Peanut Fest immortalized in new book

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Patrick Evans-Hylton doesn’t have a top hat or monocle.

But the author of &uot;Images of America: The Suffolk Peanut Festival&uot; – who, these days, is called Mr. Peanut by friends – says he wouldn’t mind a cane similar to the one carried by the Planters Peanut advertising moniker.


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&uot;Canes are pretty sophisticated,&uot; said Evan-Hylton, a former Suffolk resident who now lives in Virginia Beach.

Released by Arcadia Publishing in June, &uot;Images of America: The Suffolk Peanut Festival,&uot; chronicles the rich history of the peanut industry in southeastern Virginia. It also takes a look at the annual fall festival Suffolk holds each year honoring the legume, the Suffolk Peanut Festival.

According to the book, as baseball and P.T. Barnum’s circus became increasingly popular in the late 1800s, peanuts became the snack food of people across the country. Sold hot from a roaster to the cries of &uot;Peanuts, get your hot peanuts here,&uot; this popular snack soon became a valuable cash crop in Suffolk and surrounding localities.

The fertile farmland around Suffolk was perfect for growing goobers, eventually making the town known as the &uot;World’s Greatest Peanut Market.&uot;

Suffolk’s peanut star was already on the rise when Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici moved his chocolate and nut operation, Planters Peanuts, to town in 1913, according to the book. Three years later, Mr. Peanut was born in Suffolk.

The success of the goober gave the community cause to celebrate, and did on the first large-scale basis in 1941 with the National Peanut Festival and Exposition, complete with a parade and queen.

Today, the Suffolk Peanut Fest carries on the legume’s legacy. More than 200,000 people attend the fete each fall to enjoy family entertainment and pay homage to the humble peanut.

In &uot;Images of America: The Suffolk Peanut Festival,&uot; Evans-Hylton has collected more than 200 archival photographs that capture the essence of peanuts and Suffolk.

&uot;It was largely a grassroots effort,&uot; he said. &uot;Having lived in Suffolk for as long as I did, I called upon a lot of people who worked in the peanut industry or who were familiar with Suffolk’s agricultural history to share their photographs.

&uot;They were very generous with their assistance.&uot;

Evans-Hylton’s relationship with Arcadia is not stopping with the completion of his first book.

By August, he will have completed a similar book based on the history of ham in Isle of Wight County.

And Arcadia has contracted with him to write two more books next year – one on the lighthouses of Virginia, the other on the role of Hampton Roads in War II.

Evans, a former reporter for the Suffolk News-Herald, is an editor at Hampton Roads Monthly, a regional city and lifestyle magazine.

He is also a chef, having attended Johnson & Wales University in 1995-96. He occasionally teaches cooking classes throughout Hampton Roads.