea like flowers -- everything about the name and the underground parts and the possibility it has the poisonous proteins of the peanut gave me virtual heart palpitations.

I couldn't. It's a groundnut.

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