I am constantly amused by the extent people will go to adhere to what we’ve sarcastically dubbed in our house “the religion of local”. Because while I support local businesses where and whenever possible, it’s obvious that there are people out there wringing their hands over the lack of local flour, rice and mangoes. In an article in the Globe and Mailover the summer, writer Sasha Chapman tried the 100-mile diet and was bemoaning the fact that she couldn’t get 100-mile peanut butter for her kids. Which made me cock my head and emit an annoyed “oh, FFS!” This gal wins journalism awards, but apparently cannot use the intarwebs to track down local peanuts.
Because yes, Virginia, or should I say, Vittoria; in Toronto, there is such a thing as local peanuts. Kernal Peanuts is the only peanut producer in Canada, and they’re just a couple of hours down the road past Brantford and Simcoe.
I came to know Kernal in an roundabout sort of way. In the early 90s I was dating a guy whose family hailed from the Simcoe, Ontario area. His uncle and aunt lived in a house made from an old tobacco kill next door to the Kernal farm. Every visit home included a trip to the Kernal store to stock up on peanuts, peanut butter and candy. We walked the fields and pulled the green legumes from the soil, we watched the peanuts get dumped into the roasters and be poured into the grinders for peanut butter. When the boyfriend and I broke up, I didn’t miss him much. But I did miss my trips to Simcoe and my shopping sprees at Kernal.
Fast forward fifteen years or so. I was at an event for farmers and chefs at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in November and noticed that Ernie and Nancy Racz of Kernal Peanuts were listed in the programme. After the panel discussion everyone got up and I turned around to find the couple seated directly behind me. After reacquainting ourselves, Nancy handed me a sample bag of those gorgeous Valencia peanuts, and I jumped up and down with glee.
The light sandy soil of the area had traditionally been tobacco farms, but as the tobacco industry began to experience a downturn, farmers like Racz looked to other crops that would do well in the same soil. When you think of tobacco, you think of Virginia, and when you think of Virginia, you think of peanuts, and Racz discovered that peanuts did incredibly well in southwestern Ontario.
To expand their sales and add value to their products, the Racz’s run a shop attached to the main processing building. They sell their peanuts in the shell, as well as the traditional Valencia redskins in a number of flavours that include hickory, cajun, barbeque and garlic. They also offer peanut brittle, praline peanuts (the maple is to die for) and an evilly addictive little product called Buttercrisp which is a chocolate-covered peanut toffee – I only buy a small bag of this at a time, because it’s really difficult to have just one piece. And of course, their signature peanut butter in a variety of options, including with the skin.
For the first Christmas in a decade and a half, I had a gift box of Kernal products. As soon as I could after that meeting at the Royal Winter Fair, I called up Nancy and placed an order for a big box of goodies. I even bought enough to send some down east with the Christmas gifts, and there were some very happy folks who remembered those peanuts from Christmases past.
Now that I’ve become reacquainted with those salty, and slightly sweet Canadian-grown Valencia peanuts, there will always be some in my house. This is one local business that is truly a delight to support, and I urge any Torontonians who are peanut lovers to check them out. Their products are only available from the Kernal shop, but they are happy to do mail order.
For more info on Kernal Peanuts, including videos of the peanut harvest, a product list and mail-order info, check out their website.