The ‘Forgotten’ Groundnut Pyramids of Nigeria

The past may hold treasures, still remembered but the future is bound in hope, in belief and in the knowledge that with life, all things are possible.

Did you know our pyramids? The Nigerian pyramids? Where you even aware that once upon a time we had them? My daughter said ‘Mama, is that a postcard from when we went to the pyramids in Egypt?’

‘No, it isn’t. These are pyramids that used to exist in Nigeria, made of sacks of groundnuts.’

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Essential companions: boiled groundnuts and coke!

Peanuts to y’all I know. Groundnuts to us. For they come…from the ground.

Wikipedia: Peanuts are known by many other local names such as earthnutsground nutsgoober peasmonkey nuts,pygmy nuts and pig nuts. Despite its name and appearance, the peanut is not a nut, but rather a legume.

#longing for yesteryears. #nostalgia#nigeria! #thegroundnut#pyramids of the 70s when #nigeria was more than oil and gas. And #kano city was a sight of #wonder. This must have been one of the 7 #manmade #wonders of #africa
Postcard from my father: Groundnut pyramids in Kano (Instagrammed)

So did you know that? That once upon a time, we had our very own Nigerian pyramids? Our tourist attraction. Made in Nigeria – something of national pride and value.

When will groundnut pyramids return?

The formation of groundnut pyramids was the idea of late Alhaji Alhasan Dantata, a business magnate who was also a merchant of kolanuts, based in Kumasi, Ghana, from where he shipped his goods to Nigeria by sea.

In 1919, late Dantata returned to Kano at the height of the groundnut boom and became the most prominent Hausa trader to benefit from its commercial success and in five years of his involvement, he became a major supplier of groundnuts to the Royal Nigerian Company (RNC).

Kano State became famous in the world commerce following the magnificent groundnut pyramids during the Nigerians period of agricultural boom, especially in 50s, 60s and 70s and it contributed 70 per cent to the region’s export earnings.

Before oil. And gas.

Update, August 12 2013.

The Blueprint newspaper, online says ‘FG (Federal Government) set to rebuild groundnut pyramids’!  A Groundnut Value Chain (GVC) project kicked off this year, and is on-going. 

Twas my father.

And it sat amongst his ‘things’, which I rifled through….broken, pink-eyed and still stunned at his death. His death, only a month after I returned from University in Liverpool. Only four days after the birth of his first grandchild who is now almost a teenager.

It was a postcard that first showed me the pyramids, a coloured postcard of geometrically arranged sacks, tucked amidst black & white postcards of Lagos.

#postcards from #yesteryears. #nigeria of old! The great #groundnut #pyramids of #kano city. #manmade #wonders

Unbelievable Lagos. Lagos in sepia. Muted. Toned. Manageable.

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Lagos. A Lagos where I bet you, Nigerians respected one another. A Lagos where no one pushed or jostled past you angrily, as though you’d stolen something of theirs. Hurt their child. Or parent. A country of saneness. A country of respect. A different country from today. Streets clean, orderly, sane.

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I imagine this sanity, this ‘peaceable’ nation, typified in these postcards of Lagos was true of every city and town across Nigeria. A Nigeria where standards were important, and upheld.

Respect & Standards. Two things I long for today. Pray for. Earnestly desire to see rife and rampant in my country. Respect for people, for things, for the country, for self. No need for ‘I-big-pass-my-neighbour.’ We are good enough, and worthy enough to live in a sane land!

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A land, a Nigeria where visionaries could act out their dreams, for the greater good.

These postcards came from my father’s collection. A record of life as it used to be. Framed as they are in my living room. 

We had pyramids like Egypt. But only in the heart of Kano city, in the north of Nigeria.

Pyramids of sacks.

Sacks of nuts.

Groundnuts. Peanuts, but ground nuts.

Growing beneath the ground as they do.

Epa. To the Yorubas.

Groundnuts to me.

Ancient symbols of our nation.

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Raw, uncooked/dehydrated groundnuts

Forgotten? I hope not.

Elizabeth Jackson, author of the African cookbook, South of The Sahara writes:

‘When I was growing up in Kano, a large city in Northern Nigeria, peanuts were still a big cash crop. Kano was an export site, and the peanut bags waiting to be shipped out were stacked in the sun in huge pyramids, each pyramid holding 1000 tons of peanuts. A railroad ran strategically through the center of the 60 or more pyramids. This was all located right in the heart of Kano, and the smell of fresh peanuts permeated the surrounding streets, mingling with the dust and oil and other city smells to make an unforgettable aroma.’

Today, the pyramids are gone. Why? How? Many speculations: breakdown in the rail system, focus on oil & gas, corruption and poor practices? I could go on and on.

I would love to bring them back….but in the interim, I intend to build them at home, or in my belly at least, one shelled nut at a time.

Boiled Groundnuts

Ingredients
Raw groundnuts
Water
Salt

Wiki-How to Boil Peanuts:

Green peanut is a term to describe farm fresh harvested peanuts that have not been dehydrated. They are available from grocery stores, food distributors and farmers markets, during the growing season. In contrast, raw peanuts are dehydrated/dry peanuts. They are uncooked and ready to be boiled after being re-hydrated.

Directions

Fill a large bowl with cold, tap water and put in the groundnuts. Swirl them around with your hand, to loosen the dirt. Scoop the nuts out into a colander and discard the water. Repeat up to 3 or more times, till the leftover water runs (almost) clear. This is necessary to rid the groundnuts of the earth from whence they are dug up.

After they have been rinsed, soak them in fresh, cool water for about a half hour to rehydrate them.

After the soak, put the groundnuts in a large cup and fill it with room-temperature water, till all the nuts are submerged, and the water comes up about 2 inches above nuts. Note the nuts may float…and not stay under.

For my 10 cups of groundnuts, I needed 10 cups of water and 1/4 cup of table salt.

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Stir the nuts and water to disperse the salt and cook covered and on medium-low heat for at least an hour, checking every 20 minutes to check the water hasn’t cooked out.

My nuts were perfectly cooked after an hour and a half but cooking times will vary.

Using a slotted spoon, I removed a few groundnuts to check for doneness, and then emptied out the cooked contents into a colander, to drain.

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Then my friend B and I stood at the counter and feasted on peanuts. Talking and chatting till we forced ourselves away. These nuts are ADDICTIVE.

I deliberately cooked up a large amount so I could ‘reach for some’ if the craving struck. Like today. When I found the can of coke, perfectly wedged between a jar of pickled daikon and a bowl of forgotten chocolate ganache.

I could have been in the American South.

As J Ludlow comments, in Elise’s post on Boiled Peanuts:

‘….but hey we don’t drink soda in the South except for a club soda. No pop either. Everything is a Coke. What kind a Coke y’all want? A Dr. Pepper or a Seven Up?’

🙂
Storage

You can freeze your boiled groundnuts in food-safe containers.

To refresh/reheat them, pop in the microwave or do as I do and plunge them in boiling water for a minute or two. You may want to add some more salt if using boiling water but beware, too salty groundnuts can leave a bitter taste on your palate.  

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Love em? or Live em? Which type of groundnut fan are you? 

[wpurp-searchable-recipe]The ‘Forgotten’ Groundnut Pyramids of Nigeria – – – [/wpurp-searchable-recipe]

33 Comments

  1. I really love this article it is both motivating and educative. I run a bottled groundnut business I promise to adopt ur article as my call-to-action. Once again I love this.

  2. Hea! kitchen butterfly

    i really appreciate your writeup, its impressive and effect especially to student.
    i am a student i across it through my research on NORTHERN F
    FOOD CONTAINING CARBOHYDRATES.
    NICE WRITEUP #_BUTTERFLY

  3. What a lovely post! I might be wrong, but don’t they have pictures of the groundnut pyramid in our National Anthem video? (The original one, not the skelewu anthems we have now, lol). Ahh your post brings back memories…oh thank you! 🙂

  4. Such a poignant and sad post. I come from a relatively privileged background as an American living in the UK and I can’t imagine how distressing it must be to see your country disintegrate. Well, I guess I can, really — I’m shocked by how nasty people have become in recent years, and I am worried that it will get worse.

    Anyway I found this blog through your post on removing the salt from bacon and these pyramids caught my eye. Amazing! And your description of boiled peanuts sounds very interesting. Peanuts to me are generally something you eat dry-roasted in the shell at baseball games (usually throwing the shells on the ground, which is
    kind of a weird thing to do), as peanut butter, or shelled and roasted with salt and/or other flavourings on them. There are plenty of African people living here, though, so I might be able to find someplace that sells them green or already prepared Nigerian-style. I’m curious to try them!

    • Hi Mander. Thanks for leaving a comment.

      I smiled at ‘usually throwing the shells on the ground, which is kind of a weird thing to do’….. Cause, I don’t think it is that weird :-), peanut shells kind of lend themselves to that, don’t they! You might be able to get them at Asian stores. Try them if you can! I love them.

  5. Hi Kitchen Butterfly,

    What a fantastic post, which combines the history of Nigeria with a simple yet hearty dish. Really thankful that you introduced this to us.

    We have a similar dish of boiled groundnuts, that we eat in my part of India. It is strange that we are forgetting the simple and healthy dishes of our motherlands, in the mad rush to eat western food.

    Best wishes,
    Amit.

  6. Oz,

    Thanks for reminding me of the past about Nigeria. I grew up in Ughelli and there was sanity; that you can’t find now. I like you long for sanity in Nigeria and I pray the Lord make it happen soon.

    As for the peanut, you are looking at an addict. After reading this I am heading to my favourite Vietnamese store where they sell hot boil peanuts. I use to spend 20 naira almost every as a student on groundnuts. My roommantes thought I was insane. Oh my love for groundnut! I sold them as a teenager in front of my house, I can’t remember making a profit because I ate more than I sold.

    Deb, I live in southern california and usually order them from Keel Peanuts in North Carolina. The ones with shell are usually available from October and they have the ones without shell all-year.Their website is tuckersbagofnuts.com

  7. I enjoyed this post and the pictures. Boiled groundnuts/peanuts are still a staple in my house. We are able to buy the dried ones from Asian stores in Houston and boil them for about an hour and half. We also love roasted groundnuts. Does anyone still add them to garri? Does anyone still drink garri?

    I must say I never knew about the pyramids in Nigeria until Dr. R shared this link with me. I can’t believe we once had something that wondrous and it’s been gone for long that some of us never knew it existed. How sad…

    And I felt a weird sense of longing for the sane Nigeria depicted in those postcards. I don’t remember Lagos being that calm even in the mid eighties. Thanks for sharing your story and pictures.

    • Dear Oyinna – Oh yes. I was raised on gari and will take my love for it to the great heavens!

      Gari was the ONLY thing I ate without threat in the first quarter of my life when I abhorred regular food. And with groundnut, boy……heavenly.

      I grew up in Warri where we eat groundnuts in at least 5 ways

      In shell: boiled, sand-roasted ‘dry’, sand-roasted ‘wet’ and smoked
      Sans shell: skin on, skin off

      For gari, it was always skin off, without the shell!

      I’ve even introduced ALL my children to ‘soaks’ – it was a thing I had to bequeath. And you know what? They ALL love it. All 3 of them. Woo hoooooooo!

      On to Naija, our beloved land – I look in shock everyday. The country my children know now bears no resemblance to the one I grew up in. I like remembering those times, even if it makes it now hard to live in the present. It comforts me, gives me hope and at least lets me sigh a sigh of ‘imagine’….and ‘if only’.

      It is well. Someday, we’ll get to where we must!

      Thanks for your wonderful recipe – I LOVED it so much.

      Groundnut soup on the menu, soon!

  8. I looove boiled peanuts, I haven’t had them in such a long time. And, what a beautiful nostalgic post, I watched a beautifully shot old Ghanaian movie recently that made me long for saner times. 🙂

  9. A fascinating and beautifully written story. You’re right, they are peanuts to many of us, but I prefer the name goober peas! A forgotten bowl of ganache, you say? Shame on you, you bad girl. 😉

  10. What a gift, this post. I think I’d have been happy just knowing what “effizzy” was all about (like you, I love words which contain volumes; thanks esp. to livelytwist), but the pyramids! Somewhere, that’s the Nigeria I remember as a child. Not the pyramids themselves, but the sense that they were there in that era of booming everything and big-big possibility.

    • 🙂 Just like your ‘saudade’ gave me such a sense of completeness – an articulation of something I’ve always felt but never could describe in one word! Your post too was wonderful – i loved Oyinna’s tribute to her dad.

  11. I have never tasted fresh groundnuts/peanuts or seen them in California. (Although I have spotted a trend for deep fried peanuts in their shells on the internet.) Silly American I might be, but we favor peanut butter at our home! And peanut butter cookies are always welcome!

    A provocative post, rich with history and longing. Humans can be so horribly terrible to each other and their planet but a bright light shines on our shadows as we reach for the best we can be. Faith is imperative in finding joy.

    • Really. Wow? I guessI have thoughts of many things that are American, and available nationwide :-). I forget it’s like Nigeria – a huge country with regional variations!

      I love your comment ‘Fait is imperative in finding joy.’ So true

  12. Nostalgia… ah! I love the opening statement to your very interesting post, “The past may hold treasures, still remembered but the future is bound in hope, in belief and in the knowledge that with life, all things are possible.”

    I prefer boiled groundnuts to roasted ones, but after reading your post, that may change. 🙂

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